When the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series— what would eventually become the “Gamebooks” genre—began, its creator was bored with telling bedtime stories to his children. So, he decided to give them the option for how the story would play out.
The idea was groundbreaking for children of the 1980s and ‘90s, who were able to be the heroes of stories that they could control.
Luckily, the legend lives on. Not only are the books back in print, but Gamut Theatre Group’s “Stage Door Series” has taken on its own adventure of converting book #71, “Space Vampire,” onto the stage as an interactive theater performance adapted by three local actors and Gamut veterans: Jeff Luttermoser, Philip Mann and David Zayas.
This particular play, adapted from Edward Packer’s original story, gives the reins to the audience in a way that lets them become not only the most important character, but also a playwright to the story. At the end of each scene, the audience is presented with a choice that will eventually lead them either to another choice or to one of 10 possible endings. Since death is, of course, an option, each audience gets three lives, and with that, three chances for a do-over if they are unhappy with the outcome. They shape their world via text message, where choices are live-fed through an app, and the play changes to suit their decisions.
Unlike a typical theater production, the audience has complete control over the play they’re seeing, and, with this play only, the world gets second chances.
“This is what is unique about it as a theatrical experience,” said Thomas Weaver, Gamut’s associate artistic director. “A normal play is supposed to unfold as life does, and wouldn’t it be a nice thing to have control over that when you wanted?”
On the other side, the play is also unlike the books for the opposite reason—there is an element of responsibility. Like most kids who read the books, it was easy to read an ending, decide you did not like that outcome, and go back and choose differently. While you have some choice to do that in the production, the stakes are higher. As an adult version of the children’s book, audiences have to own up to their decisions in a more realistic way—there are not unlimited choices. This is not anything to worry about, however, and is part of the fun.
“All of the endings, no matter if the outcome is good or bad, are very entertaining and engaging,” Zayas said.
Creating an original piece of theater from such an iconic series is a task that involves a lot of care.
Luttermoser, Mann and Zayas simplified the story from a whopping 25 endings down to 10 and had to consider the substance and overall “readability” or, in this case, “watchability,” to create a coherent narrative that is interesting, energetic and engaging, while retaining the same unpredictability of the original stories.
“‘Space Vampire’ has some choices where something happens, and it’s just because, and not for any reason,” Zayas explained. “We had to eliminate and move stuff around some so that the story remained cohesive.”
Mann added that they had to make sure they weren’t setting audiences up for failure or making them feel like they are being cheated in their adventure.
“So, every choice has substance,” he said.
This clarification might seem obvious, but readers of the original stories might remember games being played on the reader in some of the stories, such as never-ending page loops or endings that can only be discovered by readers who are cheating or accidentally stumble on the wrong page. Above all, reading the story is a game, and Gamut has taken care to make sure that it is a game worth playing.
The show is a marathon for actors to rehearse, learning to work their brains in a way that’s not reliant on clear-cut cues and that holds so many variables. They have to work on their feet, as there are many elements of improv, even with the scripted show. This makes the adventure extend from the audience to the actors themselves, who get to be pawns in the story dictated by the audience. The play changes every night as different choices are made.
As an adventure story with sci-fi references, control over the game and an air of nostalgia, “Space Vampire” is really a show for everyone. It is active and immersive and is sure to be a unique experience.
“Space Vampire” runs Jan. 13 to 22 at Gamut Theatre, 15 N. 4th St., Harrisburg. For more information, call 717-238-4111 or visit www.gamuttheatre.org.
Upcoming Theater Events At Harrisburg’s Professional Downtown Theaters
At Gamut Theatre
Popcorn Hat Players Present
“The Brementown Musicians”
Jan. 11 to 28 Saturdays at 1 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays at 10 a.m. available by request for groups of 20 or more.
Stage Door Series Presents
“Choose Your Own Adventure: Space Vampire” Jan. 13 to 22
Doors and bar open at 6:30 p.m.; performance starts at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are pay what you will; any size donation buys your admission.
At Open Stage of Harrisburg
Court Street Cabaret 2017: An evening of song from Broadway and beyond!
Jan. 13 & 14 at 7:30 p.m.
“Father Comes Home from the Wars Parts 1, 2 & 3”
A new play by Suzan-Lori Parks
Feb. 3 to 26
Author: Meghan Jones