Canada Council Digital Originals

Choose-your-own-adventure audio theatre centres on land rights in Canada

A play that takes a different shape depending on who is sitting in the audience is being released for people stuck at home due to the pandemic.

Alley Theatre is taking its interactive stage play to a digital format

From left to write Daniel Arnold, Darrell Dennis and Medina Hahn perform in a choose-your-own-adventure play they developed. They're now reworking the piece for an online audience. (David Cooper)

A play that takes a different shape depending on who is sitting in the audience is being adapted for people stuck at home due to the pandemic.

Inheritance is a choose-your-own-adventure stage play about land rights. Audiences use small hand-held clickers to vote for what should happen next, and then the play continues.

What that means when it's performed for live in-person audiences is that the play tends to shift politically. 

"A Vancouver audience is going to be completely different than a Nova Scotia audience or an Alberta audience," says Darrell Dennis, a co-writer and actor with the project.

Now, audiences will often be just one person, as it's being reimagined as audio for at-home listening.

The play is centred on a rural estate, where couple Abbey and Noah show up to visit her father. But when they get there, they find her dad gone and a local Indigenous man staying there instead, saying the colonial rights for the property are up for grabs. The audience has to figure out what happens next. 

"It seemed very right that during this time of COVID, we go, 'OK, well let's make an audio version that's relatively easy to make but that can be accessed by anyone around the world who has internet,'" says co-writer and performer Daniel Arnold.

But it wasn't a breeze to take a script the size of a small phone book and adapt it for an audience who wouldn't be able to physically see the performers. 

"We have to actually see how, if we change this, does this affect something 12 scenes from now? It's a real house of cards," says Arnold.

"It's an incredibly intense process because of the magnitude and scope of the script and because we're all in three different locations,"

A single read-through took a week, he adds.

Inheritance: a pick-the-path experience

2 years ago
Duration 2:04
Excerpts from the Spring 2020 Production of Inheritance, a choose-your-own-adventure stage play. Inheritance is a project by Alley Theatre and is part of Digital Originals, a Canada Council for the Arts initiative.

Now, they're trying to raise cash to produce and distribute the play and are working with producers and distributors to make it work as well as polish the production. They also hope it will be provided to schools and libraries with a study guide.

"It's about who this land belongs to and the three of them trying to figure it out within their own arguments and perspectives," says co-writer and performer Medina Hahn. "We're trying to look at it from three different perspectives: one First Nations man, one settler man and a woman with immigrant ancestry. 

"We see land issues and First Nations and settler issues all over the place and who land belongs to. My desire is to get it out to as many people as possible because of the fact that this story shows three points of view."

Dennis said the trio has tried to keep the script as neutral as possible.

"This is not settler-shaming. This is not conservative apologism. It's not any of that sort of stuff," says Dennis. "We're trying our best not to come at this with one specific point of view. That's what makes it inclusive."

À lire en français sur le site de Radio-Canada.

This story is part of Digital Originals, an initiative of the Canada Council for the Arts. Artists were offered a $5,000 micro-grant to either adapt their existing work or create new work for the digital world during the COVID-19 pandemic. CBC Arts has partnered with Canada Council to feature a selection of these projects.You can see more of these projects here.

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