Theatre production demands audience participation
By Cheryl Minns, Arts Editor
Get ready to save the world from a zombie apocalypse, because The Virtual Stage’s latest production has more zombies, more action, and more interactivity than your average theatre show.
The Zombie Syndrome: On Death Island is a theatrical scavenger hunt that challenges the audience to solve clues, interact with the cast, and explore seven zombie-filled sites—five indoor and two outdoor.
“The whole purpose of this show is that the audience must hunt down and find Sgt. Sullivan [from last year’s show] and recover the cure to the zombie syndrome amidst the zombie apocalypse, which is going to be lots of fun,” said Andy Thompson, the show’s writer and director.
The show relies on smartphones for GPS navigation, texting, and more for audiences to navigate their way through the show.
Thompson had hoped that each audience of 15 members would have at least one member with a smartphone and that person could read the clues and work the GPS. Now he finds, in most cases, at least half of the audience has smartphones and wants to take part in receiving the clues and using GPS.
“There’s so much dumb entertainment out there [that] really puts the audience in a passive seat,” Thompson said. “This does the exact opposite. It requires the audience be smart.”
While technically a sequel to last year’s sold-out production, The Zombie Syndrome, audiences don’t need to have seen the first one to know what’s going on—there’s a recap at the start of the show.
“We’ve got more zombies and it’s really bigger, bolder and bloodier than ever before,” Thompson said. “It’s kind of like last year but on steroids.”
The show takes place in the Vancouver area, but the actual location of the production is only revealed to ticket holders via text message a day before their show.
“There’s a lot of stuff I can’t say and don’t want to say because I want it to be a surprise,” Thompson explained.
Last year’s show featured three different endings, which were determined by the audience’s choices. Many groups failed to get the one good ending where they save the world.
One of those alternate storylines is what inspired this year’s plot where one of the characters runs off with the only cure for the zombie syndrome. Except this time, there will be more alternate endings and, for the first time, high score rankings.
“The audience actually decides on a team name and then scores points based on how well they do. And we’re going to post those on our website. So it’s a little bit inspired by video gaming,” said Thompson.
Actor Tyler Clarke, who plays an autopsy zombie in the show, likes how this one of a kind production can attract unlikely theatre patrons.
“A lot of teenagers, they go to the movies, they don’t really go and see plays. So this is something also for younger generations to enjoy,” he said.
Thompson thinks zombies are not only a form of entertainment but also reflect cultural insecurities and fashion choices.
“People are interested in zombies perhaps because they represent the ultimate fear that we’re going to die and then just rot and actually still be alive. It’s a symbol, in a sense,” he explained.
Thompson also compared zombies to fashion and society’s view on what is attractive.
“It’s been interesting this year to talk to my zombie [actors]. Some of them are quite young and personally interested in their appearance—which is normal for anyone, especially youth—and telling them, ‘You need to look as ugly and crappy as possible.’ It’s been a fun discussion. I said, ‘Okay, it’s a contest. Who can be the ugliest?’ It’s a different kind of fashion.”
The Zombie Syndrome: On Death Island will be playing until November 3. Tickets can be purchased online at www.thevirtualstage.org/tickets