National Theatre of Scotland is producing a stage version of Let the Right One In at the Dundee Rep Theatre until 29 June. To accompany the show, they worked with local developer Quartic Llama to create a location-based app called Other.
The app offers people in Dundee the chance to explore the city and discover hidden GPS-triggered stories of horror, tying in with the themes of the show. The stories were contributed by local residents, along with music, voices and images provided by a total of 280 people from community groups.
For The Literary Platform, David Varela talked to Philippa Tomlin, Creative Director of the Other project at the NTS and Tom deMajo of Quartic Llama.
TLP: What does the app add to the experience of a Let the Right One In theatregoer?
Philippa: Other is a companion piece. It creates the dark and spooky atmosphere of Let the Right One In out on the streets of Dundee, using Dundee’s own stories and architecture.
We want to make a game to appeal to both the gaming and theatre communities. The game opens the doors for the gaming community to experience theatre and vice-versa.
Tom: The game subtly introduces the impression that there is another level of reality which exists behind the everyday world. This encourages a flexibility in people’s preconceptions, expectations and beliefs, and we hope that this helps to support the story told on stage by weaving a kind of environmental and social narrative around Dundee, where Let the Right One In fits right in.
TLP: How much do the app’s stories overlap with Let the Right One In?
Philippa: We don’t retell the story of Let the Right One In, but there are many similarities – horror, fear and fascination with death, and fear of the unknown are universally linked.
As we have been working with Quartic Llama and game design students we also linked the idea of puzzles and games into the project, which were inspired by the Rubik’s Cube, egg and Morse code in Let the Right One In.
Tom: There are a few lines taken from the play, and subtle references which hardcore fans will get. But Let the Right One In is a really beautiful, complex story, and we didn’t want to cheapen it or our own story by making too many explicit references which would have broken the involved experience of the game.
TLP: Theatre is group experience; the Other app is solitary. How does that change how you approach telling a story?
Tom: Yes, this is interesting. We wanted to maintain an immersive experience throughout the entire game, and decided early on to use sound as the connective tissue for the journey through Dundee, so we realised early on that people would probably play by themselves with earphones.
In storytelling terms, we have very little experience to compare with.
We wrote a script based on a compositional structure largely dictated by the journey through Dundee. Story beats were made at key locations and the narrative was strengthened along the journey between these places.
The story evolved over the course of the development, responding to observations, content and ideas generated in the discussions with Philippa and the theatre workshops. We worked hard to put it all together in a way which made sense to us, as a game, and which respected everybody’s input.
Philippa: Traditional theatre is a group experience. However, we have made theatre in the past for an audience of one. We use theatre and experiment with audience experiences all the time and with this experimentation comes the question of how we change our approach to storytelling. In theatre, the one to one experience as an audience is incredibly intense. Whereas in traditional gaming, to some extent you feel ‘safe’; nothing is being done to you and your interaction with the story is on your own terms. However, in Other, I think we have achieved a really good mix of the two experiences.
In terms of how we have approached the storytelling in the game, I suppose the real difference from theatre in this case is that our input is predominantly audio – in theatre we use a lot of visual storytelling. In the case of the game it is Dundee itself that provides the backdrop and the game encourages the player to open their eyes and experience Dundee in a completely different way.
TLP: Many community groups and participants were involved in creating content for the app. Do you see it as a new type of outreach for the National Theatre of Scotland?
Philippa: It really is a groundbreaking step for us. Our approach to outreach at National Theatre of Scotland has always been experimental and has crossed artforms on many occasions – for example, using visual art exhibitions, creative writing, film, sculpture, photography and interactive theatrical experiences to explore our productions further.
Tom: From a game-making perspective, working with all these different groups added a dimension to the game which we would never have been able to create by ourselves. Stories and sounds generated by the community groups encouraged us, and inspired us. This participation makes the game feel very genuine – Other is a story essentially about Dundee and the people who live/lived here, experienced by walking through Dundee with stories made by the people of Dundee. This has a very satisfying poetry about it.
TLP: Who managed the gathering of content during the writing classes/acting workshops/singing sessions?
Philippa: Both of us. It has been a brilliant partnership. For example, National Theatre of Scotland set up creative writing sessions at already established groups to generate the stories which were used as-written or to inspire the journey of the game, which was then developed together by Quartic Llama and National Theatre of Scotland.
The acting workshops were led by me and some voices were used by Quartic Llama in the game. These groups then went on to devise and perform in Other Live, [a one-off performance that added live actors to the route of the game around Dundee].
Additional voices were gathered by Quartic Llama, who asked for volunteers to contribute to the game as voiceover artists.
Singing came from Loadsaweeminsingin. Tom worked with them to contribute to sounds in the game and then National Theatre of Scotland continued to work with them for Other Live.
Noise Jams were led by Quartic Llama – and contributed to by National Theatre of Scotland!
TLP: What kind of impact do you hope to achieve with the app? How will you measure success?
Philippa:For this project: we hope that the app will open up theatre to a new audience.
For the future: this game and our collaboration opens up the possibilities for theatre as an interactive digital artform. In theatre, there has always been great sense of game playing. We use games to create character, explore plot and themes. As players on the stage we invite the audience to our game of pretending we are people we are not. So for me gaming and theatre are very closely linked.
My favourite parallel is that of interactive storytelling and how we experience story; the player or audience member invited to travel through a world we have created for them in some way, either in reality or virtually. As a theatre maker I am really excited about the future of interactive audience experiences and especially using game design.
Tom: For us, success can be measured when people take their earphones off at the end of the game, and just linger, looking at the place they stand in a new way, having taken part in something which is the culmination of the city, people, ideas and the desire to tell a meaningful story.