Are Audiences Ready To Directly Participate In Gamified Performances?

Jonathan Mandell writes about an off-off-Broadway show that has audience members to take part in the show and prepares them by sending a packet of character background information in advance. At one time, I would be skeptical about whether people would be interested in participating in this way, but the success of interactive and immersive shows like Sleep No More and The Donkey Show makes me think people might be ready for the next step of participating themselves.

Likewise, the relentlessness with which people have pursued all the possible endings in Black Mirror Bandersnatch suggests that there may be a growing interest in gamified programming.

The experience won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but we may be reaching a place where the desire to have an active experience and the ability of an arts entity to deliver it may be converging.

That said, even though it will diminish over time as a process is developed, there is a lot of time and effort that needs to be invested in the creation of shows like The Mortality Machine that Mandell writes about. The creative team invested thousands of hours in preparing the show.

Then they have to go through communicating to potential audience members what they will be expected to do. The show sends audience members

“…articles about the tragedy, obituaries of the victims, a lawyer’s letter explaining how the scene of the crime is being unsealed just for them and, most importantly, information on the characters they’ll be playing.


The Mortality Machine¬†welcomes LARP beginners, though it may take them some time to catch on. At each performance, the 20-odd participants are given cards that include descriptions of the respective characters they’ve been assigned, and their relationships to the others. “Your name is Mars McKinsey,” one says. “You lost your fianc√©e Omi Johnson.” Mars knows three other characters who are also present, including Omi’s aunt and a man named Riley. Meanwhile, the character description for Riley reveals that he slept with Omi — a fact Mars is unaware of.

“A number of the characters have a secret like that,” explains Jason Knox, another Sinking Ship co-founder, who believes these complicated intertwined backstories allow audiences to have “a more emotional experience.”


“There are 13 possible endings,” Hart says. “In one, everybody dies.”

The company presenting The Mortality Machine refers to their process as LARP Theater. LARP stands for Live Action Role Playing. The term will either work against them because of the historically derisive use of the term, or they may end up redeeming the term if people are impressed with the experience.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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