Halifax theatre group combines mystery, technology in unique library performance

Zuppa Theatre Co. describes their upcoming show as a digital scavenger hunt wrapped in an undercover live performance.


Published on April 10, 2017

(from left) Ned Zimmerman, Alex McLean and Susan Leblanc show one of the iPads used in the Archive of Missing Things at the Killam Library Friday.

©Patrick Fulgencio for Metro

You’re in a library and a passerby drops a book. Is it just a person dropping a book, or is it an actor giving you a clue?

Halifax’s Zuppa Theatre Co. is calling on anyone who fancies themselves an amateur detective to their immersive play The Archive of Missing Things at the Stages Festival in Halifax this May, made in partnership with Dalhousie Libraries.

“The things that are happening around you give you clues - if you're observant - that will help you get through the maze online,” says the show’s director, Alex McLean.

The show – part play, part Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book, part online scavenger hunt – is gaining attention through their Kickstarter. The crowdfunding campaign launched last week, and they’re already getting close to their $4,500 goal.

McLean believes the intrigue of the show will reach people beyond the usual theatre-goers to others who just want to support a unique project.

“We think this is a show that isn't just for theatre people; it's a game, it's kind of a weird, strange thing that is happening in a library,” says McLean.

When audience members arrive to Dalhousie’s Killam Library for the show, they will get an iPad and a wireless headset. Then they take a seat and their immersive theatre experience begins.

A child narrator explains their goal through the headset: to get to the Heart of the Archive using clues from the Archive of Missing Things, a website created by the theatre company, and clues from undercover live actors in the library. The threads you follow, informed by the clues you pick up, determine if you reach the elusive Heart of the Archive.

“We sort of think of it as though the Archive of Missing Things were a physical space that was digitized at some point,” says Ned Zimmerman, the project’s web designer.

He worked with the show’s playwright Kate Cayley to turn the collection of stories she wrote about the missing items – like a set of keys or a child’s book – into narrative threads that audience members can follow on the iPad.

“(It) basically lets you navigate through these little chapters and subsections of each story in ways that branch off from each other and sometimes reconnect,” says Zimmerman.

Not everyone will reach the centre of the Archive’s maze, says McLean, “but that hopefully the experience of looking will be fun and interesting in and of itself."

Zuppa Theatre is hoping to fundraise more than their current goal, which is enough to cover about half of their wireless headsets. Additional money raised will go to more iPads and headsets that can be used for this show, future shows in other libraries, and the costs of website design and rehearsals.

After the Stages Festival in May, they’ve already got an offer to perform at the Agatha Christie Festival in Torquay, England this fall.

The play previews in the Killam Library on May 15, and runs at various times from May 16 to 27. You can also donate to their The Archive of Missing Things Kickstarter.