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The Seed, Great Gardens Of Sussex, until July 22
Joel Scott is a man with ideas for big spaces. After co-directing a cast of 260 in an outdoor theatre show about global waste in Europe’s largest housing estate (Park Hill in Sheffield), his latest production is based on four events in the Great Gardens of Sussex.
But not only will the shows be set outdoors – in forests, at night, with props including wireless headphones and animations – but the co-director of Goat And Monkey theatre company (with wife Sally, and Ian Summers) has decided to weave in an online story to run parallel to the live events.
And because he loves adventure, the tale, based on the exploits of Victorian plant hunters, is a giant treasure hunt, which will include players from around the world interacting online.
“The key thing is it is immersive, that the audience enters the world of the play,” explains Scott, who started Goat And Monkey after working with respected site-specific producers Punchdrunk in the early 2000s.
“I see a lot of theatre and I get bored by it. I sit and fall asleep. We make theatre where you are surrounded by it and the audience is central. If a character feels a certain way, we want the audience to think and feel that way as well.”
Scott enlisted David Varela to write The Seed as an Alternate Reality Game (ARG), which Wikipedia calls an “interactive narrative that uses the real world as a platform and uses transmedia to deliver a story that may be altered by participants’ ideas or actions”.
Varela was one of eight writers who worked on Perplex City, a real-time and online hunt for a priceless artefact in a fictional metropolis, which took two years to unfold, had 600,000 players and a prize of £100,000.
For The Seed – part of the Ahead Of The Game Festival, the culmination of four years of cultural events in West Sussex inspired by the London 2012 Olympic Games – Varela has written an ARG that centres on an imagined research assistant, Helen, who works at the Millennium Seed Bank.
Helen’s discoveries surrounding a piece of gold hand-wrought jewellery hidden by Goat And Monkey unfold through blogs, vlogs (video blogs) and photographs.
The live performances are an integral part of the search, with One For Sorrow at Nymans (June 9 and 10), The Lost Fortune at Wakehurst Place (June 23 and 24), Fool’s Gold at High Beeches (July 7 and 8) and Burning Gold at Borde Hill (July 19 to 22).
Scott says Helen will respond to players’ questions directly and solicit their help to solve clues and visit places she is unable to reach. He adds that those who see the shows have a better chance of finding the treasure.
If it all sounds a bit “out there”, it’s probably because it is.
“It’s going to be crazy,” agrees Scott. “It’s as far removed from classic theatre as you can get, be that in the dark in a forest or in a yurt or interacting online.
“But each show will be really different. The final one at Borde Hill is the risk show, in that there will be a battle in the forest and the audience will be in the middle of it.”
The settings reflect themes of colonialism, war, ambition, greed, love and adventure, with the four shows based on accounts of 19th-century plant hunters such as Frank Kingdon-Ward, who discovered plants for the gardens.
With his experience though, Scott is relaxed about the grand scale and potential for disaster.
“So long as there are no dogs digging things up, we will be OK.”
* Tickets from £8.50/£12.50. Call 01243 781312. For more info visit www.facebook.com/theseed2012 and www.goatandmonkey.co.uk