A Moment of Madness: On Demand is enjoying fabulous feedback from its immersive audience, so we asked Katie to tell us what inspired the interactive spy thriller and to give those audiences who are yet to experience the game an idea about what they might expect…
Q. How did you create the initial idea for A Moment of Madness, and how did it evolve?
So, the initial idea was that we would make this interactive box of documents and a simple phone, like an old Nokia phone, that we would use text messages and voicemails, and written documents, and ephemera to tell a story. And initially, we used the story world from Black Tonic, a previous project, as a foundation to experiment upon, but then we brought onboard a writer, Tim Wright. Together John, Tim and I went through a process of coming up with ideas for different story worlds to use for this kind of storytelling mechanism that we wanted to explore; we had several different ideas but the one that we decided to go with was this idea about political corruption, espionage, personal scandal in the political sphere. So the initial idea was born from that kind of brainstorming. Tim, the writer, used to work on a news desk and he just has an encyclopedic knowledge of politicians and their personal scandals.
Q. How long has A Moment of Madness been in the making?
We started with the initial concept in around 2014, so it’s a very long time. We started making the actual original production in about 2017. I then went on maternity leave for 10 months. And then we came back and went into full production phase ready to launch it. It premiered in May 2019 and then toured that year around the country. We then planned to do further in-person, real world touring, and then obviously the pandemic happened, so we decided to adapt what we had to an online Zoom format, which was released in May 2021. A Moment of Madness On Demand came from there.
Q. What was the inspiration to create a production that fuses theatre and gameplay?
The Other Way Works has been making interactive and immersive theatre productions, working in site based locations, for nearly 20 years. I’ve always been interested in how to create a lot of agency for audiences, making space for them to be really active in the experience. When I started learning a bit more about real world gaming, using those ideas and integrating them with immersive theatre it felt like the genre could be a really good solution for giving audiences more agency in the experience, and make something more playable. It’s about creating an experience for audiences that is just really exciting, really immersive, where they feel like they’re integral to it actually happening, and it goes beyond just walking through a space and looking at stuff. So that’s what I’m really aspiring to in the work that I make. And obviously, collaborating with John Sear meant that I had access to a lot of the theory and the practice of actually creating games and implementing them.
Q. What was the inspiration behind the main narrative thread, and how did you develop this?
Our inspiration was the cascade of politicians and their personal scandals over the years. There’s just so many bizarre scandals that politicians have been involved with, we just kind of made amalgams based on these to inform our characters. As we’ve been developing this new version there have been a lot of discussions about how when we wrote this in 2017/18 this was representative of how British politicians went about things. There are these scandals, but then if they were discovered the people were forced to face up to them. People resigned. And we look on in a kind of shocked amazement that that’s changed so much between 2017 and 2023, where politicians will just blast over the fact that these scandals are coming out and just don’t really care anymore, don’t think they should resign, don’t think that they have to be holding themselves to a moral standard. Which is quite shocking in only a five to six year period.
Q. What does the at home element bring to the production and the overall experience?
What the at home element brings is accessibility. We were excited about the idea of making this story experience accessible to people whenever they wanted to play it, so the at home experience just allows us to offer it to people in a much broader way than we have been able to before. Often our productions are very resource intensive to present and that means that our tours and audience numbers can be quite limited because the costs of mounting the productions are higher than the amount that we can make through performing them. So, this allows us to use all this huge amount of work that we’ve done in making this story world and this production and allows us to slightly condense it into something that people can play whenever they like. We really hope that we can reach more audiences, broader audiences.
Q. How did you decide what parts of the story are determined by the audience?
We haven’t really made a ‘choose your own adventure’ experience. Stylistically my preference is to come up with a guided route through a narrative. I see it as my role to tell a story to an audience. And so, it isn’t a free exploration of a narrative environment. It is a guided telling of this story, and we hope that we do that in a way that has a recognition of pace and surprises, twists and turns, and gradual revelation. It gives people an opportunity to push the edges of the experience, do the research, put in the work, but they don’t particularly define what happens. It’s about how they engage with the story world, where their interests lead them, which doors they push on, to inform the nuance of the storytelling. The main decision that they make is at the end of the production, where they get to decide the fate of the main character.
To play A Moment of Madness: On Demand for yourself click here
We would like to recognise the support of £21,574 we have received from Arts Council England and DCMS’ Culture Recovery Fund (Round 2), covering the period April-June 2021. This funding allows us to continue operating at this very difficult time for theatre and the arts, by paying our small freelance artist and producing team to develop new projects that address some of the crucial issues of our current times: the climate emergency, and political corruption.
A two-day workshop for artists and makers interested in fusing theatre with collaborative gaming and new technologies.
Artists Katie Day and John Sear will share learning from the process of making A Moment of Madness, a new immersive and playful theatre experience which sees audiences thrust into the heart of a political spy thriller.
Open to artists and makers at any stage in their career – be it student, emerging or established, this practical workshop will provide hands-on opportunities to create your own mini experience.
Monday 13th & Tuesday 14th May 2019
10am – 4.30pm
(Birmingham Open Media)
1 Dudley Street
We were lucky enough to be awarded a ‘CATH’ grant last year, and have been working in collaboration with some excellent people to create a new concept using our 2008 production Black Tonic as its inspiration.
Inspired by The Other Way Works’ 2008 immersive theatre production ‘Black Tonic’
This pilot project has been delivered through the Collaborative Arts Triple Helix, a research project by the University of Birmingham in partnership with University of Leicester, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council as part of their Creative Economy Knowledge Exchange programme.
Agent in a Box will eventually be an hour-long spy thriller, theatre game experience, to be played alone in an anonymous hotel bedroom.
Agent in a box is an exciting creative content offer for those boring evenings you spend in chain business hotels when travelling for work with only CNN for company.
The experience is delivered in the form of a portable box (the size of a box of chocolates), which can be purchased for yourself or as a gift. An interactive story of espionage told through paper fragments, phone and text messages, provoking the player to accept the invitation of the anonymous hotel room to become someone new if only for one night.
We are now seeking partnerships to help us develop the project.
1. Gathers social media content from user’s accounts (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Google+);
2. Produces a video from user’s social media content;
3. Content of video aims to be of significance to the user (it is anticipated that this would be achieved by automated classification and clustering of content);
4. Video looks attractive and professionally produced;
5. Video is 1-3 minutes in length;
6. It should be cost effective and seek to use pre-existing assets, services and tools;
7. Cost of Prototype development does not exceed £40,000.
Requirements for the Feasibility Study:
1. It will include a proposed technical solution;
2. The development plan will include effort estimates and suggested delivery timescale;
3. The technical specification and development plan should be clearly and realistically costed;
4. A list of the technologies required;
5. Person specifications for developing and integrating these technologies, and leading the project;
6. A Skype meeting with Katie Day after the study is complete to discuss the proposal.
Please get in touch with Katie Day via email to email@example.com by 6pm on Friday 25th April 2014 to express your interest in delivering this brief.
Please provide a brief overview of your relevant experience. Include any links to your CV, portfolio or existing apps.
We have more detailed requirements and use cases for the prototype that we will supply to the selected applicant.
Katie Day – Co-creator and Director
Katie Day is the Artistic Director of The Other Way Works. In this role she initiates and directs new productions, delivers participatory activities, and leads the strategic development of the Company. In Spring 2011 she co-created and directed Avon Calling, a site-responsive performance for audience member’s own living rooms. She directed the company’s recent production Black Tonic which premiered in Manchester with Contact Theatre in November, and toured to Birmingham in April 2009, and Bristol’s Mayfest in May 2009. During the summer and autumn of 2008 she directed and co- devised Complimentary, commissioned for Warwick Arts Centre, and led a DIY5 artists’ professional development project on behalf of the Live Art Development Agency. Throughout 2010, Katie produced the Theatre Sandbox scheme for iShed, working with six regional venues to commission six new projects that explored the use of pervasive media in live performance. (more…)
The following information is provided by Dr Debra Skene, Black Tonic‘s Scientific Collaborator:
Broken body clocks and sleep problems
Debra J. Skene, Scientific Collaborator
Centre for Chronobiology | Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences |University of Surrey | Guildford, UK
Within our brain is a clock which provides information about “the time of day” to our bodily functions enabling us, for example, to be awake during the day and sleep at night. This clock is synchronised to the 24 h light/dark cycle by environmental light that enters the eyes. In totally blind people (such as Jo) light transmission is impaired and is unable to synchronise the body clock thus the desynchronised clock “free runs” at its own pace. As Jo says: “I have a tick, but no light to reset my tock”. In most people a desynchronised clock free-runs at a period length of greater than 24 h. While in a desynchronised state, symptoms akin to jet lag are experienced (daytime sleepiness, poor night sleep, reduced alertness and performance during waking). This is a lifelong condition for totally blind people.
Body clocks can also be disturbed by rapid shifts in time as experienced following travel across time zones or by rotating shift workers. Steve and Anna have flown across time zones; Helen and Lena are shift workers. Symptoms of disrupted clocks are poor night sleep, daytime napping, reduced alertness, fatigue, and reduced ability to perform during waking hours that may predispose a person to accidents and risk. The long term consequences of repeated clock disruptions are just beginning to be studied with epidemiological studies showing increased cardiovascular and cancer risk in night shift workers.
How to treat and correct disturbed clocks is an important research area. Currently there are two recognised treatments, melatonin tablets and light exposure (especially light enriched with the colour blue). These treatments can directly speed up or slow down the body clock so that it more quickly becomes synchronised to the new time zone or the new work shift schedule. Appropriately timed melatonin and light (and avoidance of light at some times) can be used to alleviate the symptoms of jetlag or shift work. For example, Anna’s “jet lag pack” includes melatonin pills, a Lightbox, an eye mask, sunglasses and a chart showing when to use these for maximum effect. Melatonin is also currently the treatment of choice for cyclic sleep/wake disorder experienced by totally blind people. Melatonin has been shown to correct the underlying clock problem in the blind as well as improve night sleep and reduce daytime napping.
Arendt, J. and Skene, D.J. Melatonin as a chronobiotic. Sleep Medicine Reviews (2005) 9, 25-39.
Skene, D.J. and Arendt, J. Circadian rhythm sleep disorders in the blind and their treatment with melatonin. Sleep Medicine (2007) 8, 651-655.
Shift working and long -distance travel can destabilise sleep patterns. One of the challenges facing the audience in Black Tonic is working out the extent to which the actions of the characters are affected by their disrupted sleep. Our assessment is affected by the fact that the play is presented in such a way that we too experience the symptoms.
The jobs of the characters make it appropriate to stage Black Tonic not in a theatre but in the rooms and corridors of the Place Hotel. Lena (Magdalena Tuka) is a chambermaid working shifts in the hotel. Here she encounters Anna ( Katherine Maxwell-Cook) whom she blames for the loss of her lover. Lena fears that Anna is going to exert her malign influence over long distance traveller Steve ( Gareth Nicholls) and his partner Helen (Laura Ellison). Anna , insomniac and self-harming, clearly feels guilty about something and we have to work out her true motives.
The play requires an unusual level of audience participation ranging from the usual one of observing and interpreting to more direct involvement of conversing and interacting with the characters. At times this involvement is secured in a natural manner.
From our hotel room we overhear Lena convey her suspicions to her supervisor Marie (Lou Platt). After interrupting an argument we are taken to one side by Helen or Steve to hear their concerns or confessions. Other cues for participation, however, are more artificial. A telephone call urges us from room to corridor or we are just directed into a darkened room. It is a shame that these directions could not be more discrete (the telephone call could have been intended for another room but received by us in error) so as to maintain the illusion of spontaneous involvement. This occasional disjointed approach does, however, help us feel we are experiencing the type of confusion caused by destabilised sleep patterns.
Director Katie Day lists theatre and hotels as her major passions . Yet the influences on Black Tonic seem cinematic rather than theatrical with the techniques of David Lynch being particularly apparent. The environment in which site-specific events take place can create problems as well as generate benefits. Day not only avoids problems but uses the atmosphere of the hotel to exploit the feeling you get in such locations that something weird might be going on in the next room; and by extension that strange things may be happening beneath the conventional surface of society as a whole.
Apart from Magdalena Tuka, who is given the chance to show different aspects of Lena,the actors are not really required to create characters. Their purpose is more to tell the story and convey the atmosphere of a waking dream – which they do very well. The story, by Clare Duffy, is not entirely original – one recalls similar storylines in a tale by Stephen King and a film by David Fincher. Nevertheless the story is told in a very imaginative way and leads to a satisfying conclusion.
Black Tonic might be a triumph of style over substance but it is very imaginative and a lot of fun.
In Black Tonic, devised by the Birmingham-based company The Other Way Works, an audience of two couples play detectives piecing together a dramatic jigsaw acted out in the lobby, corridors and bedrooms of a hotel. Instructions are issued by phone or shakily typed notes in Clare Duffy’s ingenious web of fantasy mingled with reality, directed by Katie Day and nimbly executed by a small cast.
After checking in to Manchester’s Place Hotel we’re offered a Black Tonic to sip while the rooms are prepared. At one table, two guests innocently swap stories while, a little nearer, a married couple called Steve and Helen fool fondly around. My fellow traveller and I share the lift with them – Steve now moody and apparently jet-lagged – on the way to our penthouse apartment. Before we reach our destination, Room 503, Helen runs forward to assist a young lady who is lying apparently injured on the ground. Assured there’s nothing we can do, we’re told to close our door behind us.
Video sequences flash across the television monitor, then room service is temporarily interrupted as a chambermaid Lena (Magdalena Tuka) rushes to our bathroom to throw up. She’s clearly troubled by what she has seen elsewhere. Marie (Louise Platt), squirting air freshener, begs us to turn a blind eye, bribing us with extra pillow chocolates.
Outside the door, a full-scale row is erupting. My co-detective and I have our ears bent separately by Helen and Steve. It’s hard knowing how to respond to a young woman pouring out her heart about the apparent faithlessness of her husband and begging for advice. After all, I saw the incriminating evidence slipped into her handbag downstairs. How interactive should we be? Should we strong-arm the maid who has stolen a laptop? The blind man in the darkened room clearly expects a vocal response. He has a tick, he says, “but no light to reset my tock”. This, it turns out, is a clue.
Thrust into a room with stuff strewn on the floor, we find clues as to the identity of Anna, who specialises in “professional relationship restoration”. A jet-lag pack – containing melatonin tablets, an eye mask and a blue lightbox – presents another twist in this mystery about anonymity and intimacy, the effects of light and sleep deprivation, and a blind date between the nightly life of a hotel and the endless possibilities of dramatic fiction.
Anna has an unusual job: she runs an organisation specialising in “professional relationship restoration”. If you want to get your ex-partner back, she may be able to help. We first meet her in the bar of a London hotel. She is downing a cocktail called a Black Tonic and observing a married couple, Helen and Steve. We watch her watching, and are plunged into an evocative thriller that takes place in the public spaces, corridors and bedrooms of the hotel.
Commissioned by Camden People’s Theatre for the Sprint festival, Black Tonic is a site-responsive performance produced by the Birmingham-based The Other Way Works. It is designed to be played in hotels for an audience of two at a time. This is quite an early version of a show that I think could eventually be a cracker; it is already technically adept, and plays cleverly with that particularly odd tension between anonymity and intimacy that is part of any hotel environment. One of the fascinating things is the way the real guests in the hotel seem entirely oblivious to the impostors around them, raising the idea that in such circumstances we are all giving some kind of performance.
The show also melds the public and private faces of the hotel, particularly the way chamber maids are both present and invisible. The balance of video to live action isn’t quite right, and the piece needs more emotional texture, but this is work with real potential.
Mercure Holland House Hotel, Bristol (Fri 1-Mon 4 May)
Strange things were happening at Redcliffe’s Holland House Hotel last weekend, as Birmingham-based theatre group The Other Way Works led audience members through the rooms and corridors to unravel a psychological mystery. The experience is less literal and more impressionistic than one might expect from a mystery story, more David Lynch than Agatha Christie. Led round in pairs, we see one corridor scene twice, breaking the narrative flow but also leading us to question our first reading of the scene; the rooms’ TV equipment is used to show short films that draw us into a key character’s psyche; and at one point all four audience members are invited to sit down and play ‘Snap’ with a blind man, for no apparent reason other than to mess with our heads. The possibilities of the setting are fully explored and it’s all executed with impressive precision, whilst the performances are so naturalistic that it is genuinely difficult to tell the actors from the ordinary guests in the hotel. And just when you think the ambiguity and surreality are going to get a bit much, everything ties up into a satisfyingly elegant conclusion. Just the kind of high-quality experiment that can make Mayfest such a refreshing tonic.
Produced by Birmingham company The Other Way Works, this interactive performance for an audience of just four draws on a short story by Clare Duffy. It’s an intriguing detective tale about Anna, who offers a service described as “professional relationship restoration” that takes place in the rooms and corridors of a hotel, and its pleasure is in the tension between that strange hotel mix of intimacy and anonymity and the way real guests are oblivious to what is happening.