“Harken — Game of Phones” requires viewers’ smartphones to move the plot forward.
Ordinarily, it’s considered courteous to tuck away electronic devices during a theatrical production.
However, in Riddlesbrood Touring Theatre Company’s latest play, “Harken — Game of Phones,” running Nov. 3–5 at the Dennis Flyer Theater at Camden County College, such gadgets are actually essential.
The local troupe, which performs 60 to 80 murder mystery and touring dinner theater shows every year, values improv and audience interaction — two colossal components in this parody of the HBO sensation “Game of Thrones.”
“Some of the underlying structures of this show are based upon what we’ve learned over the years doing those shows,” said Clyde P. Riddlesbrood, Dungeon Master and director of the show, as well as one of the company’s founders. “All of our shows are very, very saturating the audience.”
Entering the theater, audience members are guided to a website (rtcshow.com), containing all of the play’s content. After getting acclimated to the program with a trivia game, attendees use their smartphones to vote upon the show’s ambiguous plotlines.
The play unfolds upon a series of polls proposed to the audience on a projection above the proscenium stage. In this videogame-esque interactive, the fourth wall is broken as the audience dictates which characters, or “players,” live and die.
The story itself is based on Riddlesbrood’s 2013 novel, “The Greatest Brochure in the World,” which follows a group of ordinary people attending a street fair where they’re transported into the fantasy world of Harken. The novel’s transformation into a stage production was first attempted in the spring of 2015 but underwent technical difficulties.
There are six potential plotlines. On any given night, two full stories will never be voted into fruition.
“We wanted to have something that was passive, where people could have the control,” Riddlesbrood said. “The show will shift in the direction of the majority of the audience. So, every time you watch the show, it’ll be different.”
The six “players” are trekking toward the top of a magical mountain called Carthogust, where they hope to defeat the sinister guardian, known as “Level Boss.”
“The hard part is going to be when you don’t know if you’re going to be player 1 or player 2. And you don’t know if someone is going to die and you have to take their role. That’s going to be the challenge, but I think it’s a challenge we’re all up for,” said Ami Reader, who plays the role of Ivy, the “gothic chick” player.
To pilot unpredictable plotlines, improv is key.
Although the script is constantly changing, the cast rehearses generic lines, practicing how to embody the essence of a particular dialogue in various ways, as they’re blindly demanded to tackle a new twist in the spur of the moment.
After the audience votes on a plot poll, the stage manager is immediately updated. The cast members are notified through red, green and yellow lights on golden posts scattered backstage.
“It’s something very nerve-wracking but also something very exciting,” said Jillian Dougherty, who plays role of Wren and a Zombie. “If you play two roles, you don’t know if you’re gonna have a quick change or not, if you’re going to have time.”
Even the scenery lies in the hands of the audience, as a massive digital screen will serve as the backdrop. Whether the theatergoers demand a forest or mountain scene, electronically manipulated images will change based on polling results, further generating the spectacle of a live video game.
“It’s coming to the point where everyone just assumes a show is going to be some kind of great, deep, moral lesson,” Riddlesbrood said. “That gives the viewer a responsibility … we just want them to have a really good time.”
Information Box: The production runs Nov. 3 at 7 p.m., Nov. 4 at 1 and 7 p.m., and and Nov. 5 at 1 p.m. Tickets range from $14 to $21. To purchase tickets, visit www.mainstage.org.