A virtual haunting from the Catch the Keys Productions for a Covid-19 Hallowe’en
review by Talicia Dutchin
Answer the phone, says the text on my computer screen, bright against the pitch black of my living room. My phone starts ringing. I answer it.
“Hello, my sweet Talicia. Is that you? Are you there?”
“Good, good. I’m so glad I was able to reach you. I’ve missed you. Have you missed me?”
The voice coming through my speaker is low and smooth, like he’s trying to be charming. It almost seems taunting. It makes me feel uneasy.
“No,” I tell him. He laughs, like someone who thinks they’re going to get their way whether or not I play along.
I’m a big fan of immersive and interactive theatre and have been to several such performances over the years. I like the feeling that you get when you become a part of the story, when you influence how it might turn out or make choices that determine what you will discover. Sometimes you’ll get the whole story (well, from one perspective anyway), and other times you may only get fragments of everyone’s stories. This is the first online interactive theatre performance I’ve attended, though, and it didn’t disappoint.
This is the idea behind Curio Shoppe, a self-described “interactive nightmare, experienced online and from the discomfort of your own home”. If you’ve ever been to Dead Centre of Town at Fort Edmonton Park, then you have a bit of an idea what to expect here. Curio Shoppe is the newest production from the brilliant minds of sisters Megan and Beth Dart, of Catch the Keys Productions.
In this all new format of immersive theatre, they do what they’ve done best for the last 12 years with Dead Centre of Town: brought to life the violent, strange, disturbing, and all true local history that Edmonton has to offer.
This time it’s with a little more of a twist than usual since you’re taking part by yourself, at home. One-part horror to more-parts history, this isn’t meant to be like a haunted house with cheap jump scares—but don’t quote me on that. If you get chills, it’s because what you’re experiencing was based on something real.
To attend Curio Shoppe, you need both a working computer and cell phone, and a willingness to engage with the story and suspend your disbelief. When buying your ticket, you are asked to give your phone number and e-mail, acknowledging that when the time comes, this will play a role in the interactive nature of the experience. Who knows, you might receive a call, or a text, or an e-mail that you will have to answer. After all, when you’re attending an online performance, how else will you get to interact in real-time with it? Other than that, you get to pick where you want to go and enjoy the horror you encounter.
The story builds on a selection of items in an antiquated shop with an eccentric shopkeeper who helps guide you on your way. You’re asked to decide whose story you want to follow, by choosing one of four items.
At least, that’s what I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to do. I had a technical error with my laptop in full-screen mode, and it didn’t display the items for me to choose from. While disappointing, it’s not the end of the world, because the production will make choices for you if you’re not fast enough.
I didn’t end up with the letters that I had wanted to choose, and I’m not entirely sure what it chose for me – a hammer, I think. That’s okay though because there aren’t any wrong choices, only different ones. Every story is going to lead you to its inevitable, probably grim, conclusion after all. The getting there is the interesting part.
The whole event is a mix of pre-recorded performances, digital media that you get to interact with and make choices based on, and the real-time live portion(s) where you become part of the show. I don’t want to give anything away, but rest assured that as the story reveals itself with each choice you make, it’s sure to be equally stunning and horrifying.
The performances for my story were very minimal, with no elaborate sets or props, just the actors being the absolute centres of attention. They were striking – each wonderfully lit to be ghastly and give off a sense of macabre decay.
Being online has given the production room to play around more with the visual elements, to find new ways to capture our attention. The figures on-screen flickered seamlessly and suddenly between solid and spectral, all their attention focused on me as they gave me their stories, and warnings. It very much felt like Curio Shoppe was delivering on its promise that you’ll haunt your own house.
You have until October 31 to get tickets and make your own choices. And remember, everything comes with a price. Are you willing to pay it?
Catch the Keys Productions
Until October 31, 2020