Alien Contagion: Rise of the Zombie Syndrome tasks audiences with finding a downed UFO that has crashed on earth. Virtual Stage’s interactive adventure runs to Nov. 1. (photo from Virtual Stage)
For anyone who has dreamed of saving the world, now’s your chance. All you have to do is take part in Virtual Stage’s Alien Contagion: Rise of the Zombie Syndrome, which runs until Nov. 1.
Several shows have already sold out, with people keen to take on their mission. “This year, audiences are tasked to respond to a highly confidential NASA report about a downed unidentified flying object that has crashed on earth. The exact location is unknown,” reads the promotional material. “To add to the mystery, the alien pilot is reportedly injured, has escaped and is hiding in Vancouver. Furthermore, every NASA official sent to locate the UFO has returned in a zombie-like state … brave and adventurous audience members must find the downed spacecraft, quell the nearby zombie uprising and, ultimately, save the human race from the brink of extinction.”
This is the fourth annual interactive, smartphone-enabled theatre experience produced for the Halloween season by Virtual Stage.
“The idea originated four or five years ago after I went to the West End in London, England, to see a bunch of theatre,” creator Andy Thompson told the Independent. “I saw all sorts of plays in many different styles of venues. I went to very fancy theatres. I went to small, edgy, Fringe-type theatres. I was even lucky to witness rare performances including Kevin Spacey playing Richard III, as well as the ‘real-life’ theatrical event of Rupert Murdoch getting pied in the face in the British House of Commons.
“The most engaged I felt as an audience member, however, was during an interactive play called The Accomplice. It took place on the streets of London and involved the audience being endowed as key figures in an adventure to recover stolen loot. It was so much fun! The piece was basically a crime drama, but I wondered how a horror-genre show could use a similar format. Add to the mix my interest in technology and smartphones and I quickly developed an idea for a smartphone-enabled, site-specific, roving, zombie-themed theatre adventure with audience members tasked with saving the world.”
Thompson said the series, which premièred in 2012, wasn’t meant be an annual event. “It was a huge creative risk ‘one-off’ event and I thought it could easily flop,” he said. “Needless to say, it came as quite a pleasant surprise when the show was so well received, selling out almost shortly after we opened. People just loved it. After I realized the popular appeal, I looked at how it could be designed as an annual series that is completely new each year.”
This is not Thompson’s first foray into science fiction. The Jewish community member’s credits include – but are in no way limited to – the three previous Zombie Syndromes, SPANK!, 1984 (an adaptation of George Orwell’s novel) and the sex-comedy musical Broken Sex Doll, which featured original music by fellow Jewish community member Anton Lipovetsky, as well as episodes of TV’s Fringe.
“It is so much fun to imagine the seemingly endless possibilities in the universe,” said Thompson about his interest in science fiction. “I often contemplate our reality on planet earth, which often feels like a far-fetched science fiction story idea. Consider: we are on a small planet, whipping through space, revolving around a star. Our star is merely one of billions of stars in the Milky Way galaxy. And, if that’s not all, there are billions of galaxies in the universe. So, by my rough math, that means there are at least 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars in the universe. Earth and our existence seem extremely small when put into this perspective. And that’s just when we look at ‘third-dimensional’ reality. I am convinced that there are tangible, intelligent realities on other vibrational frequencies that we are unaware of. Like the sound of a dog whistle, humans are just not currently attuned to be aware of them. Without a doubt, what Shakespeare said in Hamlet is certainly true: ‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’
“Life is pretty mind-blowing when you really think about it. Science fiction allows us to imagine the possibilities. And, half the time, because our existence is so vast, we get to explore far-fetched ideas that cannot be definitively refuted. To me, it’s a great deal of fun.”
And a great deal of work. Alien Contagion: Rise of the Zombie Syndrome features “about 45 performers this year, as well as about a dozen crew and designers,” said Thompson. “The logistics are mind-numbing, but we have a great team and a lot of experience under our belts. We generally start planning the show a year in advance. Things progressively kick into higher gears over the spring and summer. The storylines are often collaborative. This year, my stepson Finn [Ghosh-Leudke] co-authored the story with Tyler Clarke and myself. I then wrote the script based on that story.”
The show is fully wheelchair accessible. However, it is rated PG-13 because of the subject matter, and children under 13 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. For tickets and more information, visit thevirtualstage.org/tickets.