In this at-home experience audience members journey into a ghost story as they unravel secrets, solve mysteries, listen in on phone conversations, and enjoy a delicious meal. The experience involves exploring letters, audio and found objects that have been thoughtfully designed to guide audience members through a narrative world. No pesky Zoom meeting necessary. Welcome Home was presented by Shine On Collective, a female-driven, immersive theatre company who creates intimate, dark, shows in unusual places.
In our attempt to create an at-home experience in response to the COVID shutdowns, we focused on our existing strengths – developing intimacy between characters and audience, telling narrative stories and creating worlds and experiences that invite people to become part of the journey.
Very early on, the creative team discussed the role we wanted the audience to take within the story and the agency they would have within it. What’s their goal? Why are they important to the story? From this we developed mechanics that placed the audience into the shoes of the main character. They experienced this mystery as he did, following his steps, solving the puzzles he did and having the discoveries he did.
After development we began months of virtual and physical testing. We were constantly asking questions to understand how the audience was interacting with the puzzles and the narrative content, and to understand how the two interacted with each other. Our goal was to make the audience feel like they had agency within the story and that solving puzzles felt directly tied to the narrative and their agency within it.
We approached the visual design of the box in a theatrical way. Like the theatrical version of a serial killer’s living room that might be dark and drab and twisted at angles, the design of each object was purposeful, and meant to portray a heightened reality. The emotion needed to feel like it was bleeding out past the edges of the story.
Most important was the creation of the story and in turn the feeling the audience would be left with. In the story the audience helps someone who doesn’t feel like they belong and doesn’t feel heard. We hoped that the narrative would not only give people something to dive into as a distraction in these times, but also provide the feeling of doing something a little bit worthwhile in the midst of a lot of helplessness. We had participants contact us at the end of the experience to tell us how much it meant to them to be able to do something like this. “I’m not exaggerating when I say we got chills, were moved and choked up at the end, were surprised and delighted throughout… both as an interactive puzzle and a piece of storytelling we adored it. It’s a seriously fantastic piece of work.” Being able to provide catharsis in our current cultural environment is why we’re continuing to create art.