Choose your own theater

A new Fringe production lets the audience decide how the show ends.

Brian Tangren, left, and Adrienne Kronick perform in

Simon Guerra

Brian Tangren, left, and Adrienne Kronick perform in “Choose Your Adventure” on Thursday at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage. The show is a part of the Minneapolis Fringe Festival going on from Aug. 2-12.

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What: “Choose Your Own Adventure!”

Where: Minneapolis Theatre Garage, 711 W. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis

When: 10 p.m., Aug. 8; 7 p.m., Aug. 9; 5:30 p.m., Aug. 11

 

The “Choose Your Own Adventure” series of interactive books, with their pulpy titles like “The Cave of Time” and “War with the Mutant Spider Ants,” are staples of the fourth grade canon. Now, they’ve inspired a stage play by two University of Minnesota alumni.

“Choose Your Own Adventure!,” premiering at this year’s Fringe Festival, lets the audience determine the course of the play.

“I didn’t want to do something that people had done before, like ‘Crazy Shakespeare Thing!’”**** said Jacob Wellington, who co-directed the show with his girlfriend Katrina Zahradka.

The couple met onstage at the University, and this is the first show they’ve directed together.

“It was all a big experiment to see if we would break up,” Wellington said.

They held auditions using scripts from episodes of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Xena: Warrior Princess.” The cast they assembled worked together to create the show.

“The U of M theater department does a lot of collaborative plays, a lot of improv and a lot of writing scripts from scratch as a team effort,” Zahradka said. “So that was our training.”

They spent rehearsals playing improv games, which eventually evolved into recurring bits and full scenes. For the final three weeks of rehearsal, the cast began pulling all of the scenes together into a coherent script.

They devised a framing device with a narrator who has lost some pages to his book. He calls on the audience to help fill gaps in the story. The choice dictates which scene comes next.

Some scenes feature heavy improvisation, while others are scripted, and the cast doesn’t know what they’ll have to work with until the show is in progress.

Developing clean transitions between the scenes was a challenge. The lynchpin is Angela Van Epps, who plays all of the ancillary parts in the show. Van Epps spends much of the show watching from the wings, not knowing what part she’s going to be called to play in the next scene.

“She has about twenty seconds to make her costume change based on what the audience has chosen,” Zahradka said.

With eight choices throughout the show and five different endings, the cast hasn’t performed the same show twice. They even made a map backstage to keep all of the iterations of the play straight. But the cast said all of the possibilities keep the show interesting.

“As someone who watches the show every night regardless, I love it because I get to see a different show every night,” said stage manager Laura Topham. “We have five shows, and we’d love to see all five of the endings,” she said.