Looking back to The Beach: the multiplatform design

It’s hard to believe that two years ago I was caked in sand, doing early development of The Beach theatre game.

I thought I’d blog some of the background to the multiplatform work we did, partly because we have come to regard this as one of the core specialities of NativeHQ and partly because multiplatform theatre is a growing area of innovation. I also wanted to pull together some of the relevant links in one place.

The Beach was a pioneering theatre production combining drama with gameplay, produced by National Theatre Wales in association with Hide & Seek. The live event ultimately took place on the sands of Prestatyn, Wales in late July 2010. If you’re curious about the live game itself start with the blog post about game design and others tagged ntw05 on the theatre’s community site.

But as I said, let’s consider the multiplatform aspect to the production.

Theatre-goers were given the opportunity to interact with the characters of Charlie and TJ in advance of the game via discussions on their personal Facebook profiles.

I was reminded of the importance of time here. Time is among a multiplatform producer’s best assets. I think one particular challenge we had was that we were building not only character profile pages (which is trivial) but social networks of audience members to be friends for the characters (which requires promotion of some kind). If you don’t have time to build these networks of friends/followers, you need massive exposure. That same summer in 2010 Bethan Marlow (who was one of my co-writers on The Beach along with Rhiannon Cousins) worked on Such Tweet Sorrow which was an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet on Twitter. The Royal Shakespeare Company, the producers of the show, made excellent use of the Twitter fever and their own reputation to build the characters social networks rapidly. Another advantage RSC had was that their production, while multiplatform, was online-only whereas we were sharing the attention between online and the live game on the beach. If anything The Beach used online as an adjunct to the live game.

While this was happening and the live rehearsals were beginning I captured a few One Minute With video interviews, which weren’t part of the drama but intended to be a chance to meet members of the production team behind the scenes.

The characters also produced daily phonecam videos where they gave story details and began to recruit members to the mission, i.e. members of the audience. These and the other social media activities were an integral part of the theatre production, the drama and its interactivity. Members of the audience began to consider themselves participants and had some early affinity with the characters. Because each video was uploaded while fresh it felt very spontaneous and dramatic, very much like theatre although the medium was online video. This contributed greatly to the later success of the live event. From a theatre production standpoint, the videos provided additional opportunities for the director Catherine Paskell to help the actors develop their characters in advance of the live game.

A key aim was to guide the online storytelling strategy and ensure that the drama was expressed believably through social media. I’m very pleased with how this was done and in the process I definitely learned some valuable insights about character and story from my colleagues on The Beach project.