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Mysterious & visceral. Interactive theatre meets mini-break as audiences play detective in the bedrooms & corridors of a real hotel.
Mysterious & visceral. Interactive theatre meets mini-break as audiences play detective in the bedrooms & corridors of a real hotel.
86 backers pledged £3,151 to help bring this project to life.

A peek behind the scenes of creating Black Tonic: Where theatre meets technology and games

Dear Backers,

We’ve been overwhelmed by the brilliant response to our campaign since we launched a few weeks ago. We'd like to extend our thanks to our newest backers - who have helped us to get to £2,000! Just £1,000 to go - and 7 days left to get there.

As a thank you we thought we’d give you a glimpse into the development process for some of the exciting digital elements of the production that are already underway. 

Here's Katie Day, Artistic Director, on the development process:

Since Black Tonic was created in 2008 I’ve been interested in ways we could build upon the strengths of the original production. A pivotal scene involves our audience members being led into a darkened room, a stark contrast to the brightness of the hotel corridor, and thematically the dark heart of the show.

In the original production the scene was led by an actor playing a blind, card-playing criminal called ‘Jo’. But for the 2015 remount I want to re-design this scene, and using digital and interactive elements bring it closer to our original ambition for what we wanted the scene to be. In the new scene the audience unlock the narrative of the scene themselves while playing a game of cards on an interactive card table. The playing of the game triggers the playing of audio files, creating a soundscape made of fragments of overheard conversations.

David & Seb using the RFID tags
David & Seb using the RFID tags

We are lucky enough to be working in partnership with Watershed in Bristol as one of our 2015 tour venues, and they are also supporting the technology development for this new scene. I also enlisted games designer Holly Gramazio to assist with developing a suitable game mechanic for this scenario.

Working alongside Watershed's Creative Technologist David Haylock our team was introduced to a number of ingenious options to help make this idea a reality. The first involves using inexpensive RFID tags, like those found in Oyster Cards, to create playing cards which can interact with small readers placed within a table. The downside of this system is that only the RFID tag at the bottom of a stack can actually be detected by the reader. As most card games involve stacking or creating piles of playing cards pursuing this route might prove very problematic.

The RFID tags are linked up to programme of sounds
The RFID tags are linked up to programme of sounds

Our current avenue of investigation is image recognition using a camera. After working on the Playable City Award-winning project ‘Shadowing’ David has recent experience of developing this kind of system. By using a PlayStation3 camera mounted above the table our system can 'see' each card as it is placed flat on the table below the camera. Though it’s the recognition and processing of the images on the cards where the real work comes in!

There’s a lot more still to discover and test before we build the final system, and of course, a lot more testing! We’ll then build all of this into a specially constructed card table, which will conceal all the technology hardware, keeping the interface as close to the experience of a ‘normal’ card game as possible.

There’s a lot more work ahead, but the progress we’ve made over the last few months has shown me that we can create a really novel and enjoyable experience for our audiences.

You can read more updates about the creative development process on our special series of blogs here.

Thanks for reading,

Katie Day

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