SXSW Calling Adam Stackhouse '04

At precisely 10 pm on a Friday evening last fall, more than 800 people around the William and Mary campus pushed play on their mobile devices. This is what they heard: "Good evening, you have been selected for a scientific demonstration. Please report to the Tyler Statue Garden as quickly as possible." And suddenly they were part of what could be the next big social technology phenomenon.

Adam Stackhouse '04With two Emmy Awards on his shelf, freelance video producer Adam Stackhouse '04 is working on what might be the Next Big Thing, interactive storytelling. In March 2011 he and his company, AVAdventure Productions, were invited to present a session at the industry's seminal SXSW (South by Southwest) conference in Austin, Texas. The buzz: Turner Broadcasting, T-Mobile, Scholastic, and others are looking to link up. AVAdventure Productions’ next scheduled event is “The Heist” on May 7 in Williamsburg. Learn more at theAVAdventure.com

 

It was the fifth in a series of unique digital storytelling experiences created by AVAdventure Productions, the brainchild of Adam Stackhouse ’04 and several fellow W&M grads. Each interactive narrative combines detailed scripting and costumed actors with improvised performances and unpredictable interactions to create a highly entertaining experience.

“What we are doing is new and different,” says Stackhouse. “The ball is already in motion for the next step.”

Here’s how it works.

Participants download a media file - either audio or audio/video – then upload it to their mobile device (mp3 players, smart phones, etc.) and at a predetermined time press play to begin a narrative created by Stackhouse and his team. As the story unfolds, users are given instructions to follow and choices to make, and are introduced to characters to create an experience that is part movie, part social media experiment, and part interactive theater-in-the-round.

"The idea was little more than me trying to think of a creative project to take on for fun in 2007," says Stackhouse. "I got a couple of friends together and threw things together a couple of nights later.  Clearly we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into."

{{youtube:medium:right|ChucWguYQ3w, AVAdventure Productions}}

In the case of last fall’s adventure, Time | Split, two separate and synchronized 90-minute narratives led participants on a time-traveling adventure. At the predetermined time of 10 pm, everyone who downloaded one of the adventures hit play and followed the story they were given.

“With each participant engaged through headphones as part of the large group, it creates a compellingly personal experience and communal interaction at the same time,” says Stackhouse.

As part of each narrative, the groups crisscrossed campus following a historically based story about the invention of a powerful time machine. At various points, each group encountered live interactions between story characters acting out the narrative on their mobile devices.

At other points, the two groups discovered each other and interacted in dramatic ways. For example, the time-travel story took each group to the Age of Dinosaurs. One group was told to go up on a hill and freeze into fossilized form to avoid detection by a group of scientists; moments later the other group was told to come over that same hill and walk through the land of the dinosaurs. Thus one group became the characters for the other group's story, and vice versa.

“We are blurring the lines between predetermined narrative and live experience,” says Stackhouse. “For each experience we know the start and finish to the story, and the goal is for each participant to deviate as much as possible between those two points to create his or her own story. Our hope is that each person has their own personal experience.”

In February, AVAdventure Productions launched The Declaration of Codependence, their first experience that engaged groups in Washington, D.C., Williamsburg, and online at the same time.

{{youtube:medium:left|-Lk0UYvG34I, The Declaration of Codependence}}

“Our challenge is to push the boundaries of interactive storytelling and focus the excitement around what we are doing,” says Stackhouse. “From interactive museum education experiences to a personalized wedding proposal, the uses of what we are doing could be seemingly endless.”

 

“Whatever the future may be for interactive storytelling, you can bet that AVAdventure
. . . will likely be a part of it.” – Publishers Weekly