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Interactive adventure to mark TJ anniversary, bring statues to life

  • AVAdventure
    AVAdventure  Student participate in a recent AVAdventure meant to promote local organizations, businesses and transportation.  Photo courtesy of AVAdventure
  • Participatory theatre
    Participatory theatre  Participants on an AVAdventure about time travel watch (and listen on their headphones) as as an actor meets a tragic fate.  Photo courtesy of AVAdventure
  • From hobby to business
    From hobby to business  Adam Stackhouse '04 (center) began the AVAdventure in 2007 with some friends. Last year, he and Liz Sykes '06 turned the one-time hobby into a business.  Photo courtesy of AVAdventure
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On Friday the 13th, the statues at William & Mary will come to life. At least, that’s the rumor.

In order to mark the 250th anniversary of Thomas Jefferson completing his studies at the College, the university is hosting a highly interactive audio adventure for the campus community that promises to bring to life the College’s rich history and present it in an unforgettable way to the next generation of the Tribe.

The event, which begins at 8 p.m. on April 13, is an AVAdventure production, sponsored by the Office of Student Affairs, the President’s Office and the Student Assembly. It is free and open to students, faculty and staff as well as newly admitted students who will be on campus the next day for an Undergraduate Admission event.

AVAdventure productions are based around audio files, which provide participants with directions, dialogue, music and more as they engage in live-action stories together.

“It’s a digital media experience that combines elements of choose-your-own adventures, flash mobs, traditional theatre and dance parties and puts it all together and delivers it through digital media over the headphones,” said AVAdventure founder and co-director Adam Stackhouse ’04. “Synchronized audio is key.”

Co-director Liz Sykes ’06 said that the experience is similar to two popular shows: Improv Everywhere’s “MP3 Experiments” and the theatre production of “Sleep No More.”

“We use similar elements as those two shows, so we’re kind of a mash up of those two,” she said.

The AVAdventure began at William & Mary in 2007 when Stackhouse and his friends started creating the audio adventures as a fun, side project. In 2011, they presented at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive conference, receiving a strong reception and press coverage by USA Today. Later that year, Stackhouse and Sykes turned the one-time hobby into a business and soon began creating a variety of productions, featuring dance parties and storylines about super heroes. They also produced a special AVAdventure for the William & Mary orientation program, which introduced students to dozens of local businesses last fall.

The next William & Mary production, which has been titled “Statues of Limitations: The TJ AVAdventure,” will be the 13th event that the AVAdventure has done since it began in 2007 – a coincidental connection to the Friday the 13th date that just adds to the somewhat spooky appeal of the event.

The statues-coming-to-life storyline is centered on a legend, said Sykes.

“The legend is that on a special milestone for the statue, it’s possible for it to come to life,” she said. “This date is a milestone for Thomas Jefferson because it’s his birthday and anniversary of him (completing his studies) at the College.”

Stackhouse added, “And one student -- one very Tribe Pride student -- is aware of these rumors and this history and, you’ll see in the pre-event videos, is researching this and is encouraging everyone to come out to that spot on that night to help her out.”

However, things don’t end up happening quite as planned, which causes some problems, said Sykes.

“Things might spiral out of control, and then the stakes might be pretty high,” said Stackhouse.

Participants will download an audio file from the AVAdventure website to an iPod or other MP3 player the day of the event and will press play from anywhere on campus at 8 p.m. Although participants will encounter actors along the way, everything they will hear – dialogues, music, sound effects – has been pre-recorded and will be experienced through their headphones.

Because the immersive nature of the experience, participants – even shy ones – have no trouble getting involved, said the directors.

“It’s hard not to get wrapped into it once you have the audio going and see it happening,” said Stackhouse. “It’s one of those things that you really get once you experience it, way more so than kind of talking about it or watching a video recap. It’s just once you’re in it, you feel like you are in the middle of a story and you can have an effect on it, and you see it play out from different angles. Even people who are shy or hesitant have a tendency to get in there because they know that they’re a part of the story. From the minute they press play, it’s no longer a passive entertainment experience. It’s something they have to play.”

But the event is designed to be more than just a good time. It also seeks to also teach students about the College’s history and celebrate its culture.

“It really is in honor of Thomas Jefferson, so we included a lot of information about his time at the College, just reminding students about that because it’s a really cool aspect of William & Mary,” said Sykes.

“We would hope that students who go on it come out learning something about the figures on campus they didn’t know before, that they would have fun with it, and it would make them curious to learn something else,” said Stackhouse.

Student Assembly President Kaveh Sadeghian ’12 said that there was a general sentiment on campus last semester that something should be planned for the 250th anniversary of Thomas Jefferson completing his studies at William & Mary.

“(Thomas Jefferson) is one of our favorite people,” he said. “We talk about him all of the time, and we don’t even call him Thomas Jefferson, we call him ‘TJ’ as if he’s our bro.”

When the idea of hosting an AVAdventure came up, it seemed like a perfect way to mark the day.

“I think it’s just a really great way to celebrate a legacy but in a very modern and innovative and appropriate way,” he said. “It’s this really interesting conjunction of our past, and it looks kind of into the future as well, so it’s taking all of that into account.”

Sadeghian, who has been participating in AVAdventures since his freshman year, will be an actor for the first time in the upcoming production.

“It’s so much fun, and the plot is hysterical and it’s so relevant,” he said. “It’s just such a cool way to celebrate the College. It’s very much aligned with our culture. It has just the right amount of quirk in it to be perfect for us.”

He hopes that the event helps participants appreciate William & Mary’s past as well as its future, Sadeghian said.

“It’s amazing how relevant the College is to today’s society, but I think it’s even more astounding to look back and realize that the College has in fact been relevant to society for 319 years,” he said. “I’m hoping that this will be a cool reminder of where we come from and will get everybody hyped up about where we’re going.”

As for the admitted students, Sadeghian thinks the event will help them connect with the College’s culture and community.

“You are immediately connected with this larger group. You are immediately affiliated with what these guys are doing, and you belong to the group, so it’s very inclusive even if you don’t know each other,” he said. “I think it will be good for the admitted students because they are tapping into this community in a very tangible way. They download it, and they put on the headphones, and they are listening to what everyone else is listening to, and they’re in on it.”

Stackhouse agreed, saying he hopes the admitted students “do it and then say, ‘Now, I’m going here.”

“Because they learn a lot about the campus and go to a lot of cool places in the course of two hours, so it’s almost like an audio tour to the max for the admitted students.”

For more information, visit the AVAdventure website or the Facebook event page.