(Guest Author) Have you met Philip?
A couple of weeks ago I met Philip for the first time. Not in person, and not live, but through an interactive short film. Philip, 21, is an immersive date experience created by halucid_ Theatre Company. Based on writer and actor Philip Ofe’s experience of dating, the piece was originally intended to be a live immersive performance. However, due to our dear friend ‘rona, Philip adapted the piece, with Director Adam Glen and Producer Molly Young, to be an interactive on-screen performance, now available to view and take part in on the BBC’s taster page.
“How can an on-screen performance be interactive?” I hear you cry. I too wondered the same thing, anticipating the limits of viewing anything on a screen. Yet, the viewer affects the outcome of the performance by choosing how they react to the situations that present themselves. These branching narratives make the story unique to you and every viewing an entirely new experience.
So what actually happens? Lucky you, you’ve been invited on a date to the swanky Bramley’s Bar in Canterbury with the charming Philip. You start off with the small talk – is cereal a soup? (obviously NOT in my opinion). The evening wears on and people and situations from Philip’s past turn up, bringing up questions of identity, what makes or breaks a relationship, and how to move on. The date wraps up and you decide whether it crashed and burned, or if it might be worth risking a second date.
It’s such a well thought-out performance, and perhaps has a relevance far greater than initially intended in light of the pandemic. As we come out of various restrictions and dating seems more achievable, there are really big questions each of us have to face. Maybe our perspectives of love or happiness have changed and evolved into something else. Perhaps we’re more attuned to social justice issues or the affect our mental health has on our day-to-day life. This might seem irrelevant to our various love lives, but if it has affected and changed us, it’s going to affect how we look into relationships and treat one another. And how we treat and think of one another has a knock on effect on our experiences of dating. Philip touches on this, saying “To this day, the idea of interracial relationships scare some people. They don’t want to learn our culture, and they don’t want to be shunned or have their children shunned, they don’t want to be involved with facing the hardships that society has created for people of colour. They just want the good bits.”
Also, being able to have a whole date without mention of the pandemic is such a relief and breath of fresh air. I feel like I’ve lost the ability to think of conversational starters that don’t revolve around vaccines, lifting of lockdowns, and all the things seemingly lost in the past year. Even in this post alone, I’ve already mentioned the pandemic multiple times. Partly, this is because the events of our recent history have all been tainted by it in some way or another. Although, this is also down to not being surrounded by new people, constantly with people who already know me well or think they do, so we don’t ask questions to get to know each other. I’ve forgotten how to get to know people. Maybe this will prompt better questions in future, questions that require thought and show who we are, better than what our job is and where we come from.
The actual filming of it also is a massive triumph. Philip, 21 marks many of the crew’s first steps into the world of film, particularly interactive film, with Molly describing it as a “baptism by fire” as the “first draft of the branching narrative was drawn out on the back of a roll of wrapping paper on my living room floor. I didn’t even know what a branching narrative was a couple days before that. But we soon became fiercely knowledgeable of interactive story playing and branching narratives because of this process. We have learned so much.” The crew also includes collaborations alongside Amelia Mundy as script supervisor and production designer, Katherine Shannon as First Assistant Director, and Kwabena Asamoah as Alfie, alongside taking over the halucid_ Instagram in the lead up to promote the release. The fact that this was able to be filmed under COVID conditions truly is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the whole crew, who have managed to pull off a performance that shows no evidence of the limitations they faced.
For me, this is also super encouraging that interactive arts are very much still possible, even in the depths of lockdowns. Creativity cannot be stopped, and projects and ideas will continue to inspire and take shape. Adam noted how the group “wanted to utilize these times not as an excuse not to create, but as an opportunity to create something new. Hence why we took the decision to adapt our theatrical performance to something that we believe is the future of media, interactive art.” I hope to see more interactive films make a name for themselves – we’ve already seen it used on a large scale in Black Mirror, and I’m excited to see what more it can do. Philip, 21, truly is a huge feat of imagination, recognising the parts that are essential to the experience and adapting them for on-screen performance. I can’t wait to see more from halucid_ in the future, and in the meantime, will be replaying my date with Philip in my head on repeat.
Play Philip 21 here, Just click the button below.