In 2020, like many theatre departments, NC State’s University Theatre faced huge challenges in determining how to continue to engage students in safe and meaningful ways. Its response was “The Institute”. “The Institute” was a series of site-specific immersive locations, tasks, and events created to allow Participants to uncover a single narrative story spread across campus throughout the entire spring semester of 2022. The premise: What if there was a secret department on campus studying time travel… and students have gone missing? Development began in 2020 and introduced students, as both creators and participants, to site specific, interactive, and immersive storytelling experiences.
For this project I served as one of two Creative Directors, alongside Jayme Mellema. Over the course of the 2020-2021 academic year, Jayme, the students, and I developed the story, over summer 2022 we wrote the story, Fall 2022 we built the spaces and puzzles, and The total participant experience consisted of eleven different experiences over the course of November 2021- April 2022.
This was by far the most complex and complicated experience I have ever created. This was also one of the most satisfying and fulfilling.
The complete participant experience can be read through at: www.redthreadbulletin.com
What Was The Story?
The Institute is a shorthand name for NC State University’s mysterious and hidden science department: The Institute for Temporal Observation and Application. Its existence is a closely guarded secret on campus because of their experimentation with time travel; where they Think and Do… the Impossible!
Now they are attempting to recruit campus participants in a study. But a mysterious group, known as The Cadre, wants your help to infiltrate The Institute and several students that have gone missing.
Participants were challenged to solve the mysteries surrounding The Institute and the missing students; Jess, Emma, and Taylor. Where (and when) they were lost, what happened to them, and how was it all tied together? Along the way they learned the missing students' stories, some of campus’s eclectic history, as well as finding a way to bring all 3 of them home.
Chapter 1- The Recruitment Office and The Observatory
The Recruitment Office has several stripes and The Institute Logo painted on the walls and was decorated to look like an office in the early 1980s. This space was used twice throughout the experience for 2 different puzzles.
The Observatory was a small office with a large control console we built for the space. The control console had 6 monitors, an openable drawer, and several working pieces for the participants to interact with during the puzzle. When the participants opened the drawer, it activated a trigger to flood the room with black light, revealing secret messaging written on the console. Both of these spaces began as empty rooms.
Chapter 2- The Time Seance (1922)
The Time Seance was an interactable space where the participants had to solve a series of puzzles to activate "The Looking Glass." The space continued with a scene set in the 1920's by actors in a different space. After a while, the participants became part of the scene when the actors started asking questions of the participants. The Looking Glass device is made of wood and foam with a TV mounted behind reflective mirror film. The video of the actors was live-fed into the device and a microphone was placed in the room so the actors could hear and interact with the participants and adapt their scene according to the responses. This space began as an empty room.
Chapter 3- The Hideaway (1974)
The Hideaway was a space meant to represent a storage space in 1974. The front half of the room resembled a computer room and when the participants entered through "The Aperture," a doorway made mostly of MDF and LEDs and painted to look like a metal doorway, they were teleported to 1974 where they had to solve puzzles and riffle through all the things stored in the room. This space began as an empty room.
Chapter 4- The Algorithm (1958)
The Algorithm space was decorated to look like 1958. As The participants entered the room they walked through The Aperture once again and were teleported to a living room in 1958. This space included a rather difficult puzzle and a working mid 1950's TV with a video fed in from a different location. This space began as an empty dorm room.
Chapter 5- The Lab
The Lab space was the final space we built for The Institute. In this space, the participants interacted with "The A.I. CHRONOS" to solve the mystery of the missing students and retrieve them from the time they were lost in. This space was built to look like a working lab using scientific equipment we acquired from Campus Surplus throughout the school year, a large built containment room with lighting and sound along with many cables running all over the space. We also built an interactive computer program, and an animated "puppet" controlled by an actor in another room with audio and visual feedback as "CHRONOS."