DATUM with ZU-UK
With the DATUM interactive theatre experience, the big question was, "What do these many different parts add up to and what is the audience taking away from the experience?"
Zecora Ura Theatre Company (ZU-UK)
A complex interactive theatre with many moving parts that needed reworking, an emotionally-invested creative team who had already been working on the project for years, and an incoming playtest just two months from our meeting.
After playtesting the experience, Squinky and Jess took into account the ZU-UK team's practical needs and emotional connection to the project to help them make hard decisions and provide ways forward for their interactive experience.
Actionable feedback and direction to improve the experience based on Soft Chaos's expertise for ZU-UK, and an ongoing collaborative relationship with ZU-UK for us.
We love how [Soft Chaos makes] you see your piece anew, with the fresh eyes that are sometimes needed to spot what’s missing. Their particular insights come down to who they are as people, collaborating with you to make the world better. We love how they are so versatile, seamlessly moving between bouncing ideas around, to getting deep into it, to helping to establish the hard lines around what something’s gotta be!
Jadé & Jorge, ZU-UK Theatre Company
DATUM is an interactive theatre experience for three players that takes place in a mall. Its aims are to raise awareness about issues in the global supply chain for the goods that we consume. Guided via a phone app and the appealing, cheeky, and sincere vocal performances of the ZU-UK team, players navigate the mall separately but dependent on each other's actions as they search for ghosts across different shops.
About Zecora Ura Theatre Company (ZU-UK)
Founded in 2001 by Artistic Director Persis Jadé Maravala and Executive Director Jorge Lopes Ramos, the Zecora Ura (ZU-UK) Theatre Company has over twenty years of experience in designing interactive theatrical experiences. Their pieces often play with audio instructions and experiences that are accessible to a working-class audience. For the DATUM project, they needed to bring in creative accomplices and collaborators rather than outsource labour to a set of contractors. They needed game design and interaction experts who were comfortable with spontaneity and flexible final outcomes.
DATUM is a many-layered experience that combines many distinct, moving parts. We say "moving parts" because not only are the players literally moving through the mall in relation to each other during the experience, the mall where the experience takes place can be any mall. When we playtested the experience, it changed rapidly between different modes, involving multiple distinct narrative threads and sets of actions that took place both inside and outside the mall shops.
This was our overarching challenge: to look at those pieces together and unpack how players were interpreting them, what was working well, what needed to be rethought, and what might work better. The ZU-UK team told us that the project wasn't yet as cohesive as they had hoped. Lastly, the team was concerned about whether they were successfully reaching players with the right takeaways about supply chain ethics, consumerism and the "right to know" where the products we buy come from and how they are made.
Our first step was to go try out the experience at a local mall! In addition to two of our team members, we brought on a non-expert tester person, someone who had little experience with this kind of theatre, to gain insight into what the game might be like to play for a layperson.
Next, we took the time to understand what the ZU-UK team's hopes and concerns were for the project. The creation of DATUM was already a multi-year process, and before bringing Soft Chaos in to playtest and consult on the design, the team had already experimented with different solutions for some of their challenges. It was important for us to be mindful of that existing history so that we didn't suggest solutions that they had already discarded, and also for us to know which parts of the project they felt the most attachment toward. We were about to rethink and rework something near and dear to them!
Acknowledging their emotional connection to the artwork and our respect for those connections helped us build the trust that we needed to support them in making potentially difficult decisions. "Killing your darlings" (or putting them aside for when the time is right for another project) is never an easy prospect.
With so many different parts to talk about and so much excellent creative energy in the room, part of our task was to help determine where to put our focus to make sure that the ZU-UK team had what they needed by the end of our sessions together. We used the Soft Chaos team's particular talent for keeping projects in scope and collectively refocused the discussion to the pieces that needed our attention.
We provided the ZU-UK team with actionable feedback and direction to improve the experience based on our design expertise. The ZU-UK team had just two months between our consultation work together and the next official showing of the project, but intended to keep working on DATUM afterward. With that in mind, we provided suggestions for short-term solutions using technology that was already in their app as well as longer-term recommendations for where to take the experience next.
As we came to the end of our first (and originally only) planned session together, the creators from ZU-UK thanked us, and then asked us one question: "Can you come for another session, please?"
In that one short session, the process of working with us was so pleasant and the insights that we had been able to collaboratively draw out were so valuable that the ZU-UK team brought us on for triple the amount of time that they had originally allocated to work with us, and our collaboration on DATUM is ongoing. To us, that's a sign of a job well done.