SALT LAKE CITY — Epic, produced by Next Stage productions and directed by Marinda Maxfield, is set up as a choose-your-own-adventure-style, audience participation event. It feels like a live action version of a vintage Legend of Zelda game. The audience participates by voting on their cell phones, either through a downloaded app, or by text message.
The story begins with seven characters, each filling a fantasy archetype. There is a white night, a squire, a princess, a wizard, a scientist, a warrior, and a criminal. They are a mismatched band on a quest to rid the land of a curse from a dark wizard. The only costuming is hats and the occasional cape that represents the character, and the only set is eight stools that the actors move around to create different scenes. At crucial moments of decision the audience votes on their phones determining the action of the play.
The idea of utilizing phones to engage the audience, instead of fighting against audience members using their phones is innovative and feels like a modern way to approach the theater going experience. The MC and narrator of the show encouraged audience members to check in on Facebook, and take pictures while they were participating in the show.
The technology aspect was a fun idea, but any time there is technology there is the opportunity for technology to go awry. There were several points where the production was struggling to get the polling system up and running. I was kicked out of the poll multiple times, and I kept having to log back instead of paying attention to the action on stage. It started out as a fun idea, but ended up being distracting.
I’m not sure that there’s enough beyond the gimmick of audience participation to make Epic a compelling theatrical event. Epic follows the most obvious tropes of the fantasy genre, and the characters motivations and relationships to each other was never clear. The actors all had scripts in hand throughout the entire show. This caused frequent long pauses while the actors searched for their lines as the audience’s decisions took them down different paths. The show felt like one of those murder mystery dinner parties, except I was watching everyone else have all the fun. The possible variations within the show were not extensive enough to justify actors all holding scripts.
The cast and crew rotates every night giving each participant the opportunity to learn about different aspects of theater. In the cast that I saw, Elinore Smith, who played Iyew, was the strongest performer bringing a natural reading of her lines, and clear character choices to her interpretation. It was always clear what Iyew thought of all the characters around her.
Epic was not my cup of tea, but it is certainly a family friendly event, and might be a more fun for kids. With a run time of a little over an hour, it will easily hold the attention of younger theater goers.