People using their phones during theatre productions is one of my pet hates. So the concept of a theatre production where you use your phone the whole time seemed pretty confronting to me. 35 Degrees 17 South (which are the coordinates of Canberra on a map) melded gaming with theatre and puts the audience into the role of refugees who need to find fresh water in order to get entry into the ‘compound’. Everyone had to have an Android phone or tablet to play (no iPhone monopoly here, thank you very much Apple) and throughout the game you needed to scan QR Codes (those square barcodes) to progress further.
The story was played out in the Sculpture Garden of the National Gallery, the setting for a post-apocalyptic Canberra which has come about as a result of ‘the Lucas Heights incident of 2032’. The game began with a confrontation by the compound’s Head of Security, who wouldn’t let any more refugees in unless they go out and discover a source of fresh water. This became our task. The game then split into three ‘streams,’ depending upon which barcode you initially scanned – although everyone had the same central goal of redacting a confidential document, which could only be done by scanning the ten QR Codes held by different refugees. Each refugee had a unique story – a woman who hadn’t seen her husband since he left to fix the burst water pipes, the sister of the compound leader who had been accused of being a traitor, a woman who had lost her daughter in the chaos. Some of the actors asked you for something (a box of matches, for example) in exchange for their code, while others gave away their code without much convincing.
Running alongside the main task were a number of activities that game players could also complete, which resulted in extra points and additional information to help you complete the main goal. Perhaps it was that we were too engaged in chatting with the refugees and redacting the document, but my team didn’t even realize these sub games existed. It still took us the two hours and we had a bunch of fun, so it didn’t much affect our experience that we missed them. But that, after all, is what is so great about this show: everyone has a completely unique and individual experience, which you can’t often say after a night (or day) at the theatre.
This production was two years in the making, and was spearheaded by the Canberra Youth Theatre’s Artistic Director, Karla Conway. What she has tried to do is attempt to create a way to connect the gaming world with the theatre world. All the actors did a great job creating and maintaining the frenzied atmosphere, aided both by some well-written and well-executed monologues, and by situational improvisation which they maintain throughout the show. 35 Degrees 17 South was an original, fresh, and very well executed production.
35 Degrees 17 South played at the National Sculpture Garden from the 13th to the 20th of April.