Interview: Pick Your Path, Garkin Productions

by Ottawa Fringe

June 13, 2011

It’s just under a week before the opening night of the Fringe and I meet up with the cast of Pick Your Path at an evening rehearsal. The room they’re in is filled with props: everything from a nerf battle-axe, plastic flowers, sock puppets and a pair of delivery pizza boxes which I’m not one hundred percent certain aren’t a part of the show.

“We’ve got tonnes of shit”, says Ray Besharah, one of the founders of Garkin productions, “thank you, Great Glebe Garage Sale.” Ray, a veteran Fringe Festival performer (having produced previous fringe favourites as Satanic Panic, Without a Clue and last year’s G-Men defectives), is producing this show with a four-person cast (including Laura Hall, Amanda Klaman and Owen Spendlove) and stage manager Christine Clarke. Klaman, Hall and Besharah worked together on an even older fringe production, Bookworm in 2007, and when developing this show, Ray and show co-creator Matt Domville decided they wanted to do something that would include these cast members again.

The show traces its roots to 2009. “When we started this whole thing, we wanted to work with Amanda and Owen and Laura specifically,” recounts Ray. “Matt and I had always wanted to write a choose-your-own-adventure style spoof.” The company got into last year’s fringe festival with the show, but when they received the Arts Court Library as a venue, they decided to withdraw because the show’s prop and cast requirements were too much for the smaller venue to handle. “We decided to back out gracefully and just wait for another opportunity. This year we got drawn again and we got Academic Hall.”

The premise of the show is faithful to the Choose Your Own Adventure books of the eighties: at the end of a segment of action onstage, Ray, the show’s narrator, gives the audience some choices and asked to vote on what should happen next. “It’s based on volume, whoever’s the loudest,” says Amanda: “even if it’s a fewer amount of people, but they more vehemently want that choice, then they get that choice.” In this story, our heroine Amanda Superman (played by Klaman) is a mature student in space camp in the year 2065, when an alien invasion occurs. “She’s thrust into the role of hero / anti-hero,” says Ray, “and has to figure out what’s going on, and how to save the world. And with the audience’s help, she will!”

Laura likes the format: “It’s a good way of doing it, because we figure if people are coming back more than once and they want to see a different show, then it’s a good way to allow the audience to control what happens.” Ray agrees. “We had a couple of ideas on how it could work, but the audience cheering and being loud gives them a way to interact and get the energy going in the show, and feed us with their energy.” Ray hopes that the format will allow a more conservative audience to feel comfortable with participating. “This isn’t the type of show where we isolate one person. This way, people can sit back and participate, but without the fear of being singled out.”

The show has taken some time to find its current format. According to Amanda, the first version was too complicated. “The original first draft of the story was a huge, seventy-five page monster, with three completely different story lines, three different endings… and then we came up with a second draft that had almost no choices in it. The final version that we’ve settled on has two fairly different story lines that shoot off of it, and have their own endings. I think that was the best of both worlds where we weren’t so bogged down in choices, we couldn’t remember. We tried to draw it out in a chart and said, ‘we have to have this back stage or we’ll never remember it!’” Careful script revision ensures that everybody gets to be on stage. “Owen and I bounce in and out as different characters,” adds Laura, “In the original script, there was the chance that you would never see one of us, depending on the choices!”

For what sounds like a complex show, Ray assures me it’s still fun and light. “It’s a very tenuous plot; people should not be coming to this show to get a very thorough story. It’s more about being silly.” Amanda agrees. “There are going to be some choices that are going to be somewhat humiliating. And people will invariably choose things that they think will result in the funniest outcome. But some of the things that we have, you wouldn’t expect it to lead in the direction it does. I think we play with them a little, assuming they’ll pick one, and then actually what happens is the opposite of what they think they’re going to get.”

While the cast is hopeful that the format will bring viewers back to see the show more than once, they don’t expect it will necessarily happen. “We’re not banking on people coming back to see it a second time,” says Ray, “but I think it would be great if people are talking about it outside: ‘I saw the version where this happened… oh, I totally didn’t see that version!’ That would be neat.”

With the novel format requiring direct audience intervention, perhaps the most daring part of the production is that they haven’t run the show with a test audience – and won’t, before the show’s first performance on Friday. Says Ray, “We have no idea how it’s going to play. It’s kind of a big test in a way, to see how audiences are going to react and the variety of choices they’ll make; we think we know a couple of points that they’re always going to choose a certain way – but I hope not.”

Pick Your Path plays at the Academic Hall, with its opening performance on Friday, June 18th, at 8:00pm.