Matt Finch recently took some time out of his hectic zombie-fighting, time-travelling schedule to tell us about the power of interactive storytelling, ahead of his Storytelling for a 21st Century Audience workshop.
What is interactive storytelling and how can immersive narratives enhance the storytelling experience?
Interactive storytelling means creating an event where all participants shape the outcome of the story. It breaks down barriers between the teller and the audience, so that people work together to develop a shared narrative. In some ways this is very traditional – oral storytelling always involves taking account of your audience, and even a book is never interpreted in quite the same way by different readers – but immersive narratives incorporate aspects of theatre, gaming, and play so that you can step into the world of a story and make choices with consequences for your character.
What makes a successful storytelling event? Is there one that you’re particularly proud to have created?
A successful interactive storytelling event brings satisfying outcomes which the organisers didn’t design or foresee. The recent zombie siege in Tullamore, NSW saw eighty people including police, firefighters, librarians and high schoolers immersed in a four-and-a-half hour survival scenario. Individual players took the outline they’d been given and came up with smart, in-character ways to carry out their roles, leading to moments of high drama which we never could have scripted – on one occasion, a zombie-bitten police officer had to be wrestled to the ground and restrained with his own handcuffs before he “turned”!
Your work uses popular culture to great effect, and you’ve run some diverse events, involving comics, time-travel, and zombies, among other things. What draws you to a narrative and makes you want to share it with others?
I like finding unexpected connections between the everyday world and the universe of dreams, stories, and fantasy. There’s an image from an event I ran in Auckland which captures this beautifully – a Rebel Alliance pilot from Star Wars greeting a man in a hoodie with a traditional Māori hongi – connecting the here-and-now of New Zealand’s multicultural traditions with Hollywood’s “galaxy far, far away”.