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Event Spotlight: Q&A with Sydney Interactive Theatre's Daniel Harris

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Event Spotlight: Q&A with Sydney Interactive Theatre's Daniel Harris

Early this year, Sydney friends Daniel Harris and Curtis Oakes (pictured above) premiered interactive theatre in Australia. Harris, from a business and marketing background and Oakes, an actor and aspiring director at the time, banded together to create Sydney Interactive Theatre. The street theatre concept has reinvented the pub crawl, updated the city tour and switched the role of protagonist. Having now expanded to Melbourne, we chat to Daniel Harris about its inception, his initial hesitance and the three upcoming productions.

Take us back to the very beginning. How did the idea for Sydney Interactive come abut?

I was travelling through America and got a hot tip to do this thing called "the accomplice," which is where the concept originated on the off-broadway scene and thought it was unreal. I thought Sydney needed fun stuff like this so decided that day I would start it. Having a business background and having the goal of starting a business I teamed up with an acting and creative mate Curtis Oakes to create and train the cast. It made for a good team.

What were Sydney Interactive’s major influences during its inception?

We took a lot from the Underbelly series on TV mixed with the New York mafia scene to blend together our original plot "The Messenger". We wanted to base the second production in Surry Hills on a real story in the area and found a really interesting unsolved case "The Human Torch".  The most recent Zombie themed night (Zombie Apocalypse) was inspired by the Walking Dead of which I am a big fan as many are.

As the director with a background in marketing, has your motivation and interest in the project evolved much since taking it on?

Yes for sure. More so with the capabilities and possibilities within this area. I think there is a massive demand for people looking for 'new' and 'different' things to do and if done well can provide a lot of utility. We have done custom events for people's birthdays and companies with staff of 250 people integrating the whole city and underlying objectives of the company into one big unique production that involves everyone.

Also because of our cast’s great improv skills we have been adding extra value to events by providing our talent in theme at events to interact with patrons and add that extra element. We have also been filling unique requests such as planting actors undercover at people's parties and causing memorable scenes to unaware party goers. Most recently we are helping a guy propose to his girlfriend in a unique way.

Our production has spread to Melbourne also as of last month. 

Turning the audience into the protagonist is a bold move. What made Sydney Interactive reverse the roles?

Removing the stage and giving the audience more influence is really our key differentiator. We wanted to attract people who were not traditionally theatre-goers and appeal to a wider audience who were just looking for something fun, social and interactive they could do with friends.

Australian theatre rarely puts an audience outside their comfort zone, predominantly we opt for the fly-on-the-wall view. Did you have any reservations about this more abstract treatment of theatre?

Yes for sure it was a fairly untested concept in Australia. But we wanted to attract people who weren't really theatre buffs so having no real ties to 'traditional' theatre made it easy to create our own path.

What are your tips for street theatre first timers?

Most of all embrace it and play your part, even dress up if you like, it is more what you make of it.

What will participants take away?

A different experience, something fun and a pre-cursor to a fun night out.