Halifax theatre artist Annie Valentina and her web developer partner Isa Grant knew it was only a matter of time before they would create their urban adventure game Dispatch. Little did they know that it would take a pandemic to find that time.
“You know how it is, you get too busy,” says Valentina. “[I] was working full-time at Neptune Theatre and directing plays, and Isa was running their web agency based out of Charlottetown and spending much time commuting between Halifax and the island. So the project kept getting pushed off into an indefinite future.”
That was until March of this year when COVID-19 hit and life, as we knew it, came to a screeching halt.
As Valentina watched her industry go dark and contracts evaporate, she suddenly had an excess of both time and creative energy. With travel at a standstill for Grant, Dispatch would finally become a reality.
Valentina was inspired to create Dispatch following a visit to the United Kingdom several years ago, where she took part in the London phenomenon HiddenCity. A walking tour guided by text message with elements of storytelling, sightseeing and puzzle-solving, she knew the idea would translate well to Halifax. It would also be the perfect project to combine her and Grant’s skill sets.
The gods of time would come into play a second time for the duo. With the Halifax Fringe Festival approaching, they knew it would be the ideal vehicle to bring Dispatch to audiences.
“As any indie theatre artist will tell you, it is an excellent launch pad for experimental new work,” says Valentina. “And while there’s a full lineup of recorded and digital events, Dispatch is one of few things in this year’s festival that actually involves leaving your house.”
Approaching it as a live experience for a one-bubble audience at a time, Valentina says it may not be traditional theatre, “but it’s real-time storytelling, delivered to you in an entertaining and interactive format.”
The game route comes in just under five kilometres with an estimated minimum of two hours to complete. However, the co-creators say audiences can finish it as fast as one’s puzzle-solving mojo (and we assume stamina) allows. A more leisurely pace with breaks along the way is also an option.
“It has been a little terrifying to put my name on something in the realm of art and theatre, says Grant. I’m proud of what we’ve made together. Following friends on early test runs and watching their reactions as it unfolds has been so much fun.”
Dispatch plays daily as part of the 2020 Halifax Fringe Festival through September 27. Visit halifaxfringe.ca for tickets and information. A smartphone is required.