Jules: Adventures Of A Zombie Messiah

 In Interactive Performance, Kevin Percival, Play, shows, story

Once, years ago, I gave an audience member superpowers.

Well, I accidentally gave an audience member superpowers.

Some background. I was in a show called The Rocking Dead, created and produced by the company Playing With Reality. It was a raucous party on a boat, except the boat was besieged by zombies. New York City had been exposed to a virus that could turn you into a rage zombie “28 Days Later” style at the drop of a hat. If you became infected, all it took was one strong emotion: become angry, become elated, become upset and you would turn into a monster and chomp on your buddies.

Once on the boat, audience members were able to join one of three factions. There was the government faction that believed that a cure had to be found, no matter the cost. There was the militant faction that believed in killing anyone exposed to the virus for the safety of humanity.  Then there was the pacifist cult, who believed that since zombies were people too, we must treat them with care and compassion.

I played the leader of this cult, a man called Osiris, who claimed to be so damn enlightened he could calm the ravenous hordes with a touch of his hand. One night an audience member, who I’ll call Jules, joined us and immediately showed some real initiative. Jules ran around the rusty ship proselytizing audience members left and right. Soon we had a healthy party of pacifists. Then, from down in the hold, a bell rang. It was time to gather the factions together for the first big meeting.

This was one of the more scripted parts of the show. Each faction would introduce themselves, everyone would joke and poke fun at the other groups then, at a pre-determined moment, we would release Charlie.

Charlie was an actor in full zombie makeup. He would dive into the room, give everyone a scare, then we’d “capture” him and take him up to the brig.

However this night there was a small deviation. An audience member instead shouted, “Hey, Osiris, why don’t you hug that zombie? Didn’t you say they weren’t dangerous?”

Now, what the audience doesn’t know yet is that Osiris is a total charlatan. If I go hug that zombie, it’ll eat me. So, our backup plan, in this case, was to have me walk up and try to soothe Charlie, only to have him snarl and scare me senseless.

But… we made a big mistake. We forgot to tell Charlie the plan.

So, when I walked up and did my fancy zombie calming ritual, Charlie was a good improviser. Charlie dropped like a rock. Now, in the world of the story, my made up superpower was real.

Still, no big deal. They took Charlie away, the show continued, no damage done. Jules, however, had seen a miracle. Now Jules was determined to learn how to do it.

He brought his band of disciples to me and pleaded that I teach them. I said it was far beyond their current abilities, but with meditation and training perhaps one day they’d achieve it. Instead, we began hatching a scheme to free the innocent zombie and save the day.

My thinking was that if I could get them focused on the events of the story they’d forget about the miracle. As the night continued and events rolled along, I almost thought it worked.

But Jules was determined. Jules hadn’t forgotten about the miracle. I found him an hour later with an unconscious Charlie. The posse of disciples around him seemed even bigger than before. He’d strolled into the brig, subdued the zombie with a touch of his hand, and was now preaching to the crowd. Jules the audience member had become Father Jules, the post-apocalyptic messiah.

This, in many other shows, would be awesome. We have an audience member who has been empowered and has gone on a really dynamic journey. The only issue is that while his superpower might work on actors, some zombies were immune. Audience volunteer zombies.

The ending of the show hinged on a massive zombie horde descending on the boat, all played by audience members. Volunteer zombies aren’t going to be stopped by a friendly hug. Poor Jules the Messiah was going to be dinner if he tried that miracle again.

The end of show sequence began. The lights flickered out, the zombies descended on the boat, and Jules and I hid in a closet waiting for the cue for the “escape sequence.” It looked like the end was nigh, but Jules promised to continue to fight the good pacifist fight.

The cue came, another bell, and we burst out of hiding and ran down the pitch black hallway. Growling and snarling came from behind us, but we were almost free. I shouted that we needed to get to the exit, but nobody was listening. Jules wasn’t there.

He was behind me, arms outstretched in a capital T, awaiting the embrace of the horde. It was badass.

But he was about to get tackled. I ran back, got between him and the crowd and gave a cheesy “save yourself” movie speech. Jules and I tearfully parted, and I was promptly tackled by the volunteer zombie brigade.

Now, bitten and fully transformed, I shambled down the hallway. Down below in the hold, I could hear screams and shouts (and quite a lot of giggling) from the remaining survivors. They were fighting off the infected using the only weapon allowed on the ship, a fun little super-soaker that kills undead.

Then Jules appeared. He had escaped and was waiting to confront his old master. I thought, “Damn, this is perfect. He can use his superpower on me, come into his own as the leader of the resistance, and it will make a satisfying conclusion to his character. Tonight worked out perfectly!” I leapt at Jules-

-and he shot me. Right in the face. Super-soaker, point-blank. Dead.

Thus ended the tale of Jules the Messiah. Not all interactive experiences end as you plan. Not all characters can resist the opportunity to blast a zombie with a super-soaker.

Kevin Percival

Kevin is originally from Oklahoma City, and now calls Austin home. Prior to joining The Deep Dive, he worked in New York City as a creator of interactive theater, collaborating with companies like Interactive PlayLab, Peculiar Works, Journey Lab, and Live In Theater. During that time, he also worked as an educator for Brooklyn Public Schools and for alter-abled education programs like YAI, Dreamstreet Theater Company, EPIC Players and Florida Studio Theater’s VIP Program. He now combines his backgrounds as an interactor and educator by designing simulation training programs for use in education, healthcare, or any organization that wishes to train its staff to better communicate in high-stress situations.

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