The Treasure Hunt is a scene we love using because it gets the audience working directly with the environment, so it’s great to break down walls. Depending on what you want to achieve, there are good ways to get story content out at the same time.
Performers can work as facilitators in case things get stuck, characters are possible as well but this relies on there being some kind of justification for them in being in the space but not helping – obviously the performers know where the treasures are hidden so any attempt to have characters pretending to be helpful risks coming off pretty obnoxious.
The performance can have several streams but we’ve found it works best when the streams are completely linear, otherwise the structure can fall apart. The focus is on exploration, experimentation, puzzle solving and discovery. All the events should be largely pre-scripted since keeping the audience on track without distractions or red herrings is really important. Improvisation is generally not necessary, the scene itself is kind of the star anyway so performance elements can be quite minimal.
It can be difficult to find places to hide things that don’t get accidentally discovered in the rest of the search. It’s good to make items as innocuous as possible, with characteristics that when shown in clues make the item the only possible candidate. It’s good if there’s a lot of other stuff around too, so that just picking up everything isn’t an option.
All audience members can take the initiative to contribute, any one of them can make the intuitive leap, and if an audience member has figured something out it’s unlikely that they’ll sit there without contributing by at least voicing their thoughts, and more likely they’ll get involved because it’s fun to take ownership of your own good ideas. Sometimes individuals will work on their own, sometimes leaders emerge naturally and ideas get passed to them. The combined input of all the audience members drives the show.
The result is a feeling of reward and progression.
True Logic: Treasure Hunt to unlock characters
The first scene of True Logic had David’s character, Will, locked to a table with a gold lock, and a pile of keys on the stage, all of them silver except for the one gold key, with the onscreen instruction – UNLOCK. This was as strong an offer to the audience as we could think which still had a task involved – identify the correct key from the pile – and still had a risk involved – what if the key doesn’t work? By including uncertainty about what they are required to do and the risk of failure, the audience have to rely on their own logic. This leap of faith being done, our aim was to reward as much as possible, to encourage further interactions – in this case, the whole play starts. The storyline backs up the action on stage – the environment is an onstage metaphor of a computer system, so unlocking the initial character represents a start-up sequence. It also sets up the relationship of the audience to the show – they make things move forward.
In this scene, which occurred immediately after Will’s unlocking, Jen and Alex (played by Cathy Petocz and Jack) are shown onscreen. This was a live video link from offstage. Visual clues are shown on both sides, setting up two streams of information and clues to follow. As the locations indicated by the onscreen clues are found, the treasures are discovered, in each case ephemera from the characters’ lives – photo albums, calendars, diaries, birth certificates, etc – all blank of information. These are passed to Will, who places them in a drawer, and the items emerge onscreen, this time full of details. This was done to begin to offer snippets of character development. Onscreen, the treasures also show the next item to be searched for. The final treasure on each stream is a document with highlighted letters in its title. By holding the titles next to each other, the highlighted letters spell ‘Vest Pocket’ – an audience member reaches into Will’s pocket and finds a coin, a replica of the Gold Sovereign minted by Jevons in 1855. This is sent to the other space, which ferries Jen and Alex onto stage.
Great Hungers: Treasure Hunt as a cooperative race
This was recorded over two nights and the streams played out quite differently between the nights, so the video above is more of an overview. This was a timed scene that fed into an alternate history of Australia, with the results influencing the landscape of media and communications. Two of the bedrooms at Manning Clark House have bookshelves running the full length of walls, with sections numbered and categorised. This gave us a coordinate system we could use for clues, which were written in books on themes of mass communication that we bought for the show. One room can see but not hear the other, the second room can hear the first but not see them. After a few clues, the streams cross into opposite rooms, and then back again, and the two rooms need to use the tools available to them to communicate. The objective was to create a working cooperation between the two rooms to discover the key to opening the door, which was a synchronised clap.
It was particularly fun when audiences interpreted the scene as a race with the opposing room rather than a cooperative exercise, and tried to work out ways of getting information out of the other team without giving any themselves.
We also used the video/audio split for a treasure hunt as part of a two-day residency at PACT in 2009, that we call Big World/Tiny World. The audience were split between the dressing room and stage area. We had fun with this one – the stage area was populated with cheap and cheerful replicas of features of the dressing room – printed out photos, a couch made out of the seating bleachers, bigger scale graffiti, and so on, and the dressing room had miniatures, like a toy car and model piano. The aim was to unlock a keyed lock on one side of the door, and a combination lock on the other. This one focused more on different kinds of clues, some are in the list below.
Kinds of clues we’ve used
Coordinates to books or treasure location • Arrows on live video pointing at treasure location • Pictures of treasure location • Pictures of the correct key to use • Tiny/Huge versions of the treasure location • Puzzle pieces • Recording of lock combination on a CD in car CD player • Putting torch in a cradle to aim at a map