Fancy yourself as a bit of a Daryl Dixon? Now’s your chance to prove it. The Generation of Z: Apocalypse is an immersive, interactive live theatre experience that puts the audience in a zombie apocalypse and lets you make the decisions. Arriving in London on April 4th, it’s set to offer something unique. We chatted to co-creator and producer Charlie McDermott, to find out what it’s all about.
Q: For anybody that hasn’t heard of The Generation of Z: Apocalypse, how would you describe it?
A: It will put you inside your favourite zombie film or video game. There’s no sitting down, it’s completely exciting, visceral, with blood in your face.
Theatre is seen as boring and staid and old fashioned, and expensive. We’re providing something that’s in the mainstream and giving young people an arts experience without them knowing they’re having one. Ultimately what is art? It’s to hold a mirror up to nature, and there’s no more prevalent time of nature than in a zombie apocalypse. Look at what’s going on in the world- disease, terrorism, lawlessness, chaos on the streets, war- these things are happening. On the one hand, it’s an awesome pop culture movie, on the other it’s big ideas; big themes; big choices.
Dawn of the Dead was never gonna win an Oscar. We’re not trying to do that. It doesn’t cheapen theatre or betray what it’s about. It enhances what theatre is meant to be.
All the things we’re doing have been done in isolation before, but the fact we’re throwing them together in a new context has made it something new.
Q: Having played in New Zealand, as well as playing at the Edinburgh Festival, what’s different for the London run?
A: The budget. We’ve never really had one before. In Edinburgh, we had two storylines and now we have four. We’re mixing three elements: Firstly, storytelling/theatre making. It has a full Hollywood story, a beginning, a middle and an end. We had a period of 3-4 months of just working on the scripts and characters. Secondly, film-quality special effects and production design. We have a bunch of blood effects, explosive effects, from our special effects guys who’ve been working on Bond. We use real weapons (firing blanks) and makeup artists who have worked on World War Z and The Theory of Everything. We want to take immersive theatre to the next level! The third element is live video gaming with choices. Morally-driven choices. You have to make life-or-death decisions. That’s where the artistic side comes in.
Q: What’s the plot of Generation of Z?
A: The story takes place in an abandoned transport facility in a militarised state set up to take people to safety. A beacon goes off and officers turn up, and we, the audience, discover what went on.
There’s a virus – it’s been checked by blood scientists and technically, from a scientific standpoint, it could happen. A company created an anti ageing drug, and our virus was borne out of that. It turns the brain dead. They are fast at first as there’s a surge in our infected people of adrenalin, but over time they do disintegrate very quickly as the cells break down.
By having four storylines and having multiple different ways the show goes through options, people come back, to see another storyline. To see what happens.
A: There is only one; though I say that with a grain of salt. The Last of Us is the greatest video game. Those guys whose world it was, it took them 5 years. The level of detail is amazing and it takes video gaming to a new level, with the level of acting. That’s the big touchstone for us. We’re fans of the original Romeros, of 28 Days Later – how raw that felt. And now we’re here in London, around the corner from Jack the Ripper.
Q: How do audience members react to The Generation of Z?
A: We’ve had people turn up really cynical, but they come out say they’ve never seen anything like it, they didn’t expect it to be like this. Comments like they’ve found something in themselves, from their children running from the zombies, which they didn’t know existed. You get the normal things- people leaving -funnily enough it’s mostly young boys. They’ve played the video games and watched the movies, but it’s not the same as having a gun pointed in your face. Girls will scream a lot but they won’t leave, they battle through it. We’ve had elderly people, people in their mid-30s, families, kids, stag dos.
Q: What came first, the idea to do immersive theatre, or the idea for something zombie-based?
A: They came together. Immersive theatre is a buzz word at the moment, and the zombie apocalypse world fits perfectly. Derelict buildings, the breakdown of society, having the zombie right there, it all works. All these amazing films sets that only the actors ever get to see, we thought- you could lead an audience through this. I’ve always been interested in the new. How can we make it better, fuse, mash things together to make something new. We’re just beginning this journey.
Q: Why is now the time for immersive theatre?
A: Forget 5D -this is real. The actors are professional, amazing actors. Secret cinema is amazing, you go and have an amazing experience but you sit down and watch a movie. This is like secret cinema but you’re in the movie. Young people want to participate. It doesn’t matter how good it is up on the screen, it doesn’t compare to that gun going off in front of you or you having to make the decision of whether to kill a pregnant wife or not.
I come out of a lot of immersive theatre saying ‘what was that about’? It was awesome that I got to free-roam around places, but there was no story. This is why The Walking Dead is popular- because ultimately it’s a soap; it’s story driven. It has mainstream popularity because of that.
The best musicals come back to a story – a beginning, a middle and an end – something that the audience can care about and can get into.
The service economy has gone, the product economy is over, now people want to buy experiences; they want memories. Look at theme parks, music festivals and other immersive events. People can smell bullshit a mile away. The only way is to be authentic and to provide something that’s as close to something real as possible.
You walk off the street and there’s nothing there, and then have this experience, and then you walk back out and it’s as if there was nothing there to begin with.
Q: Zombies are huge in pop culture at the moment, does this make it easier for you, or raise the bar and peoples’ expectations?
A: It’s easier. We’re all fanboys. We’re making something we’d want to see. We try to push the bar up. Five years ago we started workshopping, 10-11 year olds were playing the zombie games, now it’s 8 year olds. The zeitgeist is getting bigger. There’s a theory that says in times of opulence, vampires are very prevalent in pop culture. When there’s instability, zombies are more popular.
Why zombies will always be more popular is A. we could survive in a zombie apocalypse and B. it could happen. We can kill zombies without remorse. We’re animals at heart. Could you survive? Would you run away? With vampires we’re fucked.
Q: What is the future of Generation of Z? Are there plans to play on Broadway?
A: Shit, yes! It’s part of a very well thought out global proposition. We’ve had interest from Korea, Japan, China, France, Germany, Canada, New Zealand and America. Coming, we have graphic novels, teen fiction novels, augmented reality board games, augmented reality strategy card games. And then the live show. We actually have three types of show – smaller touring shows, one-off day events at music festivals, and the main show. We already have a sequel – in this show, the transport was taking you to the Haven, and the second one would be set at the Haven. It follows all the same tropes.
We want to be the best live zombie show in the world. We will have a TV series and a film, but they’ll be unique. We’re not going to do a Walking Dead rip off. We’d do it in an interactive way. When the technology’s good enough- we’ll do it so that people can make collective decisions to change the outcome of a movie. People anywhere in the world who are able to affect what is going on live wherever it might be. It’s very exciting.
Generation of Z: Apocalypse promises to be unmissable. It starts in London on April 4th. To find out more and if you’re brave enough to buy tickets, head to www.thegenerationofz.com