An abominable snowman might make an appearance on any night of Babes With Blades’ latest show—or maybe not. It’s all up to the audience in “Choose Your Adventure,” which opened last week at the Strawdog Theatre.
The adventure begins with a fight between the Egyptian goddesses Sekhmet and Bast, who currently bind the universe together. If someone does not step in to solve the conflict, the universe will collapse. Enter champions Stab and Bas-Mut, the unlikely team of brains and brawn, who jump between scenes in search of a way to appease the dueling deities.
Unfortunately for the heroes, the fate of their world rests in the hands of an audience who knows little more than the heroes themselves. The audience members choose from three scenes at every crisis point—but their only clues are scene titles written entirely in hieroglyphics.
“It’s really just sort of a shouting match between audience members,” director Stephanie Repin says. “They’re making a choice, but they’re not even sure what that choice is.”
Whatever scene they choose, it’s bound to have plenty of action. Babes With Blades is an all-female combatant group, so fight scenes come up just as often as comedic relief. Anyone from Indiana Jones and Captain Kirk to mad scientists, woman-eating plants, pirates and zombies can play a role in saving the universe, depending on the whims of the audience.
The sudden jumps in the action hearken back to the Choose Your Own Adventure and Which Way children’s books published in the 1980s. In these books, the best way to find a good ending is to keep track of every decision by sticking your finger in the page and backtracking if you met a disastrous end. But Babes With Blades presents a grownup version with more violence, and where all decisions are final.
“The audience can’t keep their finger in the page, but if the characters die, they can be brought back to life,” Repin says. “The show won’t necessarily end if they die in the first thread.”
That presents quite a challenge for the lead actresses, who appear in every scene. They have to make the plot move forward, no matter what order the scenes come up—and more than a hundred different storylines are possible.
“Our two lead actresses [Alison Dornheggen and Michele Kline] are just fantastic,” assistant director and writer Beth Cummings says. “They can say the same line twelve different ways.”
A team of five writers created the show, each bringing a different brand of humor to the scenes they wrote. Cummings, for example, drew on her experience growing up with Trekkie parents to write her satirical “Star Trek” spoof.
“Each scene is a different world, it’s a different time, it’s a different everything,” Repin says. The scenes could stand alone, but weaving them together makes for one big adventure with thrilling twists.
The challenge of tying the worlds together falls to the wise old woman played by improv performer Kelsie Huff. She narrates the transitions and helps the audience save the world in sixty minutes or less. Neither Huff nor any other actress will ever give a repeat performance since the scenes are presented in a different order each night.
“If [the audience] came one night and chose B all the way through and then came the next night and chose B all the way through, it would still be a different show,” Repin says. “Of course our hope is that people will come back. They’re absolutely guaranteed to get something different.”
That’s the allure of the Choose Your Own Adventure books, and multiple-ending stories. In the research stages, the writers found all sorts of Internet rumors about the origins of the stories—everything from the days of Charlemagne, feudal China and even ancient Troy.
None of them are likely true, says Amy Harmon, production manager and part of the team of writers. “It’s kind of a joke, but it’s obviously something that got hold of the American psyche,” she says.
The idea got hold of the Babes’ psyche too—what better way to liven up a performance than to change it every day?
“It’s a fun challenge,” says Harmon. “We can’t wait to throw it at an audience and see what they make of it.”
“Choose Your Adventure” runs at Strawdog Theatre, 3829 North Broadway, (773)528-9696, through December 17, 2006.