Join the Virtual Stage’s Zombie Syndrome: Dead in the Water

Sarah Omran and Rowan Jang take to the undead waters in Zombie Syndrome: Dead in the Water running now until Halloween.

The Zombie Syndrome, first and foremost, is an interactive theatre experience whose goal is to freak out its audience. In the words of creator and artistic director Andy Thompson, “It’s a horror show. It’s a Halloween show. That’s what people are paying to see.” Thompson spoke with The Peak to share how his show has grown from its 2012 inception, and how it’s making waves.

Every year since 2012, Zombie Syndrome has returned to the streets of Vancouver with a new story, new characters, and even more zombies. This year, Thompson takes the audience to the streets and water of Granville Island. New to this year’s iteration of the show is the incorporation of zombie-vampire hybrids, as well as Apple’s iBeacon technology. This show is the first in Canada to incorporate the iBeacon into its performances.

Keeping fangs in the actors’ mouths proved challenging — though by no means was it the hardest hurdle to conquer. One of the trickier things the actors had to do was learn to deal with the iBeacon.

The show is comprised of approximately seven sites, which function as mini-sets for the crew. According to Thompson, challenges with the new technology weren’t limited to simply learning how to use it. He also had to reconcile it with the story and integrate it naturally so that it became a storytelling technique. So, as part of the show, he gave the technology to the Canadian government and recruited special agents — the audience — to save the world from certain disaster.

“At every site there is at least one beacon integration moment. And so there is a whole bunch of logistically challenging stuff around just that. For example, the range of the beacons, I had to teach my actors how to, at the perfect point in the story, when this has to happen, you have this secret thing in your pocket. You flick it on and then not only that, but you also have to turn it off because if it’s left on by accident and you start your scene with it on, you know, you might be killing Hamlet before ‘To be or not to be . . .’ It’s out of order.”

It’s been a dream of Thompson’s to get the audiences out onto a boat during the adventures he’s created, and finally this year the stars aligned. “There were a lot of challenges around feasibility, timing, budget, boat captain, boat engagement, scheduling, all sorts of things — and that’s just the aquatic portion.”

The show itself almost feels like a House of the Dead live-action video game. You interact and chat with characters who have scripts and storylines, you try to neutralize (no killing!) the zombies/vampires/zombie-vampires after you, and ultimately, you’re the deciding factor as to whether you survive and win the show, or you die and fail.

There’s even a scoreboard, ranking audiences on how well they’ve completed the show. The actors don’t break character, and right from the beginning it feels more real than you anticipated.

Word of warning: there is a bit of running. Supposedly it’s optional, but when there are zombies chasing you and everyone else on your team is fleeing the scene, you end up doing the extra cardio.

Also, make sure you download the app required to interact with the beacons. Two sorry suckers didn’t have data on the trip, and while we read aloud the extra information conveyed via the iBeacon technology, they did miss out on part of the experience.

The show runs from now until Halloween, Tuesday through Sunday, so get your tickets and do your best to save the world, agents. Visit Virtual Stage online, or simply check out Zombie Syndrome online for tickets and more information.