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The Dark House - Broadcast de Complicité
    The Dark House producers Izzy Mant (Producer & director) and Nick Ryan (Producer & sound designer/composer) give an insight into the production values of this interactive drama.
  The Dark House is all about collaboration: collaboration between listeners to shape the play they're hearing; collaboration between several BBC departments to make a complex project possible; and collaboration between two producers on a joint artistic vision…

Two years ago, a theatre director and a composer/sound designer met at a BBC conference on the future of sound and had a meeting of minds. The director wanted to see if radio could be used to create the shared space of a theatre auditorium. The composer was exploring the use of sound technology to drag you right inside the world of a drama. From these two instincts came the idea for an audio thriller that the listeners influence as they experience… using the power of darkness to immerse them in a world of unseen horrors.

When we bounded up with this off-the-wall idea Radio 4 and Radio Drama were supportive but rightly cautious. We needed to prove to them - and to ourselves - that the idea worked. We spent a year developing the concept with BBC Creative Research & Development. Research into previous experiments in interactive drama taught us more about what hadn't worked than what had. But listener tests with a pilot version of The Dark House showed that interactivity could be used to good effect in drama, if conceived in a new way…

The project has flagged up that we need a new language to describe what interactivity is. People often think that interactivity in drama must mean the audience determining the narrative, like one of those choose-your-own-adventure books. But part of the fun of being told a story is not knowing what's going to happen next; or knowing all-too-well what's going to happen and not being able to stop it - a horror favourite. We want suspense, surpise and emotional truth - that's what a writer's for - and that's why we brought in top dramatist Mike Walker.

The Dark House gives the audience a much subtler kind of influence - through identification with the characters, and through a process of complicity. Our research showed that if people are having an individual experience, like playing a computer game, they tend to want more interactivity. However, if people are having a collaborative experience they seem to be less bothered about control and are more interested in taking part.

The personalised experience will be available on this site after 23 Sept, in our interactive online version of The Dark House. But the Radio 4 broadcast is a shared event. Even people who don't send a text message or make a call know that the drama they're hearing is being influenced, in real time, by the votes of listeners. It's collaborative interactivity. Democratic radio. Broadcast de complicite.

So a spirit of complicity and collaboration has shaped the whole project. Brainpower and expertise from right across the BBC has been harnessed to turn our original idea into a reality and we're very grateful for the support we've received. On 23 Sept it'll be the listeners who'll work together to shape the journey through the characters' heads. And finally, as two opinionated creative perfectionists producing a complex project, we've had to learn a thing or two about collaboration ourselves…

Izzy Mant and Nick Ryan.
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Elsewhere on Radio 4
The Afternoon Play
The Friday Play
The Saturday Play
The Classic Serial
Elsewhere on BBCi
Radio Drama
Online Drama
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