Transmedia Tuesday: Britain's "The Seed" Makes Botany Cool
One of the fun things about transmedia stories is that they can be put together in lots of different ways, from lots of different parts. The Seed is a British transmedia experience that combines a web narrative (told through Facebook), a live theater component, and a real world treasure hunt to tell a story of mystery and intrigue based in the world of 19th century botany (which, trust us, is a lot more exciting than it sounds).
The Facebook page functions essentially like a blog, with wordy posts and plenty of videos and photographs. It follows the real-time story of Helen, a lowly worker at the Millennium Seed Bank (a real project) who becomes involved in trying to figure out the significance of strange and coded messages found in the paperwork of Victorian seed hunters. It's an interesting story, with a fairly compelling protagonist, but this, in and of itself, is still relatively common fare in the transmedia world. The second part of the project is what makes things a bit more interesting.
Four short plays (each less than an hour) are being performed at four different English gardens over a month-long period. (If you should happen to be reading this in Great Britain, here's where you can go to buy tickets.) Each of the plays stands alone as a story about one or another of the intrepid British explorers who scoured the world looking for new species of plant to bring back to their wealthy patrons. The stories also interconnect to give insight into a larger tale which overlaps with Helen's fictional Facebook page. These aren't exactly traditional plays, though. The shows involve walking through the outdoor performance space while wearing wireless headphones which deliver the inner thoughts of the central characters.
Finally, The Seed includes a real world treasure hunt. The goal and prize of this hunt is the titular "seed" which is both long-lost and much-sought. The exact nature of this seed remains unclear, both within the story itself and in the real world. Clues can be found within Helen's Facebook posts and the content of the four plays. If you can't make it to the plays (two of which are already over), you can still purchase the scripts online in order to play along.
The Seed is created by the unconventional theater group Goat and Monkey and transmedia creator David Varela. Though the project isn't necessarily inventing anything new, it’s certainly combining pieces in a way that's exciting and not particularly obvious.
The people who are interested in following an online story (like the kind on Helen's Facebook page) are not necessarily the group one might expect to see at an outdoor theater event in an English garden. Similarly, the decision to use high-tech storytelling tools like the Internet and wireless headphones does not follow naturally from a story about 19th century botanical collections. There is a clear desire by the creators of this story to twist the old and the new to build not only tension, but also continuity. These are the kinds of Transmedia stories we love to see—the ones that go beyond setting up a whiz-bang website with new and engaging toys, but actually take the story outside of its traditional space and mix it in with the real world around us.