Curio Shoppe: taking the nightmare home … to your place

Colin Matty as Will, with Curio Shoppe co-creators Megan Dart and (right) Beth Dart, Catch The Keys Productions. Photo by Marc J Chalifoux

By Liz Nicholls,

For 12 years, the creators of Dead Centre of Town have invited us on nocturnal excursions into our own haunted past — the graveyard where our darkest local secrets lie buried. Which is why we’ve found ourselves on location at Fort Edmonton, peering through river valley mist as the undead, the unsavoury, the unrepentant come to life by flickering firelight.

2020 is the year Catch The Keys Productions brings the nightmares home. Your home, that is.

It’s an unnerving thought. With Curio Shoppe, the latest from the sisters Dart, specialists in immersive theatre and macabre storytellers par excellence, the haunted house is … your place. In this shivery season, when the veil between the present and the past is the thinnest, your link between worlds is your internet connection. Ah, and your cellphone.

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Given the restrictions of the COVID-ian era “we’d been hoping to create a distanced in-person experience,” says Beth Dart, the director half of Catch The Keys with her playwright sister Megan Dart. “But with the (ongoing) construction at Fort Edmonton, there just wasn’t the space.” They decided to come to you, and haunt your house instead with an “interactive online nightmare.”

They studied international experiments. And they enlisted the Fringe’s inventive systems analyst and online designer Bradley King (the Dart sisters call him “Bradley the Wizard King”) to “build a brand new platform.” Curio Shoppe is, says Dart, a melange of pre-recorded video and audio, with “mysterious live elements.” Hmm. There’s an intriguing phrase that sticks in the mind, especially given the show’s uniquely come-hither billing: “a brand new theatre-meets-internet-meets-‘the call is coming from inside the house’ interactive experience.”

Morgan Yamada as Marie, in Curio Shoppe, Catch The Keys Productions. Photo by Marc J Chalifoux.

“Instead of laying miles of cable through Fort Edmonton” and praying for a lack of snow, Dart has found herself poring over “spreadsheets of what audiences track, in their own homes.” You get a ticket, a login and a password. Nature takes care of the outdoor dimming of the lights; you turn off the lights inside. And Catch The Keys takes charge of the options will appear on your screen. Every evening of the run, which begins Wednesday, four households at a time will see (er, feel, er, experience) Curio Shoppe, with new intakes every 15 minutes. “All you need is a stable internet connection, and a cellphone,” says Dart. Not to mention a spirit of adventure.

And you’ll find yourself immersed in a story, loosely harvested from the surprisingly weird and twisted local history that Megan Dart has mined for editions of Dead Centre of Town.

The “interactive nightmare” includes cameos from Dead Centre regulars, including Colin Matty, Christine Lesiak, and Adam Keefe, with two principal characters played by Morgan Yamada and Jake Tkaczyk.


Curio Shoppe

Theatre: Catch The Keys Productions and Fort Edmonton Park’s Dark 2020

Created by: Beth Dart and Megan Dart, Catch The Keys Productions

Running: Oct. 21 to 31



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