Life of a CMU Student

Made by Kai Kuehner, Toya Rosuello, Mimi Niou, Jared Moore and jdortiz

Choose-your-own-adventure performance

Created: November 13th, 2016



In traditional theater, the performance is one-way: the performers act and the audience listens. We wanted to experiment with two-way communication: what if the audience could play a part in how the story was told? "Life of a CMU Student" follows a protagonist in his journey to a party, where he attempts to find romance with a genderless character named Terry. The audience's input is a major part of the performance, as they are able to affect the protagonist's actions throughout the play. At several points, this control is subverted: do your decisions really matter when you're nauseous and about to vomit? The overall story does not change, which could be viewed as a commentary that we are powerless to affect much with our actions. The story and themes are relevant to CMU students who may find themselves in situations similar to the ones described. We drew from our personal experiences to write the script- at the end, the narrator reveals that the events really happened to him, and it is up to the audience whether to believe him or not.



We created an interactive performance following a day in the life of a CMU student. There are two performers: a narrator and a protagonist. At certain points in the story, the audience must choose the action taken by the protagonist by raising their hands or yelling. This adds an element of randomization, since the performers cannot predict what path the audience will take (what the protagonist's name is, whether he will dress up or not, which pick-up line he will use, etc.). Alongside the performers, there are projected visuals representing what is currently happening in the story.

The majority of the performance takes place at the level of participation (as described by Dixon in "Performing Interactivity"). The audience collectively makes decisions by raising their hands or shouting, and the performers respond to those decisions. There is also a degree of navigation, since most of the choices that the audience can make are written ahead of time by us. The part where the audience names the protagonist is closest to conversation, because we have no idea what the name will end up being.

In this iteration, the protagonist is named "Azerbaijan" and uses pick-up line #16. Other decisions affect the course of the story differently.

Life of a CMU Student
Kai Kuehner -


The idea of a narrated performance, where one actor tells the actions that are happening and another acts them out, came from the performance "Shia Labeouf Live" by Rob Cantor. Cantor uses many actors to convey his visuals, whereas we use one actor and a screen with projected video for ours, but this video is the overall guiding inspiration for our technical aspects.

"Shia LaBeouf" Live - Rob Cantor
robcantor -

The idea to let the audience pick the direction of the performance was inspired in part by the "Choose Your Own Adventure" series of books. They subvert the traditional linearity of books and allow the reader to have a hand in the story. We decided to do a similar thing with this performance.


The theme of the performance, where it tells the story of an important part of someone's life, was inspired by the opening scene of the game Firewatch. Like ours, it also has points where the audience must choose between two options in order to affect the story.

FIREWATCH - Part 1 - Opening Scene
Joshua Schwitzerlett -


Initially, we thought of doing a performance where a computer projects abstract visuals with some randomness, and the performers have to respond to them (for example, by following the position of a zigzagging line as it descends). We wanted to include more audience participation, so we decided to incorporate elements from Choose Your Own Adventure, where the audience is the source of the randomization. We eventually shifted to more of a narrative performance and wrote a script with various paths that could be followed. We reworked the projected visuals to be more of a background for the story, so the script writer and visual designer worked together closely on this part.

We practiced several times to make sure the narration and actions were clean and consistent. Since the story had multiple paths, this was somewhat challenging, as there were several different scenarios that we had to prepare for. We used the non-performing group members as a stand-in for the audience while practicing in order to explore all the possibilities.

The props were created after running through the script and discussing what would make the performance more effective. One group member had the idea to dump a can of beans into a bucket to create a sound effect for vomiting, which ended up being one of the strongest parts of the performance.



The performance was quite successful overall. Most of the jokes got some people to laugh, and there was a decent amount of audience participation. People were somewhat uncomfortable at the beans scene (as we had hoped), and the other props were also effective. The introduction of the choice format was written as part of the script, which felt more immersive than a separate introduction followed by the actual performance.

Some potential things that could be expanded on in the future:
- Sound: In the performance, the only sound is the narrator's voice, the audience choosing, and the sound effect with the beans. There are more opportunities for sound effects that we could take advantage of in future performances. For example, we could play party-sounding music (referred to as "memecore" in the script) during the party scenes.
- Audience participation: There are several parts during the performance where the narrator asks the audience to choose a path. This is done by raising hands for one option or yelling for the other. There is an imbalance here- for one, raising hands is easier than yelling, and it is also hard for the narrator to distinguish which option received more votes. We tried to account for this by making the yelling option the harder/more rewarding one in the script, but we could also explore more possibilities for methods of participation.
- More freedom: There are a number of interactions with the audience, and some scenes differ between each performance due to their choices. The main story remains the same- the protagonist always goes to the party and ends up kissing Terri. We could expand on the audience choices by giving them more control over the story, e.g. by deciding not to go to the party at all (similar to "Unspecified"). Multiple endings would require more effort to write and prepare. We could also include more subversions of the choose-your-own-adventure concept, similar to the choice of "one" or "two" not mattering either way.


Group Reflection

Our group worked well together, and everyone was able to contribute. Jonathan was the creative lead, writing most* of the script and guiding the vision of the final product. The rest of us worked on the visuals, props, documentation, performance, and other aspects. Having one person responsible for the script was a good choice, since we did not have to worry about inconsistent writing style or creative differences.

During the final performance, we had one narrator (Jonathan), one protagonist (Jared), one person controlling the visuals (Mimi), one person working the props (Toya), and one person recording video (Kai). This was a good division of labor, and we would have had trouble accomplishing it without any one group member.

*the pick-up lines were a team effort



Inspiration: Shia Labeouf Live by Rob Cantor

Pick-up line #2: Spread the word: Pick-up lines suck by Michelle Bova and Justin Brown

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62-150 Intro to Media Synthesis and Analysis

· 28 members

New creative industries are empowering new modes of collaborative consumption, creation and reuse of media. This often relies on successful collaborations between cross-trained artists, designers a...more


Choose-your-own-adventure performance