Audience takes center stage this weekend at 'Her Things: An Interactive Estate Sale'

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Ayne Terceira is perfectly willing to talk about her new show, “Her Things: An Interactive Estate Sale.” But, at the same time, she doesn’t want to say too much.

She doesn’t want to spoil it for you.

“Essentially, you are more of a participant than an audience member, because you will be active the entire night,” she said of the interactive show being presented this weekend at ModernFormations Gallery in Lawrenceville.

Allow her to set the stage that you will inhabit.

“You have arrived at the estate sale of Willa Ballard, who is a turn-of-the-century recluse from 1914,” Ms. Terceira said. “She has died under mysterious circumstances. You have to discover what those circumstances are, why they occurred and, more importantly, the world in which she lived in.

“You can touch and manipulate any object in the room, just as you would if it was an actual estate sale and you were there to appraise what you want to purchase. You can open doors, inspect things. Everything is touchable, everything you can pick up, look at, read. There are over 60 documents in the show, and there are over 120 props. There is a lot of material to comb over and many of the objects are hidden, so you have to be clever to access them, which may mean solving a puzzle or finding a hidden hiding place.

“All the while, there are five actors in the show who will assist you or hinder you on your way. They will approach you, but you can also approach them, interrogate them. They are all improvisational actors, so no matter what you lob at them, they will respond in character for the scenario.”

Ms. Terceira, of Bloomfield, studied professional writing at Carnegie Mellon University before heading to the University of Florida in Gainesville, where she earned a master’s degree in history of science. She returned to Pittsburgh more than four years ago and became involved in improvisational theater.

“I was one of the founding members of the improv troupe, The No Parking Players, something a bunch of us created in early 1996 and something that still exists today,” she said.

She came up with the idea for “Her Things: An Interactive Estate Sale” in August and reached out to Aaron Tarnow, who has served as technical director for Steel City Improv Theater and Quantum Theater.

“We brought actors on board in November,” she said. “And we’ve been accumulating props, retrofitting the big set pieces to accommodate some of the secrets, and working with test audiences to hone the interactions so that they seamlessly embody their characters. Some of the mysteries and some of the artifacts that are part of the show are things that I’ve discovered or learned about in my studies of the history of science.”

It can be a tricky show.

“You are designed to, hopefully, be informed on the main plot line, but there are other things at work that you may learn about, you may never learn about,” Ms. Terceira said. “The show is structured so that you, as the participant, can decide what you want to spend your time on. You can comb through diaries that are fully written out or you can follow actors around to find out their back-stories and reasons for being there and little tiny side plots as well. There’s a lot to discover and a lot to mull over.”

And how do the members of “the audience” approach their tasks?

“It depends on who the participant is,” Ms. Terceira said. “We’ve had people who come together and work together. Some people have collaborated after never knowing each other before. And then there’s some people who feel like it’s a competition and they want to win, so they keep information to themselves and tell no one.

“It’s a mixed bag and that’s the beauty of it. I suggest collaboration. I think you learn a lot more. But I don’t want to pressure anybody.”

Is there a final solution?

“Is there?” Ms. Terceira asked. “I have to say that when I wrote the show, I definitely had a singular solution in mind. But, that being said, the way that I’ve created clues allows for ambiguity of interpretation. Even Aaron and I disagree about the solutions of some things. Even the cast all have their own interpretations.”

The test shows have been hits.

“It’s been overwhelmingly positive,” she said. “After the shows, everybody is invited to stay in the anteroom — the first room that you enter — to discuss theories, compare notes and argue about the solutions to the mysteries.

“Our first night, on Wednesday, no one would leave. It was a good hour or more after the show — we had pretty much finished resetting the show for the next night — and there were still people in the lobby discussing what had happened. I consider that a success.”

You should decide for yourself. “Her Things: An Interactive Estate Sale” is presented at 8 tonight at ModernFormations Gallery, 4919 Penn Ave., in Lawrenceville. There are two shows Saturday at 3 and 8 p.m. Admission is $20.

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