"It was a mind-melt to write."
When Adriane Daff and Zoe Pepper first began developing The Confidence Man back in 2011, "It was far more political, and we had this dream of having 24 characters," says Pepper, shaking her head. "Fucking nuts." Since then it's become six characters in a house, instead of 24 in a town; much more manageable, especially considering all six actors are drawn from the audience and given masks and headsets. The masks provide anonymity and easy identification, the headsets providing participants with their character's inner thoughts, dialogue, the content of the conversations around them and instructions. "We wanted to make it so that everyone is the hero, and everyone thinks they're the main character," Pepper explains. "It was a mind-melt to write."
The remaining audience sits around the perimeter. They're also given headsets, only they can toggle between characters, following the story from any of six different perspectives. "Say you've got Maria and Alex doing drug deals in the baddies' hideout, and then you have Peter and Sam having a conversation in the lounge room, and they're listening to Peter and are like, 'That looks really interesting, what's going on over there?' They can just tune in and change channels and piece the story together on their own terms. Though they can potentially screw it up for themselves if they channelsurf too hard."
"Everybody knows what to do when you get a gun in your face."
The set is Dogville style: the blueprint of a house marked up on the floor with some simple furniture and props. Audience and participants can see across multiple rooms, and simultaneously multiple platforms of action. The story, meanwhile, is a crime thriller, about an old friend who hoodwinks another friend and brings them undone. "We chose a crime thriller because it's action-driven... Everybody has seen them on telly, so you're not really throwing people in the deep end. They understand where they are in the hierarchy of the world. And they know how to act. As soon as you give them a gun, they just know what to do with a gun. And everybody knows what to do when you get a gun in your face."
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After the show, Pepper has noticed, people "just wanna stand around and talk for about half an hour to each other about what they were doing that the other person didn't know they were doing, which is the same reaction of the people who are watching on the perimeter. It's kinda interesting like that: where you go to a show and miss so much. By design, you cannot possibly - unless you come back six times - see it all."
The Confidence Man isn't what usually emerges from Pepper's production company Side Pony Productions. "I normally make black box tragic comedies and write the script through improvisation. I thought if I can make a show where I wouldn't mind participating, that would satisfy me. And to make the tech invisible, so it's still about people."