If you’re reading this website, you almost certainly remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books, those delightful interactive tomes in which young readers could explore haunted houses and alien planets, or even get reincarnated as sharks and bears. The UK’s Nathan Penlington certainly does: the slight, wiry thirtysomething is so enamored that he ordered an eBay lot of the first 106 (!) books. Every one of them belonged to Terrance Pendergast, a kid who also tucked a few heartrending pages of his high school diary into one of the stories. Nate becomes obsessed with finding Terrance, wondering who he is and perhaps if the other boy’s childhood pain will shed some light on his own. Nate was a sickly child who spent a mere nine months in school between the ages of 11 and 15, so Choose Your Own Adventure was one of his only outlets.
The ingenious conceit of Choose Your Own Documentary is that the audience makes choices along Nate’s journey: should he consult a Tarot card reader or a therapist? Does he ask around Terrance’s neighborhood for information, or stake out his house? Nate narrates live while the viewers vote with remote controls: “No need to point them at the telly, this isn’t the 1980s,” he reminds us. I saw the show twice this week—it plays two final, free performances today before touring the United Kingdom—and both were different, although one essential core remained: it’s a story about geeks, why they don’t fit in, why the worlds of science fiction and fantasy appeal to them, and how they can resolve childhood pain to achieve adult happiness.
Choose Your Own Adventure is crafted like a Dateline investigation, although one with considerably more humor and heart. Nate is undoubtedly the star, but the other filmmakers, including De Jesus, Nick Watson, and Sam Small, are all present and pop up occasionally in the footage to offer support or make wry comments. They all become invested in Nate’s adventure, and so do we. Rather than slaying a dragon or scaling a mountain, we’re simply searching for truth and compassion. It’s a wild ride.
Choose Your Own Documentary screens today at 2pm and 4pm the Bombay Sapphire House of Imagination, 121 Varick St. The event is free but RSVP is recommended. https://tribecafilm.com/innovation/storyscapes
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