The house I grew up in was about a hundred years old, and had layer upon layer of paint on the outside, and layer upon layer of wallpaper on the inside. The reason I knew this was that the paint and the paper cracked and peeled, and revealed -- in archaeological fashion -- what was underneath. I could only wonder who had occupied the house and what went on with them when the first or third or fifth layer was slapped on. I never investigated the history of the house at the local library or historical society, but hey, I was a kid! It was more fun to speculate. I say all this because, if we're attuned to it, there's a lot like that all around us -- the glue connecting things becomes undone and the surface of the world starts to peel up at the corners, hinting at some hidden life below.
Allen Hahn has tapped into this phenomenon in his interactive experiment in storytelling, "The Secret City," an inventive mix of theater, game, and urban exploration which has taken place several times now in a grand old library building in the dilapidated town of Braddock, Pennsylvania (the town's ups-and-downs were nicely chronicled in this New York Times story). Participants of "The Secret City" go through the library in small teams (and in different sequences), where they discover puzzles, send in their answers by text message to an automated system, and receive automated phone calls with the next portion of a story. Mystery suffuses the whole experience -- the building itself, the puzzles that participants must solve, and the story of the lost painting that their investigations uncover bit by bit. Allen is refining the experience with each iteration, and plans to expand the story to other sites in the area. Definitely check it out if you're in the Pittsburgh area when it's happening next. Keep your eyes peeled to the website for "The Secret City." And of course, please listen to my podcast interview with him on iTunes or clicking the link above.