When Ryan Long’s parents owned Elaine’s Dinner Theater in Cape May, he would help out in high school with lighting and even acting.
He spent plenty of time working with his father, who directed and produced the nightly shows.
“That’s how I really learned the craft,” Long said.
Those early experiences with the theater helped shape Long’s career and led him to becoming his own show director. Now, Long, along with an Atlantic City performer, will be putting on an interactive play through Sunday at the Dennis Flyer Theater at Camden County College.
The play, called “Harken: A Game of Phones,” is an original fantasy that combines 3-D scenery behind the actors and active participation from the audience to direct the actors from scene to scene, almost like a live-action choose-your-own adventure. Certain characters are voted off the shows throughout the performance, and the background of the show morphs depending on where the audience plans to go next.
The evolution of smartphones finally helped Long put his dream onto the stage, and with help from programmers, he’s finally seeing it all come to life — with viewers able to guide the action from their devices.
“No one has ever done anything like it. The audience controls the show, so the audience is the director and they decide how the show progresses,” Long said.
But before his custom show premiered this weekend, Long, who now lives in Collingswood, had a history of performing here in South Jersey.
Besides his parents owning the dinner theater in Cape May, Long started his own acting company, the Riddlesbrood Touring Theatre Company, in 2000, where he traveled to different venues including the Renault Winery in Egg Harbor City before arriving at the Showbarn in historic Smithville, where Long put on productions between 2001 and 2004.
“That’s where (my) company got its start. We were full time there,” Long said.
It’s also where he began to work consistently with Beth Tinnon.
Tinnon is an Atlantic City casino lounge act and frequently performs at the Ram’s Head Inn in Galloway.
When she was not performing the casino circuit, she would work in different shows with Long at the Showbarn. One of the first shows they did was a comedic version of “A Christmas Carol.”
“We became good friends ever since,” said Tinnon, of Galloway.
So when Long began to put together the production for “Harken,” he went to Tinnon to be included.
“He asked me if I had availability to be in the show. I told him I’m currently performing in and around Atlantic City, but I was interested,” Tinnon said.
Instead, Long asked her to be the musical director and she accepted. Tinnon said it was an opportunity to help young actors aspiring to break into theater.
“I was able to pass along some of the things I’ve learned,” she said.
So how did she deal with a musical production for a play that could change from scene to scene? Tinnon said the music was broken up into specific songs for each character, so if one character made it to a scene over another, their music would follow. Other specific songs would stay the same, like “Awaken,” which is played toward the end as a character is resurrected. That means whichever character is chosen needs to know the lyrics to the song.
After close to 48 total hours of practice with the actors and Long, Tinnon said she was excited for the show to be revealed this weekend.
“Everything from the sword-fighting to a graphic background, there’s so much talent here. We’re working with some future superstars, and I’m looking forward to seeing them put it into motion,” she said.