Solve a whodunit and ‘dispel the fog’ at this immersive exhibit at the Free Library

Experimental theatre company New Paradise Laboratories is behind “GUMSHOE” and we highly recommend it.

"Stick together ... and blend in." (GIF by Albert Hong)
Facts. Fog. Serendipity. What do these things have in common?

This was one of the many questions this reporter was presented with at the Free Library of Philadelphia’s first-ever immersive, theatrical experience called GUMSHOE, which is tied with the library’s new We the Detectives exhibitions.

The two exhibitions, both running through September 1, are Becoming the Detective: The Making of a Genre at the Parkway Central Library and Clever Criminals & Daring Detectives at the Rosenbach. They explore the mystery, detective and crime genres of literature and how they all got started with authors like Edgar Allan Poe, whose original Murders in the Rue Morgue 17-page manuscript is available for viewing at both exhibitions (four pages are at Parkway and two are at Rosenbach).

GUMSHOE, which is running through May 7, helps connects the two exhibitions located at two different buildings.

Follow the footprints. (GIF by Albert Hong)

Follow the footprints. (GIF by Albert Hong)

Produced by New Paradise Laboratories, a Philly theatre company known for its experimental approaches to performance, GUMSHOE places you in a training experience for the fictional Bureau of Mysteries where you’ll be exploring the Parkway Central Library, in spaces both public and those we’re not usually allowed in. Members of the bureau — performers from New Paradise Laboratories — will guide you to find some sort of answer to the main mystery: Why did Edgar Allen Poe bury his notes for Murders in the Rue Morgue under the floorboards of his house?

A mobile experience is also tied in with the physical portion while you’re there at the library and prompts you to finish the mystery at the Rosenbach. You can actually get started from where you’re at right now by texting PRESHOE to 215-GUM-SHOE (215-486-8428). New Paradise Laboratories has delved into other interactive experiences involving tech, like with Fatebook and Extremely Public Displays of Privacy, which was almost entirely all on the internet.

While we won’t be spoiling the more important parts of the performance — it’s a mystery after all, here’s what you can expect to see during the GUMSHOE experience:

Your very own Gumshoe notebook. (Photo by Albert Hong)

Your very own Gumshoe notebook. (Photo by Albert Hong)

Not suspicious at all. (Photo by Albert Hong)

Not suspicious at all. (Photo by Albert Hong)

Charles Dickens' raven, Grip. (Photo by Albert Hong)

Charles Dickens’ raven, Grip. (Photo by Albert Hong)

This Bureau of Mysteries member seemed rushed. (GIF by Albert Hong)

This Bureau of Mysteries member seemed rushed. (GIF by Albert Hong)

A wireless phone. (Photo by Albert Hong)

A wireless phone. (Photo by Albert Hong)

Whit MacLaughlin, artistic director at New Paradise Laboratories, said he and the creative staff took a good amount of time exploring “the library as the main character,” making sure to familiarize themselves with the library as a space for not just performance but exploration. The ultimate goal was to find a way to engage visitors at Parkway to walk over to the Rosenbach, which is necessary if you want to solve the mystery in its entirety.

“We want people to be curious, we want people to love the library, we want people to be able to distinguish between fact, fiction and falsehood and dispel the fog,” MacLaughlin said.

The definition of what a library really is and what it means to people, that’s also something Karin Suni, curator of the theatre collection in the Free Library’s Rare Book Department who also curated the Becoming the Detective exhibition, hopes people will consider during their time experiencing both GUMSHOE and the exhibitions.

“That was one of the experiments of this, to see how can that work, since we’ve never done anything like this, and how can we blueprint for the future if we wanted to do something like this in the future?” Suni said of the collaboration between Free Library and New Paradise Laboratories.

You can check out more information on the free exhibitions or reserve free tickets for GUMSHOE here.

Companies: Free Library of Philadelphia

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