I REMEMBER the thrill of this time of year when I was a boy and the school book club magazine orders made in October arrived on my desk.
The Hardy Boys, Asterix and a forgotten series about a boy called Chip, who was actually a robot, all kept me company through the Christmas break. None of them, however, could compare with the excitement of a new Choose Your Own Adventure book.
The Bantam Books publications which sold 250 million copies between 1979 and 1998, were phenomenally popular. They did exactly what they said on the tin – allowed you to choose the adventure – and as a result, put you at the centre of the action.
Come the end of the Nineties, the books were not selling as they had at the height of their popularity, but their USP – placing the reader at the centre of the world they created – had not gone out of fashion.
With the advent of the iPod, on-demand television and the internet, we're increasingly putting ourselves at the heart of our own carefully customised world.What better medium to pander to these inflated egos than theatre?
A trip to the theatre is an experience shared with an audience around you. You sit in your seat in the dark and the actors perform in the lights on the stage. At least, that was how it used to be.
Earlier this year I found myself in the middle of a terrifying vampire story in an abandoned warehouse in Huddersfield. This wasn't some hallucinogenic nightmare, but a performance of They Only Come At Night: Visions, created by Leeds based theatre company Slung Low.
Alan Lane, artistic director of Slung Low, believes that theatre catering for a singular experience is what contemporary audiences demand.
"If I log on to Amazon, there are suggestions for books or films or CDs I might want to buy, specifically tailored towards me. Someone else's suggestions will be different to mine," says Lane."We live in a world where we walk through a community listening to our own soundtrack on an iPod – a bespoke society where we can tailor our experiences to our own personal tastes. I like that theatre is attempting to do the same."
As well as directing his own company, Lane is also a co-producer of Development Lab, based at Bradford's Theatre in the Mill. Earlier this year the company commissioned Birmingham-based director Jane Packman to develop a show which, like much of Slung Low's work, is designed for a single audience member at a time.
Packman is presenting her show to several audiences of one this week in Bradford, from today until Friday.
"Some people can find it a little intimidating to go into a performance where they are the only audience member," says Packman. "When we explain that there is no need for them to get involved in any of the performance aspect they relax a lot more and are happier about taking part.
"Of course there are plenty of people who want to get really involved in the experience and that's fine too."
Treasured – A Secret Journey begins with the audience member entering a yurt where they meet the first performer and are treated to a cup of tea and an explanation of what will follow. At the end of the first part, the audience member chooses one of three books, which determines which story they will follow in the next stage of the show.
"They are then given a piece of jewellery and the rest of the story unfolds. The actor guides the audience member through the show, leading them around the story," says Packman.
"It is a way of the audience being incredibly engaged with a piece of theatre.
"In a traditional theatre piece, the audience sits in the dark and can choose not to engage. With this kind of theatre it is inevitably a much more immediate experience."
Packman believes this intensely- personal theatre experience provides us with a sense of connection missing from modern life.
"With Facebook and Twitter we are all more connected than ever, but it is connection on a very superficial level," she says.
"It's ironic, but the more connected we appear to become, the more disconnected we actually are. Something like this can remind us of what it actually is to be completely engaged with other people."
Treasured – A Secret Journey is at Theatre in the Mill, University of Bradford, to Friday. Tickets on 01274 233200.