Right before I paid a phone call to The Telelibrary, I had my heart broken. Freshly frustrated from the final exchange over Instagram messages (the absolute nerve), I wasn’t sure if I was open enough to do an immersive experience, especially one as novel as The Telelibrary. I didn’t really want to talk to anyone, but I’ve already secured a time slot and they usually sell out quickly.
Please be advised that there are spoilers in this review. I do recommend going in with as little knowledge as possible, but if you’re curious, feel free to read further.
Billed as part theater, part game, part self-care and created by Yannick Trapman-O’Brien, I did not know what to expect. I knew that it won awards, in 2020 for “Outstanding Achievement in Immersive & Experiential Production” and “Audience Choice: Best Screenless Experience” from No Proscenium. And in the following year for “Innovation in Interaction Design” by IndieCade.
The Telelibrary is a remote, one-on-one, immersive experience played solely through the telephone. Though if you’re not based in the United States, you can call through WhatsApp. Set up in the Eastern Timezone, you call up a number and meet the robot operator. Played by Yannick, he was extremely polite, inquisitive, and delightful. When he asked me for my name, I misheard and when he requested again, I stated it. Throughout the 50+ minutes, he called me “OhI’mSorryEileenPlease”. Unfortunately, when he asked me what to call him, I went with the humdrum “Operator”. It would’ve been cooler if I called him “Hot Dog” or “Glob”.
To start off, he gives you the option of picking a number between 1-6, just like any automated menu. I selected a digit and it led to him repeating a word I didn’t recognize at all. I was confused so he paused and offered an option for the explanation for this selection. I confirmed and he then states that this is from Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders and what the book is about. Thrilled I asked him to continue, and he finished the definition and gave an example. I proceeded to have him read the rest of that wonderful menu. I will note that each number has a varying number of credits you need to use in order to listen. But good news, you can add credits pretty easily. He’ll give you a choice between two questions such as what’s outside your window or share a joke.
I couldn’t resist when I could choose to tell him what I miss. I proceeded to tell him about that heartbreaker, how it ended, and that I shouldn’t miss him but I do. Operator was the first person I told and it felt like a great release. And I earned a credit for my self-pity so yay haha. But something more beautiful (and healthier) happened as I stayed on the phone. As each choice led to a further expansion of the menu from 1-23+, I got to hear other participants besides Operator. I won’t reveal more than that, but I will say that the readings that Operator/Yannick shared with me were healing.
He recited a wondrous poem about springtime during the war written decades ago which made me go “hmm” at the end. He responded, “Can I ask you a question?” I said yes. And he asked me why I went hmm. So I went off about how it’s amazing how nature and the Earth will be fine long after us, despite all the current war and carnage, and how comforting it is despite our despair. He then beautifully and so succinctly summarized how I felt right back to me, asking for my confirmation, like the fantastic robot he is hehe. I said “Yes!” And he replied “I’m learning a lot today!” which he happens to say a lot, making me grin quite often.
Heartbreak is such an inward, internal process, especially when it’s brand new. For me, it always feels like I’m alone in it. But this singular phone call allowed me to open up and see our World beyond this last failure. To view a fascinating range of subjects and creative possibilities. Through Yannick’s gem readings and the participants’ materials, I was able to stave off the pain and experience the wonder of literature, humanity, and storytelling. There are a lot of amazing expansions and sub-menus to explore and the selection of menus changes each week, inviting further play.
It’s important to note that you have the option of being recorded during these phone calls. However, you can state at any time if you no longer give permission to be recorded. I think I’ll always green light mine and maybe, my own thoughts will help another user like how the past participants helped me with my own.
Yannick has created a terrific experience with quality storytelling, performance, and clever innovation. And all with just his voice, some books, and a ukulele. When we mostly seek our entertainment in gargantuan libraries of streaming services, CGI franchises, and viral videos, it’s an utter breath of fresh air when you come across something seemingly simplistic yet incredibly brilliant. I just signed up for the waitlist and I can’t wait to meet Operator/Glob again. Definitely check out The Telelibrary with an open mind and heart, you’ll be sure to be enchanted.