Afternoons, through January 28
Did you ever stop and think, as you walk through your city en route to the next stop in your life, that someone, in some other city, on the other side of the country, might be doing exactly the same thing?
That’s part of the premise behind Landline, a unique participatory show that’s part of the 2017 High Performance Rodeo.
In order experience Landline, participants report to the Arts Commons home base. There, they receive an iPod loaded with an audio soundscape , a map of downtown Calgary on one side and downtown St. John’s, Newfoundland on the other – and a pair of texting-friendly red gloves in case it’s so cold outside you need to stop and warm up your hands.
Then, you click on the iPod, before heading out into the streets of the city, where you go on a self-directed 45 minute stroll around town, as a narrator asks existential questions about your relationship to your city.
On several occasions, you stop and swap texts with someone doing Landline at exactly the same moment on the other side of the country – in St. John’s Newfoundland.
Landline was co-created by Adrien Wong and Dustin Harvey, who were a pair of audio-based theatre artists living in different parts of the country (him in Halifax, her in Vancouver) when they crossed paths at the 2011 PuSh Festival in Vancouver.
“(We)…realized we were both doing this audio work at separate ends of the country” Wong says, “and that idea of people being separate, yet somehow doing the same thing at the same time, excited our imaginations.
“They’re both port cities,” she says, “both on the coast, so we got excited about the possibility of those two cities being connected – so we sometimes talk about Landline being a slow dance with your arms around the country.”
The idea of creating an audio narrative for people to experience in two different cities was hatched, but Wong realized its limitations too – namely, the awkwardness of synching up people with an audio track in two different places, with all the variables that entailed.
That’s when Harvey and Wong began to find inspiration from the situationists and derive, a kind of elevated drifting consciousness – or, as it’s known in the blogs of people like Calgarian Richard White, flaneuring, or wandering around a city with no explicit purpose in mind.
“When we came to this idea of derive, “Wong says, “it just opened up this whole possibility, because then, the audience member is actually very critical to the performance, because they’re making a series of decisions and they’re choosing where they want to go – and that immediately made it feel more live.
“We set this groundwork and structure,” says Wong. “We offer physical suggestions of how to move, or poetic decisions of how to think – (but) ultimately, they’re doing it. So the liveness, then, is those decisions that are made in the moment.”
It all comes to a climax at the end, when the Landline participants from Calgary meet up with the Landline participants in St. John’s via iPad, with tea and cookies to warm you up.
Landline is one of several audience inclusive shows at the 2017 Rodeo, along with Through the Gaze of a Navel (yoga), 5 Minute Therapy (performance art advice, like Lucy in the Peanuts), By Heart (learning and reciting Shakespearean sonnets), Trace (personal reminiscences), Every Brilliant Thing (the list of life’s awesome stuff) and Why We Are Here (choral singing) – but as to whether shows of this style represent the future of theatre, Wong isn’t so sure.
“It’s a trend right now,” she says. “I don’t know if it’s the future, or just another flavour (of the moment).
“What I would hope,” she says, “is there’s a bit of everything: we have a strong diverse ecology of theatre arts and that there’s space for plays put on by actors on stages with lights and costumes and all that stuff – my taste runs towards being able to participate, or having a very clear answer to the question, why do I need to be here? Why does my presence as an audience member critical to the performance tonight? So Landline is in some ways answering that.”
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Read more about the Rodeo here
Stephen Hunt is the 2017 High Performance Rodeo writer-in-residence