“You will be pleasantly surprised tonight”, read the paper given to me by the man sitting at the back of the stage. And do you know what? I was.
What Happened to the Seeker, produced by STO Union, is the biggest and most successful risk in this year’s Magnetic North Theatre Festival. Having premiered in Montréal at this year’s Festival TransAmériques, this show is still subject to change before reaching the European venues that have already booked it. If you like watching early progress of the strange and wonderful, make sure you see it soon.
If you do seek out this inward-looking character study of an aging generation, be prepared for a long journey. The show runs over two hours with an intermission, and many older attendees could be heard complaining of the run time post-show. Fortunately (or not depending on your point of view) you won’t be sitting the entire two hours. The first hour is split into three twenty-minute segments, and there is no guarantee in what order you will see, hear, touch, taste, and smell this sensory triptych.
You might start by listening to an audio recording of Nadia Ross, the director, attempting to interview her collaborator George Acheson. They discuss the seeker movement of the 1960s, in which young people pursued spiritual enlightenment, often travelling to India. Acheson was a member of this movement, whereas Ross was simply brought up in the aftermath. They also discuss whether Ross is in fact the subject of the show, or merely an artist drawing on select experiences from her own life, a point of contention throughout the performance.
Another possible start to your journey is the screening of a short film about the creation of the work as a whole — with popcorn included of course. Using a mix of real footage of Canadian winter landscapes and charmingly existential puppets voiced again by Ross, Acheson, and their producer Sarah Conn, the film explores the pitfalls of writer’s block in a time when money and technology are often moving too fast for the artistic process to keep up. A story about artists’ difficulties may not seem a valuable one, but it highlights fascinating aspects of the greater journey for meaning in life.
Finally, your journey could begin with the museum. Explore the life of the titular Seeker, from childhood to present day, and puzzle out how much of herself Ross has put into this character. Meet Ross, Conn, and Acheson (the sitting man), but don’t linger in one spot too long, or you won’t get the full story.
The second half starts with a screening of footage from a pilgrimage to India, and finishes with a brief, irreverent, vulnerable, and artistically liberated performance in which the collaborators play themselves. Not everyone will see this as acting, but that’s not what matters. Not everyone will see The Seeker as theatre, and that’s the point. Everyone will take something different from it, and as Ross puts it, “that is perfectly all right”.
What Happened to the Seeker
by Jonas McLean