When arriving to STO Union’s production of What Happened to the Seeker, leave all ideas of conventional theatre at the door. Nadia Ross, the creator and principal performer of this piece, offers a multidisciplinary and fully immersive experience as part of Canada’s Magnetic North Theatre Festival. In collaboration with George Acheson and Sarah Conn, Ross has created a performance about a woman in search of spiritual fulfillment and artistic inspiration, something unlike anything else in this festival and which engages all our senses.
The show begins as the audience enters the cozy Arts Court Theatre and is divided into three different groups. Lead by a collection of smiling volunteers, each group moves through the three different experiences, lasting twenty minute each. Each exhibit stimulates a specific sense as the non-linear story of the protagonist unravels. This creates a triptych experience — three different works of art that are to be appreciated together. The order of the exhibitions, of course, changes depending on which group you find yourself in. In this critic’s experience, an audio recording first reveals Ross and Acheson arguing over the identity of the title character despite Ross adamantly renouncing herself as the Seeker. From here we are shepherded to the second component of the performance where we are handed cups of popcorn to enjoy while watching a video recording of a puppet show. The puppet show has a DIY and rough aesthetic in which we see the Seeker, with the help of her friends, trying to find inspiration to create an original piece of theatre. The three puppets are unsuccessful in their quest and the Seeker is left even more disillusioned than before. The final experience is an interactive exhibit outlining the life and disappointments of the Seeker through a series of images, a light installation, and snippets of text.
After this first act, the performance begins to take a turn for the self-indulgent. All the audience members are brought together to watch a video of the Seeker’s journey to India, where she continues her search for healing and meaning, following the hippie trail left over from the ‘60s to meditation retreats and beachside hangouts. The film ends and the screen is lowered and carried away by volunteers to reveal Ross, Conn, and Acheson on stage. The final and only live performance in this play is a reflection on the continual journey to find peace within oneself.
Although the show overall is highly innovative, it boils down one woman’s way of managing a midlife crisis. All of us have felt, or will at one point feel, void of life and creativity, but is that enough to create a two-hour play? The Seeker’s gaze was so pointed inward that it is as if she has forgotten to look up and see the rest of the world.
What Happened to the Seeker most definitely fulfills the Magnetic North Theatre Festival mandate of showcasing radical experiences and finding new ways of communicating. As a multisensory and multi-disciplinary performance this is largely successful; however, the Seeker’s navel-gazing left me searching for more.
What Happened to the Seeker
By Franziska M. Glen