****This review may contain spoilers*****
The final show to premier at undercurrents this year is from Ghost River Theatre in Calgary, and it is unlike anything else at the festival.
The company has specifically requested that I not reveal some key details about the show, and I will attempt to honour that request; I am confident I can say what I need to say without giving away any spoilers.
Tomorrow’s Child begins in the Arts Court Studio, where the audience exchanges their ticket stub for a blindfold at the door. From there, the “immersive sonic experience” begins. I won’t detail too much about what happens next, but rather talk about what I understand to be GRT’s goals and how well they achieved them.
This piece claims to be the “first installment of GRT’s Six Senses Performance Series,” removing the sense of sight to explore the potential of different facets of story telling. I recognize that this is indeed rather unique as a theatrical experience, and the total immersion of the soundscape is indeed both unusual and unparalleled in most theatrical productions that I’ve participated in.
That being said, we are experiencing a resurgence in audio-based story telling with the rise of podcasts for every interest. If the aim of this production is to remove the sense of sight to prime us for a unique performance experience, I’m not sure it has accomplished this. It seems like I could have had a very similar experience at home with a good pair of headphones. I wish GRT had pushed the envelope more, and incorporated more of the other senses into the performance. Could we have experienced a more immersive experience in the presence of corresponding touch-effects to go along with the sounds? What about smell and taste? And what is the mysterious sixth sense in this performance series?
Being that I was blindfolded, it is difficult for me to speak to exactly what the cast was doing during our immersive audio experience, but it seems like there could have been better use made of the corporeal human parts of the theatrical medium. Theatre is a medium that allows the use of all the senses to tell stories. If you want to remove sight from our arsenal of tools as an audience, it seems to me that more care needs to be paid to all the rest of the senses, or at least to other corporeal ways of using sound than recorded audio.
Now, if the intention was indeed to focus on the exclusive presence of sound to tell a story, rather than to focus on the absence of sight, then some of my comments can be ignored. Nevertheless, this show still has a lot of untapped potential within these parameters. For example, (and remember that it’s hard to say for sure; I was blindfolded) the differences between amplified and live sound also seem largely unexplored. While the immersive audio experience of being in the theatre space in a new way is indeed very cool, the fact that the show consists of a hundred blindfolded humans gathered together in a room is completely overlooked.