Unlike most theatre reviews, this one is going to use the first person singular. That’s because, unlike most theatre pieces, this one wouldn’t have existed unless I’d been present.
Here’s how it worked. At Arts Court I was teamed up, via text, with a counterpart in Dartmouth, NS. We were each issued an iPod and told to spend an hour walking around the city. Where we went was our choice, but prompts from the iPod would tell us what to do during our stroll: observe our surroundings (were there birds overhead? Interesting bits of architecture?), check out fellow walkers (or tag along behind them for a block), occasionally stop and imagine a “scene” (for example, greeting someone from our past whose memory was evoked by a building we spotted). We were to text our counterpart about what we were seeing and experiencing, especially during our “scenes,” and to find out something about each other.
I sauntered east on Daly Avenue and wandered around Nelson and other streets, paying attention to my environs but often not certain which street I was on – clearly one of the intents of LANDLINE which is in part an exercise in observing what’s most important both internally and externally rather than worrying about the usual markers (our clothing, street signs) of daily life.
My new friend in Dartmouth and I texted each other as we walked and while stopped for our scenes, in some cases ignoring the prompts and writing about whatever we chose. I learned things about him – he’s an atheist, doesn’t own a dog, felt lost when he turned 30 – and saw a photo of the spot where he was married. He learned stuff about me including the fact that I still very much miss my grandfather who died in 1967: one of my “scenes” was in front of a Daly Avenue house that reminded me of my grandparents’ home.
After an hour we returned to our starting points for a brief Skype conversation – turned out my new walking companion had another commitment, so I briefly chatted with a stand-in.
Created by Adrienne Wong (Neworld Theatre, Vancouver, though she’s now an Ottawa resident) and Dustin Harvey (Secret Theatre, Halifax), LANDLINE aims to use technology to break down immense physical spaces between people, make participants both actors and audiences in their own play, and create an opportunity to experience our own lives, perceptions and cities afresh while peeking into those of others.
So is this theatre? And does it achieve its goals?
There’s not much point in debating the former because definitions of art forms and dividing lines between forms are so elastic that debate quickly becomes circular. LANDLINE blends plot with improvisation with imagination with dialogue with emotion … you get the picture: it displays qualities that pertain to theatre but to many other art forms and our reception of them as well. The creators call LANDLINE a “cellphone play,” so let’s just accept that if for no other reason than that it’s a convenient handle.
Does it work?
I felt I’d made a meaningful connection with my eastern pal, one I’d not have otherwise made, and that I did experience some of Dartmouth and his perception of it in real time. That his perceptions were sometimes layered with emotion (his surprise at seeing how the spot where he was married had changed, for example) deepened the impact.
Is my life richer for that experience? Probably, though it would be equally, albeit differently, enriched by lying on the couch at home and reading. Maybe the “differently” is the point here.
I doubt my appreciation of the streets I walked was any greater than it would be at any other time, although the stroll did drive home to me how much of the environment is missed by those who text while walking.
The main problem with LANDLINE is the sheer volume of stuff happening during the hour. You’re walking, observing, watching out for traffic, listening to iPod prompts, thinking about your counterpart, taking your own emotional temperature, periodically texting or reading texts about things deeper than “so-and-so just said … LOL,” all the while trying to judge the quality of the entire experience. That compendium of activities militates against your ability to experience any single one of them in much depth and thereby undercuts the supposed value of technology in forging new and deeper human connections.
Bottom line: LANDLINE’s reach exceeds its grasp.
At Arts Court until Aug. 24.
Information: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone/text 613-697-1477.