The No Bull$#!% History of Invention, playing at the St. Vladimir Institute during the Toronto Fringe Festival, is a stylistic sequel of sorts to company The House of Style’s The No Bull$#!% History of Canada. It’s a lighthearted lecture that takes the audience through some of our greater and lesser-known world-changing inventions, and the fascinating men and women who came up with (or stole) them. Unlike the brassiere or toilet, it’s probably not going to change your world, but like the telephone, it’s a perfectly nice way to spend an hour of your time.
As a professor, I’m very familiar with the hour-long lecture format. Grab your students’ interest with an unusual topic, or a topic presented in an unusual way. Use some cool visuals, maybe even some entertaining voices. Find the themes, links and ties between seemingly disparate topics. Add a liberal dose of humour and link to the modern world. Oh, and it never hurts to swear every once in a while, just to make sure they’re listening.
The No Bull$#!% History of Invention is a successful example of this kind of lecture, full of bite-sized bits of tantalizing information about inventions as different in tenor and impact as sliced bread and the six-nippled sheep (I’ll give you a hint as to the bigger success; we don’t say “the greatest thing since six-nippled sheep.”)
It’s always fun (and infuriating) to see some of history’s vaunted heroes revealed as charlatans and plagiarists, and through the comedy the important point is driven home that privilege not only results in the ability to take advantage of others, but the ability to shape the final story that gets locked in the vault of posterity.
Kyle Allatt is a pretty nimble performer, and his in-character readings of quotations from the inventors or their biographers are entertaining. He’s got his interaction with his fancy Powerpoint show down to a science, bestowing on us graphics, enhanced patents, advertisements, and even what may be history’s first cat video. Occasionally he telegraphs (heh) his intent, or starts mugging in an over-rehearsed way, but he may have been trying to compensate for a smallish (though appreciative) opening night audience.
The show is very cute, but it also works better under the axiom “ignorance is bliss” — the less you already know about the stories and facts going in, the more you’ll enjoy them. Regardless of any previous knowledge, there are still gems to be had, like a gag about the importance of correct punctuation and the mocking of a radio announcer’s slowly degenerating ability to pronounce an odd brand name.
All in all, Allatt might just be the History professor (or Bull$#!% professor) you wish you had. I didn’t discover a new world, but as one lecture artist to another, I salute him. Maybe it’s the second-best thing since sliced bread.
- The No Bull$#!% History of Invention plays at the St. Vladimir Institute. (620 Spadina Ave)
- Tickets are $12 at the door and in advance, and can be bought online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Fringe Club at Honest Ed’s Alley, and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- Content Warning: Mature Language.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible.
- Thursday June 30th, 06:30 pm
- Friday July 1st, 10:15 pm
- Sunday July 3rd, 01:45 pm
- Monday July 4th, 05:00 pm
- Wednesday July 6th, 08:00 pm
- Friday July 8th, 09:15 pm
- Saturday July 9th, 12:00 pm
Photo of Kyle Allatt provided by the company