By Megan Mooney
Continuous City, a production from The Builders Association, is a critically acclaimed ‘multi-media experience’ that plays internationally. It is making it’s Canadian debut at LuminaTO this year. You can expect lots of video and some pretty cool folding screens.
Unfortunately, for me, that was about it. I felt like it was a play that was just trying to do some nifty new technology stuff, and send a message. Not a new message, but a loud blatant message. Technology has the ability to bring us closer, but it also has the ability to drive us apart. For me the production was all message, no nuance.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s an impressive piece. It’s big. It’s bright. It has a kid on stage (I’m always impressed with productions with kids on stage, not sure why, but there you go.). It makes good use of technology. It personalises the piece for the city it’s in. It incorporates media and messages from random people across the Internet through it’s site XUBU, one of the key players in the piece.
The piece is full of video conferences, and the screens used to display the people at the other end of these calls were among the coolest thing ever. The way they flapped closed, and the flourish that they opened with, gave them a bit of a sense of being alive. They were more than just a medium, they were a character in and of themselves. Unfortunately, cool only gets you so far.
The conversations with the people on said screens were stilted. It was a live person talking to a recording meant to be another live person. Unfortunately, for me it felt exactly like a live person talking to a recording. In fact, the show opens with one of these ‘dialogues’ and I found myself, well, a bit bored really. I realise that starting the show in a really low-key way may have been completely deliberate, but it just didn’t work for me.
Although, kudos to them for for all the work they did in making it relevant to a Toronto audience. I’d say they now know more about Toronto than most Torontonians. They do their research, not just ‘scratch the surface’ things, but honest to goodness, ‘find the things locals would’ research. It certainly scores big points with the audience, and I can’t imagine how much work it is for them to do this for every city they visit.
The problem is that I was thinking about the research they must have done, wondering how much a production like this would cost, and thinking about how long it must have taken to get all the location-based video (Kenya, Mexico, China, etc.). I imagine this is not what they wanted me to be thinking about. And to me it’s a pretty strong indication that I wasn’t engaged in the piece.
As impressed as I was with all the effort that went into the production, I think that it’s possible that all those things pulled focus from the core of the production, that the things like story and individual performance didn’t get enough attention. Bottom-line, the novelty factor of the use of technology was pretty cool, and if the show was only about half an hour long it would have been something I’d be happy to see. But there wasn’t enough to sustain my attention for the whole show, which meant I was bored and restless.
That said, there were certainly folks in the audience who loved it, judging by the conversations I overheard as people were leaving the theatre. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to have a show-partner to this one, so I didn’t get to pick someone else’s brain about how it came across to them.
So, if you want to see some funky use of technology, check this one out. It’s theatre at a very impressive scale. If you want an engaging story, then I’m going to say this probably isn’t the show for you.
– Continuous City plays tonight (June 13, 2009) at 7:30pm at the Isabel Bader Theatre (93 Charles Street West)
– Ticket prices range from $35-$45
– Information on purchasing tickets is found online. A word of warning, if you buy them online from ticketmaster you’re going to be hit with a hefty (and inconvenient) ‘convenience fee’.
Photo by Eamon Lochte-Phelps