Review: Amélie (360 Screenings)

360 screenings gets interactive yet again with Toronto’s theatre audiences for Valentine’s Day

360 screenings, brainchild of young Torontonians Robert Loach and Ned Gontier, is a brilliant capitalization on several things currently in fashion: “underground” events, fusions of various kinds, and Toronto’s notoriously game theatre audience, who have proved willing in recent years to troop cheerfully through weather, terrain, and fake blood for an interesting experience. I’ve heard marvelous buzz about previous screenings, and the recent 28 Days Later screenings earned a rave from my Mooney colleage. Now, what the dynamic duo need is a professional event planner and… a little less success.

The Amelie screening, quirkily topical for Valentine’s Day, was simply a difficult match with the space and huge audience. It’s clear that careful thought had gone into vignettes, many individual opportunities to interact with people having all sorts of love affairs. Unfortunately, with 250 people overwhelming the Wychwood Barns, it was hard to feel like we were experiencing anything more than standing around with a bunch of complaining strangers. So let’s take the review in two parts – the actual performance, and then the overall experience, shall we?

In terms of performances, the actors did as well as could be expected, really. A standout was the poor fellow consigned to sit in front of a soccer match telecast all evening, which fritzed in and out as audience members crept up and (with gleeful sadism) pulled the plug. It was so big it really worked. Also great for the space were the human statue and the blind actor who asked for navigational assistance, and then for audience members to describe what was happening.

To be clear, many of the other actors played well too, but their interiority made them seem more like exhibits. If you engaged them in conversation – and I did, being curious and also on the job – they would ask interesting thoughtful questions, request your assistance with oddball tasks like polishing a tweezers and determining which of two cotton swabs seemed longer, and tell you sad love stories. In order to have these experiences, however, you had to make bold to walk up and engage – and hope you could hear them speaking over the general din. Brave auditors were rewarded, though, with well-observed small work by people who were really, very in character. The withering, disdainful look I got when I borrowed some dental floss off one actor’s table was pure theatre magic, and the burly elderly painter seemed genuinely delighted when I offered him the English word ‘vexed’. Whoever cast this, did well.

Unfortunately, there were simply too many people and not enough things for us to do (or people to help us). Lines snaked through the space for wine and beer, and red wine ran out before 7:30. So did ACE Bakery baguettes, set out on a table and gone in minutes. Further long lines to peruse or purchase organic vegetables and delicious Monforte cheese (a personal favorite) were complicated by the unfortunate reality of each vendor having only a few feet of space and a single person handling purchases – even if the vegetable seller’s small son was a delightful distraction. At seven in the evening most people arrived hungry and clamored for the few savory hors d’ouvres, of which there weren’t enough, nor enough spaces for people to sit and make homemade valentines (though it was a charming station).

Many people stood around, holding glasses of white wine they didn’t really want and bread and cheese they did want but couldn’t figure out how to eat without a knife or a chair, while diligent actors tried to make scenes and draw people in and found themselves thwarted by the din and crush of people (poor Jealous Boyfriend, I really felt for you). I wanted desperately to send half the crowd home to come back the following night, but then I suppose the pleasure of the surprise reveal is lost.

This is such a good idea, and has so much fun and promise to it – I dearly hope the organizers are able to find the right balance of people, food, and things for them to do. I look forward to the next installation.

Details

For more information about the next 360 Screenings coming in May 2013, visit their website.

 

photo by Alex Neary