Immersive theatre piece arrives on the Toronto stage
It had been a while since I last saw a Luminato show, and I was curious what the festival had to offer this year. I walked into the world premiere of bug at the Theatre Centre somewhat familiar with the premise of the show, but unfamiliar with the finer details.
The moment I and the other theatre patrons walked into the auditorium where the show was held, we were transported into another world.
It was cold, and there were blankets on the seats so we could warm ourselves. As I got comfortable with my blanket, I noticed the scenery around us: great big spider webs and some twigs around them suspended in the air. The fog, lights, and overall ambiance made it feel like being in a cocoon.
The floor of the auditorium where the performance was going to take place was multicoloured, and there were two big, grey rocks on the ground. One was in the middle of the auditorium, and the other was in the middle of two seats for audience members.
Ashley Bomberry, the show’s stage manager, explained that there was a person on hand to offer cultural support to anyone who needed it. She also performed the show’s creation story, which explained that the world started with animals and bugs who swore to take care of the Indigenous people. The Indigenous people, accordingly, respected the earth and these creatures. I started to understand bug’s basic premise.
The show didn’t really begin until lights dimmed further into complete darkness, and a deep, rhythmic drumming started. From there, The Girl (Yolanda Bonnell) emerged as the lights got brighter and the drumming stopped. She immediately launched into her movement, and a story about fireflies.
I didn’t know what to make of the show at first, but related more to The Girl’s story as time went on. bug was essentially a tale of an Indigenous woman’s struggle to find her place in a world that doesn’t value Indigenous people. This story was interspersed among The Girl’s movements and dance, and peppered with references to insects in relation to her life.
The Girl’s tale was rife with abandonment–from being taken from her family, to her determination to get back custody of her daughter. I could really feel her pain. It especially touched me how tenderly The Girl spoke of her daughter, and called her “my little ladybug.” I believed The Girl when she said that her daughter gave her life purpose.
I also admired how openly and honestly The Girl spoke about her life and her various challenges. I think most troubled young women would be able to relate to her story. It saddened me when The Girl related that she let men use her because she wanted to feel wanted. Anybody who has a history of drug and/or alcohol abuse would likely also be able to relate.
It was a touching and honest tale. The show also involved the audience when The Girl sat and talked on the big, grey rock in between the two seats, and when Bonnell gave a short Q & A session five minutes after the show.
Overall, bug, for me, was okay. I really appreciated the work behind giving the audience a more immersive theatre experience, and enjoyed the honest emotion in Bonnell’s portrayal of The Girl. In the process of seeing this show, I’ve realized that I prefer a more straightforward narrative, and am likely not the best person to objectively evaluate this type of theatre. So I might not be the target audience here; those who do enjoy this type of storytelling may appreciate these elements of bug more.
EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this review dramatically misrepresented the content of the show by stating that the piece was interpretive dance, and that it was autobiographical in nature. Both of these erroneous claims have been corrected, with sincerest apologies from the editorial team. After careful consideration, we have also removed the final statement pertaining to the Q&A session following the show, which did not represent the contextual fabric or aim of the show accurately.
A further note from Megan Mooney (Feb 2020): It is now 2020 and bug is being presented at Theatre Passe Muraille. A fantastic conversation has arisen around Yolanda Bonnell’s call for only IBPOC folks to review the piece and – although not named directly – this particular review has come up several times.
I wanted to revisit the piece to make sure that we had been transparent at the time in the changes we made when revising it. While I stand behind the editor’s note above, I want to add more transparency through the specific changes we made in the interest of accountability. (I had planned to do this in the comments section, but comments are disabled on posts published more than a year ago.)
- When first published, the piece repeatedly referred to the character “The Girl” as “Yolanda” and referred to the piece as a “truthful tale,” clearly implying that bug was autobiographical when it is not. The editorial revisions switched all references of “Yolanda” to “The Girl” and removed the reference to a “truthful tale.”
- When originally published, the piece repeatedly referred to the play containing “interpretive dance.” The revised version has removed any references to interpretive dance.
- When first published, the piece contained a reference to part of an after-show Q & A and the writer’s opinion. This whole section was removed. It read as follows: “A man who stayed for the Q & A session noted that this show might be helpful if it were performed on reserves. I agree with this point; Yolanda strikes me as a good role model for youth and others of her cultural background.”
We at Mooney on Theatre continue to be deeply sorry for the pain this review caused. We are excited to see bug being presented again and are excited to see the community rallying around the Yolanda Bonnell’s call that only IBOPOC folks provide critiques or thoughts on the show.
- The world premiere of bug was part of Luminato, and played at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West)
- bug played from June 20-21 (previews) and June 22-24
- Tickets were $39
- Content warnings: Water-based haze machine, mature content (drug/alcohol abuse, sexuality) and extreme air conditioning (62 F / 16 C).
- Anyone not keen on audience participation is better off not sitting in the front row.
Photo of Yolanda Bonnell by Kaytee Dalton, taken from luminato.com.