On stage in Toronto, an interactive outdoor experience, free this Canada Day weekend
Babel-o-drome is a series of loosely connected scenes and skits that make use of various technology and media. Each part takes place in a different area of the park, and the performers usher the audience from place to place. Be prepared for a lot of standing.
The scenes of Babel-o-drome don’t involve any conventional characters or stories, and the audience never get an explicit explanation for what they are seeing. They are led through a string of unexpected events, games, and performances.
Babel-o-drome is loosely about our relationship with technology and language. Each scene works to incorporate technology and language games. The piece touches on the mass mentality of social media, as well as the challenge of communicating across languages.
Whenever these themes appeared, I always felt like I was observing them from a distance. The choral scene of people in an airport trying to communicate in different languages appeared as natural and external as the changing of the seasons.
The performances of the Element Choir — conducted by Christine Duncan — is a centrepiece of Babel-o-drome. Rather than performing songs, this choir creates synchronized sounds and rhythms under the direction of the conductor.
Some segments of Babel-o-drome are just performances by the choir. During others, they accompany the main performers from the background. They also function as mediators between the audience and the performance, talking directly to us and ushering us between each section.
The choir’s performances are masterful. It is extremely engaging to watch how Duncan directs the choir and occasionally the audience — cuing rhythms, notes, attacks, and pauses with her whole body. The vocalists pay incredible attention to both each other and the surrounding environment, which is vital for an outdoor performance.
The scenes of Babel-o-drone vary a lot. One includes projections and live music, and another has audiences interact with morse code machines. The main similarity between these various moments is the musicality of the performance.
The piece as a whole feels like a music performance. Many of the performers dance, sing, and play instruments with the choir. Many of the interactive installations have their own rhythms, again synchronized with the choir. The sounds of the park also blend with the soundscape of the choir and the performance.
Audience interaction is a key component in many parts of Babel-o-drome. At some moments, we were given simple instructions to help add to the sound of the space. However, I felt that we were usually left to follow those instructions with little support. I noticed a few audience members weren’t comfortable with this environment.
At the same time, I also felt that there weren’t enough opportunities for the audience to participate in the performance. The cues we did get for taking part were exciting and I wanted this element to be more significant. Instead, we mostly took the role of spectators.
I found Babel-o-drome to be exciting in a way that traditional amphitheatre performances usually aren’t. The energy was looser and livelier. I saw the faces and reactions of other audience members. We were together in a way we wouldn’t be if everyone was facing a stage.
Babel-o-drome is an intriguing piece for its sheer novelty and strangeness. I can imagine why someone disinterested in abstract performance would feel lost and bored in this environment. Still, the event is so unusual that you are likely to get something out of it.
If you do go to see Babel-o-drome, definitely go with friends.
- Babel-o-drome is playing at at Wychwood Barns Park until July 1st, 2018 at (601 Christie Street)
- Show runs Friday to Sunday at 9pm
- Performances are free to attend.
- Remaining performances are June 30 and July 1 at 9:00 pm.
- Audience Advisory: Performance continues in all weather, extensive standing and walking involved.
Photo of rehearsal by Marc Lemyre