Bonjour Hi (LA SERRE – arts vivants) SummerWorks 2019 Review

Person lying on dark stage touching white cube at their head, rest of cast of Bonjour Hi out of focus on sidelines

Bonjour Hi, a LA SERRE – arts vivants production is playing as part of Summerworks 2019. The interactive show explores the ethics behind asking for audience participation in theatre.

The show was created by Burcu Emeç, Michael Martini, Nien Tzu Weng, and Roxa Hy; four artists based in Montreal.

The company invites the audience to either observe or participate in the show. Audience members who choose to participate are paid for their work. The company has a set budget for each performance. Payment started off relatively high ($10) and became progressively lower throughout the night. No matter what, however, you are paid for your work – I got in a little late in the game, so I walked away with $1.

In terms of what participation entailed, the company suggests tasks for the audience members to perform. Many of these are menial, to begin with, but they later encourage creativity and performance. While the tasks are carried out, recordings of stories about negative experiences of audience participation are played. While the stories are read by the company members, it’s not clear if these were there experiences, or someone else’s.

I believe this is an important concept to meditate on, so for that reason, I appreciate this show. As the company suggests, audience participation requires labour. Furthermore, “participation” can mean just about anything, making it hard to determine what performers may ask of you.

As a shy person, when I read “participation” on the warnings before a show, my chest gets a bit fluttery. In my experience, I have also noticed audience members are often put on the spot to participate. Even when a performer “asks” – social convention means you feel you must participate lest you’re deemed a stick in the mud.

With all this in mind, it was really interesting to see a piece that explored how to ask for audience participation consensually and how to compensate people for it appropriately.

I enjoyed watching this show, but I think that had more to do with the lighthearted tone of the performance and the energy in the room. I feel like this was better in theory than execution, in some respects.

For one thing, I really enjoyed the pre-recorded monologues about negative experiences in audience participation, but there were only two that then repeated throughout the show. I would have appreciated hearing one or two more to round out the message of the show.

I was also confused by the long set change towards the end of the show. It seemed to be a long build-up to the ending where we got paid. It felt a little anticlimactic to me.

I would be curious to see if the artists develop the show further. I think it might be quite interesting as a more long-form installation or performance art piece rather than a piece of theatre.

Details:

Bonjour Hi is playing at Longboat Hall at The Great Hall (1087 Queen St W)

Performances:

  • Saturday August 10th 7:00pm – 7:50pm
  • Wednesday August 14th 8:30pm – 9:20pm
  • Thursday August 15th 7:15pm – 8:05pm
  • Friday August 16th 6:00pm – 6:50pm

Warning: Audience participation

SummerWorks tickets uses a Pay What You Decide system for every show: $15, $25, or $35, whichever suits your budget. All tickets are general admission and there are no limits to any price level.
Advance tickets are available up until 3 hours before show time and can be purchased as follows: Online, using the Buy Ticket link found on every show page; In person at the main SummerWorks Festival Box Office the Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West) – open August 8-18 from 12pm-8pm. Tickets purchased in advance are subject to a convenience fee of $2.50/ticket. Any remaining tickets will be made available for sale at the performance venue starting 1 hour before show time. Venue box offices accept cash only.
Money saving passes are available if you are planning on seeing at least 4 shows.
Photo of cast by Cedric Laurenty