Stepping outside the comfort zone.
Part radio play, part walking tour, Landline spreads the stage to two cities over 1000 kilometres apart, and breaks the fourth wall completely. Two people in two cities – Ottawa and Dartmouth, Nova Scotia – linked by cellular texting and synchronized audio script/guide, become audience to the radio play and walking tour. They also become actors for each other via text. At the end they meet face to face on a video call. Their director is the audio guide.
(There is a fallback phone number to text for “guidance” should the directions be unclear or one of the participants gets lost. There is also a paper map of the local area.)
The technical details are easy. The organizers swap our cell phone numbers. I receive and acknowledge a text from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. We are now linked by text messaging. We both receive iPods which play the audio script in sync. We are sent out of our respective theatres (in my case Arts Court) into the two cities outside. The two cities become our respective stages.
My initial thought is to head to the By Ward Market, but the audio guide directs me to choose a direction other than where I would normally go.
The recorded script on the iPod gives us directions, but we have latitude to choose our own paths. The directions can take us out of our comfort zone. “Follow where your surroundings seem to take you, rather than where you would normally go.” Or return us to our comfort zone. “Find a place to sit where you can be comfortable.” The scenery quickly becomes disconnected from the radio play.
I’m facing a church and my scene mate is standing on a set of railway tracks. We’re instructed to turn around and wave. I turn around to find two strangers lurking in the shadows of a dark alley. I’m no longer merely uncomfortable. I text my partner that I feel unsafe. He texts back that he is safe: no trains are coming. I am oddly comforted by this stranger 1,400 kilometres away.
I know the area around Arts Court pretty well by day. But by night it’s a different story. A storm has passed over Ottawa and the area now looks like a film noir set. The directions from the iPod randomize my path choices and once familiar streets became unfamiliar, especially mid-block.
I am seeing Ottawa with new eyes.
The walking tour pauses in several places for us to exchange texts, either on suggested subjects or on subjects of our own choosing. We reveal more and more snippets of our personal lives.
I soon find that I am paying the most attention to two things: 1) how different once familiar sights appear to me, 2) who is this person at the end of the texting link? The walking tour becomes an excuse for me to pursue these two directions. In both cases, I get out of the experience what I put into it. The more I look the more I see. The more I ask my scene mate, the more I learn about him and vice versa.
For me the radio play is the weakest part of the experience. I don’t find it compelling like Afghanada (the CBC Radio One radio drama series). The same voice represents the radio play and the walking tour. I sometimes have trouble differentiating one from the other.
So what are my scene mate and I sharing of our experience? We have no common stage. None of our lighting cues match. The sound design of the radio play and the walking tour guide bear no resemblance to our respective surroundings. The directions are vague and allow the surroundings to influence our choices. The soundscape and script of the radio play seems to drift between Dartmouth and Ottawa.
So what DID we share as an audience in this experience?
Ultimately, each other.
Henry David Thoreau wrote: “We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas, but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.”
In the end when we met by video call, I smiled and greeted the young man in the Mandarin collar motorcycle jacket. We chatted easily and familiarly while nibbling our jam cookies. Was it important? I don’t know.
But it was warmly human.
If your were to text a stranger in another city of Canada, what would you tell them? What would you want to know from them? Via Landline, you may discover that it’s more than you expect.
If you decide to step outside your comfort zone.
Landline by Neworld Theatre and Secret Theatre is playing at Arts Court on Friday, August 22 with departures every 15 minutes between 6pm and 8:45pm; and on Saturday, August 21 and Sunday August 22 with departures every 15 minutes between 3pm and 5:45pm. Tickets are $12 ($10 for Fringe Pin holders).