Tag Archives: Electric Company Theatre

Review of ‘You Are Very Star’ transmedia show (in Vancouver, Canada)

Blasting backwards (1968) and forwards (2048) in time, the You Are Very Star immersive, transmedia experience offered by Vancouver’s Electric Company Theatre is an exciting experiment as I discovered on opening night, June 15, 2013.

Don’t expect to sit passively in a theatre seat. We trotted around the building to visit or remember 1968 in one theatre, then zipped out to a 20 minute 2013 intermission where we played a game (they gave us maps with our programmes, which you are invited to return at the end of the intermission), and, finally, were escorted to the planetarium theatre to encounter 2048.

I’m not sure about the artistic intention for the 1968 portion of the show. It was one of those situations where my tiny bit of knowledge and considerable fund of ignorance combined to create confusion. For example, one of the characters, Earle Birney, a poet, writer, and titan of Canadian literature, did found the creative writing programme at the University of British Columbia as they note in the show but by 1968 he’d left Vancouver for Toronto. One of the other characters in this segment is called Esther, a black feminist and more, with whom Birney’s character appears to establish a liaison. Birney was married to an Esther whom I met some years ago. She was a white Englishwoman and a feminist but of a somewhat different character than the Esther of the play.

In addition, the clothing wasn’t quite right. No tie dye, no macrame, no beads, no granny dresses, and not enough fringe. Plus, I can’t recall seeing any bell bottom pants, mini dresses and skirts, and/or go go boots.

There were some interesting tonal changes in this section ranging from humour, political angst and anger, and pathos. The depiction of the professor who’s decided to let people grade themselves and who takes an hallucinogenic drug in front of his class seemed pretty typical of a few of the crackpot professors of the time.

Unexpectedly, the professor decides to get high on ayahuasca. LSD, magic mushrooms, marijuana and hashish would have been more typical. I can understand clothing and some of the dialogue not being typical of the period but getting the preferred drugs wrong seems odd, which is why I questioned *whether the artists introduced these incongruencies intentionally.

The actors all shone at one time or another as they delivered some pretty snappy dialogue . I’m hoping they tighten this section up so there’s less waiting for the snappy stuff and perhaps they could find some device other than xx hours/days earlier to signify a change in the timeframe. I lost count of how often they flashed a slide onscreen notifying us that the next scene had taken place at an earlier time. Finally, I loved the shadow puppets but they were on for a brief time only, never to return.

Our intermission was pretty active. There were lots of places on the map, given with the programme, where one was meant to discover things. I never did figure out what was happening with the stuffed toys that were being given out but I’m ok with those kinds of mysteries.

The last stop was the planetarium theatre for 2048. Very interesting costuming, especially the head gear. Still, I have to ask why do people in the future, in the more ‘optimistic’ versions of it, tend to wear white?

I found 2048 the most interesting part but that may be due to the references to human enhancement (a topic I’ve covered here a number of times). The playwrights also seem to have spent some time studying Ray Kurzweil and the singularity he’s predicting. From the Technological singularity essay on Wikipedia (Note: Links and footnotes have been removed),

The technological singularity is the theoretical emergence of superintelligence through technological means. Since the capabilities of such intelligence would be difficult for an unaided human mind to comprehend, the technological singularity is seen as an occurrence beyond which events cannot be predicted.

The first use of the term “singularity” in this context was by mathematician John von Neumann. Neumann in the mid-1950s spoke of “ever accelerating progress of technology and changes in the mode of human life, which gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue”. The term was popularized by science fiction writer Vernor Vinge, who argues that artificial intelligence, human biological enhancement, or brain-computer interfaces could be possible causes of the singularity. Futurist Ray Kurzweil cited von Neumann’s use of the term in a foreword to von Neumann’s classic The Computer and the Brain.

Proponents of the singularity typically postulate an “intelligence explosion”, where superintelligences design successive generations of increasingly powerful minds, that might occur very quickly and might not stop until the agent’s cognitive abilities greatly surpass that of any human.

Kurzweil predicts the singularity to occur around 2045 whereas Vinge predicts some time before 2030. At the 2012 Singularity Summit, Stuart Armstrong did a study of artificial generalized intelligence (AGI) predictions by experts and found a wide range of predicted dates, with a median value of 2040. His own prediction on reviewing the data is that there’s an 80% probability that the singularity will occur in a range of 5 to 100 years. An alternative view, the “mitochondrial singularity,” proposed by microbiologist Joan Slonczewski, holds that the singularity is a gradual process that began centuries ago, as humans have outsourced our intelligence to machines, and that we may become reduced to vestigial power providers analogous to the mitochondria of living cells.

I thank the playwrights for introducing some of the more difficult aspects of the science and technology discussion that are taking place into this piece. For example, those who are enhanced and moving towards the singularity and those who are not enhanced are both represented here and so the playwrights have introduced some ideas about the social implications of employing new and emerging technologies.

You Are Very Star is not a perfect production but it is as I noted earlier very exciting both for the ways the company is trying to immerse audiences in an experience and for the ideas and dialogue they are attempting to stimulate.

The show goes on until June 29, 2013 and tickets are $30,




This production is being held at,

H.R. MacMillan Space Centre
1100 Chestnut Street, in Vanier Park
8:00pm Tues – Sun
2:00pm Sun
12:00pm Thurs June 20

Do enjoy!

* Correction June 19,2013: ‘where’ changed to ‘whether’

ETA June 24, 2013: I noticed that where I use the word ‘enhancement’ other reviewers such as Colin Thomas in his June 17, 2013 review for the Georgia Straight are using ‘augment’

The Veil of Nature: Museum of Liminal Science (play & installation) in Vancouver (Canada) and You Are Very Star (experience) online

Science hasn’t always been the science we think of and practice in the 21st century. For example, Isaac Newton, famed English physicist and mathematician was not the scientist we believe him to be as Stuart Clark’s Sept. 21, 2012 post for the UK’s Guardian newspaper online points out,

Often wrongly portrayed as a cold rationalist, Isaac Newton is one of history’s most compelling figures. It is true that he was capable of the most precise and logical thought it is possible for a human to achieve: his three years of obsessive work that gave birth to the Principia, containing his theory of gravity, stand as the greatest achievement in science.

Just as certainly, though, he was also consumed with what we would now view as completely unscientific pursuits: alchemy and biblical prophesy. [emphasis mine]

Tempting as it is to dismiss all of this as somehow removed from Newton’s science, his belief in spirits and what the alchemists called active principles almost certainly allowed him to conceive gravity in the mathematical form that we still use today. [emphasis mine]

Today’s science practice is the result of a long process and it includes the embarrassing (for some) such as alchemy and biblical prophecy, as well as, a 19th century scandal where an occultist, Madame Blavatsky, attempted to introduce Hindu and Buddhist teachings into Western Science.

A science installation featuring spiritualism à la Blavatsky, The Veil of Nature: Museum of Liminal Science, and an environment resembling a 19th century laboratory that immerses the participant in a multi-media, multi-sensory experience is opening on Friday, June 14, 2013. From the June 10, 2013 Simon Fraser University (Vancouver, Canada) news release,

Imagine walking into a multi-media environment that looks like a 19th century science lab on the outside but, on the inside, immerses you into a sensory world where science, spirituality, illusion and intuition fuse.

Gruben [Patricia Gruben], a screenwriter, filmmaker and associate professor, and Gotfrit [Martin Gotfrit], a music composer, sound designer and professor, will unveil The Veil of Nature: Museum of Liminal Science on Friday, June 14 at a reception. It is from 6 to 9 p.m. in Room 2205, Goldcorp Centre.

The duo’s free, public, cube-shaped, multi-sensory world will remain open until July 6. A presentation in its own right, the installation is also intended to prime the public’s creative appetite for The Secret Doctrine. The play, penned by Gruben, is about the intellectual triumphs and scandals that engulfed Helena Blavatsky, a 19th century Russian occultist.

The play runs July 2 to 6 at the Goldcorp Centre. [149 West Hastings Street, Vancouver, BC Canada]

Scholars and scientists of Blavatsky’s day alternately lauded and defamed the co-founder of the Theosophical Society in India in 1881 for injecting Hindu and Buddhist teachings into western science. Blavatsky’s ideas are laid out in her tome, The Secret Doctrine, published in 1889. Gruben’s play is named after the book.

Gotfrit composed the music and soundscape for the installation as well as the play. Toronto-based designer Marian Wihak conceived of the installation’s innovative design. …

“We wanted to explore the threshold between rational science and intuition and we could only go so far in the play because we have to keep the story moving. The installation allows visitors to experience for themselves some of the questions that Blavatsky posed.

“For example, we play with the illusionary nature of our world, the interchangeability of matter and energy and the cyclical rather than linear progression of time.”

Adds Gotfrit: “The sound and music are designed to offer another sensory mode and to extend visitors’ experience beyond the visual, tactile and olfactory,” adds Gotfrit. “I use a multi-channel immersive audio system and my generative music software to trigger visitors’ aural experience and respond to it subtly.”

You can get more information about the installation and about Madame Blavatsky at the http://www.theveilofnature.net./,

June 14 – July 6, 2013, Tuesdays through Saturdays

Open 3 – 8 pm, Appointment recommended

Room 4350, Goldcorp Centre for the Arts

149 W.Hastings, SFU Woodwards, Vancouver

I tried to make an appointment/sign up for a time but was unable (not sure if it was the system or me). You can try for yourself here. As for Gruben’s play, The Secret Doctrine, you can find out more and/or buy tickets here.

ETA June 12, 2013: Patricia Gruben very kindly noted (in response to my query) that you have to scroll over to the extreme  right to click on the SAVE button in the lower corner of the screen after filling in your name and choosing a date and time to book a viewing of the installation. (On my system the button had moved [disappeared from my perspective] and I didn’t scroll all the way to right.)

I wish them well with the installation. I last wrote about immersive experiences and installations in a March 6, 2013 posting about the Cleveland Museum of Art.

I recently posted (June 7, 2013) about an immersive, transmedia theatre production opening in Vancouver, Canada, You Are Very Star. For anyone who can’t get to Vancouver, you can get a bit of the show experience and, for those of us who will be attending the show, our experience can start at any time, from the *June 10, 2013 announcement (Note added June 12, 2013: The show opens on June 15, 2013 but there are previews in the days leading up to it),

Electric Company Theatre would like to invite you to begin your You Are Very Star experience. The show doesn’t begin when you walk through the doors at the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre in Vanier Park.
The show is now.
We recommend that you begin this endeavour as soon as possible, as you will have the opportunity to explore and investigate in the coming days before your scheduled performance.
As it is an online experience using innovative technology, we recommend that you take the following steps:
1. Use a computer, as you will not be able to view it on a tablet or smartphone.
2. Restart your computer (a fresh slate is good for all of us). Close other applications and browser tabs;
3. Viewing experience will be most optimal on Chrome. You may also use Firefox or Safari browsers- they should have the most recent update;
If you have any issues with the experience, please let me know by responding to this email.
Are you ready?

I’ve tried it both on Chrome and on Firefox. Both the Chrome and Firefox experiences were stunning although I experienced slightly better visuals on Chrome; I got further into the experience on Firefox (my system is held together with chewing gum and baling wire). Definitely try this out.

* Corrected June 14 to June 10.

You are very star—an immersive transmedia experience in Vancouver (Canada)

Vancouver’s Electric Company Theatre is launching a new show next week with previews June 12 – 14 and and an opening night on June 15, 2013. Here’s a trailer for this transmedia theatre event,

The trailer intrigues me as does this description of You Are Very Star, from the event page,

YOU ARE VERY STAR is an immersive, transmedia experience from Vancouver’s legendary ELECTRIC COMPANY THEATRE that will transport you back to 1968 and ahead to 2048, from the height of the Space Race to the dawn of a new augmented humanity, as characters in each story look forward or back to 2013 as a mysterious time of wonder.

Pushing at the boundaries of where theatre exists, You Are Very Star is encountered on-line, through social media, as a site-specific treasure hunt and as live theatre inside Vancouver’s beloved planetarium.

Perched like a spaceship in Vanier Park, the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre is, for a limited time, a portal to the most important moment in history: right now. Your presence will change the world.

As for the location (also noted in my Science events in Vancouver (Canada) for June 7 and June 13, 2013 posting), you really need to check out the map and the directions. The HR MacMillan Space Centre is one of two tenants (the other is the Museum of Vancouver) in a facility located in a park near Kitsilano beach. The Bard on the Beach Shakespeare festival which takes place beside the facility starts June 12, 2013 and this is a very popular festival. Taking the bus means a 10 -15 minute hike, as well as, the festival hubbub and parking in that area is likely to be at a premium.

Despite any extra effort involved, I strongly suggest checking out You Are Very Star not just because the trailer is intriguing and mysterious. The Electric Company Theatre has a long history of innovative theatre integrated with feats of technical magic and is well known for this locally and nationally. The production I’m most familiar with is Studies in Motion: The Hauntings of Eadweard Muybridge. The production premiered in 2006 and featured the most breathtaking lighting design I’ve seen yet.  The show is mentioned in the Wikipedia essay on Eadweard Muybridge (for anyone unfamiliar with Muybridge, he was a photographer whose most outstanding contribution was a still series of studies on motion; he also pioneered motion-picture projection),

The play Studies in Motion: The Hauntings of Eadweard Muybridge (2006) was a co-production between Vancouver’s Electric Company Theatre and the University of British Columbia Theatre. While blending fiction with fact, it conveys Muybridge’s obsession with cataloguing animal motion. The production started touring in 2010.

While it’s not possible to review a show before you’ve seen it, one can be inspired not just by descriptions of past productions but also with the company’s description of its artistic impulses,  Mission and Vision page,

We aim to defy audience expectations, and our love of theatrical spectacle drives us to work in expansive spaces – creating productions that go beyond the confines of the traditional stage to fully inhabit the venue and the audience. As with projects like No Exit and Tear the Curtain, the theatre itself is given a metaphoric presence and the role of the audience (the act of watching) becomes thematic content.

We have devised several plays where narrative is drawn directly from the venue; over the years our performances have inhabited a harbour, a swimming pool and a heavy equipment factory. This site-specific approach to storytelling extends to our work in traditional venues as well: our commissioned piece for the Arts Club Stanley Theatre is a film/theatre hybrid inspired by the Stanley’s dual identity as playhouse and historic cinema.

Frequently, our work looks to the past to define or uncover the present. These plays investigate the forces and historical figures that shape our perception of the modern world. We are fascinated by the role of technology in our lives, especially how it extends or replaces our physical senses. Invention, the obsession to change the world, the impulse to create, the spirit of the pioneer and the danger and promise of the frontier have been recurring themes in much of our work.

The tension between immediate and mediated remains a constant source of inspiration for a body of work that blends the boundary between stage and screen. The captivating, seductive allure of the ideal cinematic reproduction is in counterpoint with live presence, an athletic attempt at precision and the threat of the accidental. And while we are innovators in multimedia performance, we remain firm believers in the importance of live theatre to promote community interaction in the age of youtube.

As theatre-makers we continue to strive for a theatrical polyphony where narrative, choreography and design are developed in tandem, coexisting on stage without one element being subservient to the other. This continues to be a stimulating challenge within the expectation for popular theatre to be a purely narrative-driven art form.

Of course, this list is always in process. With each project we strive to build from what we know and to abandon it, jumping into territory we’ve never visited.

Getting back to this new show, the Electric Company Theatre’s May 15, 2013 news release provides some details about You Are Very Star,

The Electric Company, known for their innovative, spectacle-infused and thought-provoking work, is pleased to present You Are Very Star, an immersive, transmedia event. Part live theatre, part site-speciifc, interactive experience, You Are Very Star will take place at the H.R.
MacMillan Space Centre, Vancouver’s beloved Planetarium, June 12-29, 2013.

Part One: Orbiting the Cusp of Greatness (written by Craig Erickson with story development with Kevin Kerr), takes place in 1968, and will be experienced in the auditorium of the basement of the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre. The Interlude (by Georgina Beaty, Kevin Kerr, Naomi Sider and Veronique West), takes place in the Cosmic Courtyard and Lobby.  Part Two: Transcendence (written by Kevin Kerr; story development with Sarah Sharkey), takes place in the Star Theatre in 2048, a world where we live inside technology, and are able to create conscious copies of ourselves. You Are Very Star struggles with centuries-old questions as large as the universe: Why are we here? What is our purpose? And can we transcend this earth—physically or mentally?

“The journey of the piece is an exploration of our relationship to dream and memory and how we negotiate the world we inhabit in relation to our expectations of the future and our memories of the past,” says writer Kevin Kerr. “Some believe that accelerating advancements in technology are destined to bring about an ultimate transformation of human consciousness and the birth of a new species that can design its future evolution. It sounds crazy, and it probably is, but there’s something in us that believes we can “beat the system”, to cheat death, to ultmately solve the riddle, why are we here? I love that we quest for that answer, but I wonder about the costs incurred as we do.”

There are a couple of pictures from the production. Here’s one from a rehearsal,

Rehearsal in progress for Electric Company’s You Are Very Star. 2013, photo by Tim Matheson. Courtesy of Electric Company Theatre

Rehearsal in progress for Electric Company’s You Are Very Star. 2013, photo by Tim Matheson. Courtesy of Electric Company Theatre

This too is a rehearsal shot,

Chirag Naik, Marsha Regis, and Dalal Badr in rehearsal for Electric Company’s You Are Very Star. 2013, photo by Tim Matheson. Courtesy of Electric Company Theatre

Chirag Naik, Marsha Regis, and Dalal Badr in rehearsal for Electric Company’s You Are Very Star. 2013, photo by Tim Matheson. Courtesy of Electric Company Theatre

If you’re ready for an adventure, here are details about show times and ticket prices,

June 12 – 29, 2013

H.R. MacMillan Space Centre
1100 Chestnut Street, in Vanier Park
8:00pm Tues – Sun
2:00pm Sun
12:00pm Thurs June 20


Preview (June 12-14) $15
Regular $30
Weekday Matinee (June 20) $20

You can purchase your tickets here or call 1-800-838-3006.