Posted by: Andrew Pask | January 22, 2011

PuSH Fest: 100% Vancouver

Directed by Amiel Gladstone, based on work by Rimini Protokol (Berlin).  At SFU Woodward’s.

Last night I had a chance to take in my first of a few of the Vancouver-centred theatre pieces at this year’s PuSH Festival.   What a gem of an evening!

The play was entitled 100% Vancouver.  Good name!  It was 100% fun.  No mean feat either, given that it was on the subject of the city’s demography and used a cast of everyday Vancouverites (all untrained actors) to do so.

I spend a lot of time looking at census materials and have been grumbling ever since Harper and Clement made the asinine decision to cancel the long-form census.  So I was tickled that the play started with a monologue by a reference librarian about why the census was so important.  What an odd and excellent beginning to the show, I thought.

And then, in walked 100 residents of the City, introducing themselves one by one and organizing themselves by neighbourhood.  Over the next hour, these same folks clustered and reclustered themselves around the stage, organizing themselves time and again based on a stream of series of questions that were presented to them.  It was a simple but brilliant technique, and utterly captivating.  The use of props was also sparse but highly effective: panels that flashed simple, binary answers – yes/no, east/west, etc – around which participants clustered; a rope to divide those answering one way from those answering another; flash lights to illustrate the differences between sub populations.

If you’ve ever looked at books on demography you’ll probably be familiar with the “Village of 100.”  It’s a way of visually representing large populations on a proportional basis. In it, the population of a given place – a city, country, the planet – is reduced to 100, which, in turn, allows for a more accessible means to illustrate different demographic traits (e.g. if the world were a village of 100, there would be 49 men and 51 women, 50 people would be living people living below the poverty line, etc., etc.).

100% Vancouver used this same technique but made it come alive even more.  It was a mesmerizing experience watching these groups – a statistically representative sample of our city – configuring and reconfiguring with each question.  It was also, in turn, funny, thought-provoking and poignant.  The queries themselves flowed all over the map – some were simple, some provocative, some humorous and others self-reflexive.  For example: who here knows an Aboriginal person?  who has experienced violence?  who has committed violence?  who feels safe in their city?  who believes in ghosts?  who feels real? who was born outside of Vancouver? who recycles? who has lied this evening?  Clusters of questions were defined and ‘chaptered’ with the addition of brief vignettes and life stories by some of the participants.  The result was a timely meditation on the nature of ‘community’ within the urban setting.

The play is based on work by Berlin’s Rimini Protokoll and runs until Sunday.  For information on tickets and showtimes click here.

* * * * *

While you’re down in Gastown be sure to check out more PuSH action on Water Street.  At night time the street takes on an enchanted quality with the flood lights replacing normal street lights, illuminating the old brick buildings and casting mad shadows all over the place.  I had a chance to wander around after the the play let out and found quite a crowd taking things in.  Lots of little pockets of street theatre and installations up and running.

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