They are now as ubiquitous as the social media platforms that serve as their launching pads: polarizing political debates, xenophobia and the ever-looming threat of Big Brother.
Vancouver-based arts company Theatre Conspiracy is combining all of these issues in its latest production, Foreign Radical, which runs Feb. 6 to 11 at Studio 1398 on Granville Island.
An off-the-beaten path story that relies on crowd participation to move its narrative forward, the show includes only two characters, played by Milton Lim and Aryo Khakpour. All 30 members of each audience are active participants and help shape how the story concludes. “We decided to take those concepts from social media and physicalize them within the show. To a degree, that’s the metaphor of social media being physicalized,” says director Tim Carlson. “Each show is a little bit different because it depends on the social dynamic of each group in each show.”
Both Carlson and Lim kept show details tight to the vest when speaking to the Courier. Their descriptions of the plot suggest Foreign Radical is part 1990 film Total Recall, and part Pink Floyd anthem “Us and Them.”
Lim’s character is like a game show host who highlights themes of security, profiling, freedom of expression and privacy in the age of cyber surveillance. Audience members are moved throughout four quadrants on the stage, with documentary and news reel footage playing throughout.
As this happens, the audience is questioned on their online habits, border security and other info typically sought by intelligence agencies. The answers gleaned during this process help divide and identify audience members. It’s an exercise in profiling that separates those deemed radical, progressive and moderate.
Ultimately, the audience ends up collaborating, competing, investigating, debating and spying on each other.
Next week’s show launch serves as a reprise, as Foreign Radical made its debut two years ago, and received a Jessie award for Critics’ Choice Innovation.
“A lot of people need some space and time to think after a performance. It is a lot to take in because it questions a lot of the foundational practices that we have in our day-to-day lives,” Lim says. “Most people are provoked and more curious. They want to know more about how these factors affect their lives and what the implications are for the future.”
Foreign Radical runs Feb. 6 to 11 at Studio 1398. For tickets, go to tickets.theatrewire.com.