Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

Finding the New Radical: Digital Media, Oppositionality, and Political Intervention in Contemporary Canadian Theatre

Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

Finding the New Radical: Digital Media, Oppositionality, and Political Intervention in Contemporary Canadian Theatre

Article excerpt

3 November 2011. It is a cool night in Montreal. A large group is forming outside the Monument-National, waiting for an event they know little about. At 6:30 pm everyone takes an MP3 player and headphones and they all press play together. A male voice then leads them through Montreal's urban landscape. They move as a group through the city's arts district, eventually stopping at the Theatre du Nouveau Monde. The voice informs participants that the theatre's entire second balcony has been reserved and instructs them to hide their MP3 players, pick up their tickets, and find their seats. They are told to restart the audio when the lights dim. As the lights go down, a production of Moliere's L'Ecole des femmes begins. Unbeknownst to the larger audience, a second production is also taking place. The group in the second balcony restarts their MP3 players, their spectatorship now doubled as they hear the voice disparage the production onstage and criticize the theatre's role as a commercial institution.

This series of events was part of a one-off mobile audio performance by acclaimed playwright Olivier Choiniere and sound designer Eric Forget. While some of Choiniere's previous mobile, site-specific audio walks were affiliated with established theatres, including Ottawa's National Arts Centre and Montreal's Theatre La Chappelle, this performance, Projet blanc, was an independent creation by Choiniere's company L'Activite. As this sound walk was a form of invisible theatre, reactions to the infiltration of the Theatre du Nouveau Monde only occurred after the event took place. In interviews following the intervention, Choiniere described the performance as a form of theatre hacking, a suggestion praised in reviews of the work. However, not all reception was positive. Most notably, Lorraine Pintal, Artistic Director of the Theatre du Nouveau Monde, criticized the work's infiltration of her theatre and its overtly negative tone. This reaction spurred an ongoing debate between Choiniere and Pintal in both French and English media. Quebec theatre journal Jeu even dedicated part of a 2012 issue to the dispute.

Whether positive or negative, most of Projet blanks reception has focused on the location of the intervention within the Theatre du Nouveau Monde; however, there has been little discussion of the tactic of the digital audio walk and how this form connects to the content of the work. Alan Filewod argues, "Digital media is both the means and the form of the reconstitution of activist theatre: it disrupts and relocates cultural genealogies, reterritorializes artistic traditions, produces new structures. Digitalization is the enabling condition, then, of new theatricalities" (292). In line with this argument, Projet blanc challenged existing theatre conventions and explored new possibilities for activist performance. Through the audio walk form, Choiniere situated his audience within the theatre in an innovative way, thus enabling a "new theatricality."

In this article, I investigate the relationship between this production's content and its use of digital tools, particularly in terms of the "new theatricality" that Choiniere was attempting to activate. I argue that Choiniere's protest performance created affinity and proximity within his audience through the audio. However, I also consider how the production's exclusivity, antagonistic tone, and audio tour format undermined Choiniere's critical stance, as he reinvoked the very hierarchies he set out to critique. Rather than using new technologies to open up dialogue about the current state of art and performance, Choiniere--and his opinions--remained at the centre of the work. His approach leads to questions about the role intermediality can play in political performance practice. By placing discourses on intermediality in conversation with recent debates in political and site-specific performance, I consider how new performance practices can still get caught up in traditional theatre hierarchies. …

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