Foreign Radical: a game of secrets

Four quadrants of Foreign Radical. | Photo courtesy of Studio 1398

Personal experience ignited the imagination of writer/director Tim Carlson for Foreign Radical, a play with an interactive set up similar to a murder mystery. Thirty audience members, split into four quadrants to gather information, are exposed to real-life prejudices and privacy invasions. Foreign Radical will be appearing at Studio 1398 from Feb. 6–11.

Online, on social media, people offer opinions. They debate. They decide how to interact with each other,” Carlson says. “You can meet anyone online and have a debate, constructive or not. Can that happen when people are standing side by side?”

The interactive dramatization allows people from all races, religions and genders to look inward and react to these situations. Based on their interpretations and interactions with other participants, they must determine the innocence of a young Iranian Canadian who’s under suspicion by the government.

The game of secrets

Foreign Radical is performed by Theatre Conspiracy, where they push the boundaries of simple theatre-viewing and bring the audience into the production. According to Carlson, it’s more than just a play.

“It’s not strictly theatre because it is participation theatre and documentary theatre,” he says. “There are both dramatic and gameplay elements to it.”

The play progresses as the audience watches a young Iranian Canadian, who’s under suspicion by the government, and the participants debate whether or not he should be on Watchlist and placed under cyber surveillance.

Using the information gathered along with personal biases, audience members are exposed to different perspectives of sensitive subjects like cyber surveillance, profiling, and invaded privacy. Through the use of gameplay, thirty strangers come together to have a more lived experience of what it means to be an outsider.

“There are also some heated moments in the debate. If you’re on one side of the debate you don’t want to be, do you play along with that or do you shut down and revolt?” Carlson says. “Generally speaking, I think it’s important that people take a hard look on how they value their privacy.”

Behind the game

Tim Carlson, writer and director of Foreign Radical. | Photo courtesy of Theatre

Foreign Radical came to fruition due to a personal experience of Carlson’s. Carlson has experienced numerous airport border control hassles and has been denied entry to locations due to the unfortunate circumstance of sharing the same name, birthday and birthplace as an individual in trouble with the law. His situation is unfortunate; however, it was this instance that bred the curiosity of what it means to be Muslim or simply a person of different skin colour attempting to fly.

“I started researching the area of cyber terrorism and government and corporate hacking,” says Carlson. “[Conspiracy Theatre] tend to take on issues or subject matter that is an emerging international trend that hasn’t had too much profile in the theatre.”

Around the time of his border difficulties, the 2002 Maher Arar case – where the Syrian-Canadian engineer was detained, deported and tortured for a year – was circulating news coverage.

“For me, [my border] issues were ‘white person problems’, and it just really told me that if I have an Arabic last name or if I looked Indonesian, then my problem at the border would be a whole lot bigger,” Carlson explains.

Thus sprang the seed of Foreign Radical. While the subject may be sensitive, Carlson’s innovative play is able to break those boundaries and gets people thinking.

“We live in our internet bubbles. Part of the idea was an experiment in social dynamic,” Carlson says. “In an era of polarization, can a bunch of strangers get together in a room and interact when there are high-stake issues to talk about?”

For more information on Foreign Radical, visit