Red Phone: A safe and immersive theatre experience

The theatre company Boca del Lupo, blurs the line between audience and performer in their upcoming performance.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the pace of online migration for many art forms, temporarily or permanently. Theatre is also trying new ways to keep its spirit alive while adhering to safety requirements.

Red Phone and Plays2Perform@Home, two innovative theatre projects developed by theatre company Boca del Lupo, are blurring the line between audience and performer. Red Phone, running at The Fishbowl on Granville Island from Jul. 1–Aug. 22, lets audiences perform phone conversations in separate enclosed phone booths, using professionally written scripts. Plays2Perform@Home is a script “Box Set” that one can take home and perform with a small group of people in a safe environment.

Conversations and misunderstandings

With a focus on the conversations urgently needed by Canadians, Red Phone’s artistic staff commissioned a script from Vancouver playwright Marcus Youssef, which he named “All Good”.

“I was inspired by a long-term friend about a conversation we had about living in a world in which the worst is always presumed,” Youssef says. “Who knows why that is. My script specifically addresses it – the misunderstanding inherent in human communication. I was interested in this notion of a person who – we are not sure if they are okay, and with the discovery during the story, what we had expected is not what is the truth”.

Written five years ago, Youssef says the story remains relevant, as we are trying to process cataclysmic shifts in our culture both with COVID-19 and with the recent race-related social movements. “The attempt to process difficult questions and urgent problems between humans is never easy, especially if we are also in isolation,” he says.

Youssef says he usually gets his creative ideas from noticing a difference between what he knows and is supposed to think or feel in a situation, versus his actual thoughts and feelings. The gap indicates inherent conflict or drama.

He is currently working on a play about refugee sponsors, an effort which he was involved in and researched extensively.

“I notice that in my sponsor group, as in a lot of groups, while we are trying to help these Syrian families, there is also a tremendous amount of conflict on how to help them, from the decisions [that] need to be made, to how the decisions should be made, that struck me as quite common but that is interesting, as it is not the story you usually hear about – that we are not necessarily so good at sorting out our own conflicts even when we are trying to help others.”

Youssef has written and co-written some of Canada’s best-known theatre pieces exploring the sense of otherness and differences, such as Winners and Losers, and King Arthur’s Night. His theatrical works have won multiple awards, including the prestigious Siminovitch Prize. Youssef is also the Artistic Director of Vancouver’s New World Theatre, and teaches at several theatre schools in Canada.

Adapting to COVID-19

COVID-19 has changed most people’s lives to various degrees; theatre is also learning to adapt, says Youssef. Many of his colleagues, he notes, are taking work online and doing interesting explorations to try to figure out how to do it. But he is still resistant to change, as he sees the theatre experience as “a kind of live exchange that happens between making, participating, and viewing the performance.”

“I am always interested in the negotiations of contentious ideas or experiences between humans – I am interested in being in the same environment with those humans – that is essentially about what I do as a theatre performance artist. I actually believe it is our job to preserve the idea that human beings can come together to tell stories and to wrestle with big questions.”

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