National Elevator Project Shows Possibility of Extraordinary Theatre in Ordinary Spaces

The National Elevator Project. Photo courtesy Workshop West.

The National Elevator Project. Photo courtesy Workshop West.

I didn’t get a chance to see Part 1 of the National Elevator Project in the Fall of 2013, so I was ecstatic when it was announced as part of Canoe Theatre Festival’s 2014 line up. Conceived and arranged by Theatre Yes, the National Elevator Project is a series of plays written by artists from across Canada performed in the time it takes to ascend and descend in elevators throughout the downtown core. I attended the National Elevator Project on Saturday, January 25th and saw Cycle B of the plays (Cycle A plays on odd weekday nights, Cycle B plays on even weekday nights, both cycles play on the weekends).

The shows I liked most in Cycle B made explicit use of the fact that the show was being performed in an elevator, and played with the strange relationship we seem to have with elevators. I think most of us are familiar with the “rules” of elevators – and if you’re not, there are at least 914,000 webpages that can bring you up to speed on elevator etiquette (like this one). First Father by Brad Fraser was the first performance I saw, and I loved that it played with the convention that we’re not supposed to talk about anything except the weather in an elevator. While I won’t spoil the story for you, it was really interesting to examine how you reacted to overhearing this conversation as an audience member and comparing that to how you would react if the exchange happened in your day-to-day life instead.

Another of my favourite performances was Replay by Melissa Thingelstad. Focusing on creating connections between people, and the inner dialogue and anxiety that goes on inside one’s head in intimate social situations like you find in an elevator, Replay especially stood out as it included sound in the performance. In such a small space, the addition of sound created an even more heightened emotional experience than it typicallydoes in a theatre.

I have to say though, my favourite moment at the National Elevator Project wasn’t supposed to happen. As Replay came to a close, the doors opened and the main character was about to step out of the door but before he did, someone else got inside the elevator. The main character exited and all eyes turned to the newcomer. After pushing several buttons without any results, he turned to us, said “I don’t think it’s working” and then followed what the rest of us were doing and leaned against the elevator wall while the audience watched. The actor from Replay had to come back and tell us that this wasn’t actually part of the performance, and let the newcomer know that the elevator was being used for a performance. And that’s the beauty of the National Elevator Project – these incredibly intimate experiences in ordinary spaces that open our minds to the possibilities of that space and what “performance” could be.

Canoe Theatre Festival runs January 22 – February 2. The National Elevator Project runs until February 2. Tickets are $20 – $30. Check out the full festival schedule on Workshop West’s website.

Also: read my festival preview where I interview Workshop West’s Artistic Director, Michael Clark, about what audiences can expect from Canoe 2014.

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