Music: Kamala Sankaram
Libretto: Rob Handel
Developer and Director: Kristin Marting
Music Director: Samuel McCoy
Reviewer: Maridee Slater
In an age where the cognitive distance between humans and our screens is diminishing, it is inevitable that theatrical liveness and the definition of immersive theatre will deconstruct itself, re-examine its role, and (hopefully) take strides towards a new actionable interface. In HERE Arts Center’s latest investigation of the nuanced possibilities of the present theatrical event, the immersion (or is it invasion?) begins far before the proverbial curtain is drawn. An email appears in one’s inbox the day of, advising them on the proper attire, expectation, and myriad ways one might engage. Imagination can take over from there: What exact information will they mine? Where is this information coming from? Should I delete any texts from my phone? Am I made up of more than my relationship to my screen? Kristin Marting, Artistic Director of HERE and Developer/Director of Looking At You, is no rookie when it comes to strategic and effective audience communication. Yet this feels different somehow. This email is distinctive, a cheeky side-eye.
The atmosphere of the lobby pre-show is one of excitement, anticipation, and gratitude. Gratitude that in the ever-increasing anxieties of This Gradual Apocalypse, we still gather. We are still human, not only clinging to our humanity, but championing it. In spite of our technological overlords and our supposed isolations, we still have our Selves, our Bodies, and our Ability to Choose. Don’t we?
The (important) danger of Looking At You lies in this premise, in the prologue/email and the bustling of the crowd leading up to the first note that fills the space. Of course, this is the magic of HERE. Screens engulf the ever-transformational space, not so much overbearing but comforting, like an unsettling hug. There is an element of choose-your-own-adventure sprinkled throughout, but one is never quite sure what those choices lead to or have led to. Ever. This could be a flaw in the structure of the piece, but It feels pertinent commentary to the blind willingness we have of throwing our information into the ether willy-nilly, only reserving caution when something goes wrong.
Kudos to the entire team for cultivating an entrancing and innovative operatic piece that feels at once an audio-visual surprise party, secret, and sincere rally cry. David Bengali’s video design is particularly enigmatic (and this reviewer will see anything that designer works on), and serves as a poignant centrepiece to not only the storytelling but also is the crux of the event itself.
The performers all radiate with passion and a sense of urgency throughout the evening, helmed by the magnanimous Blythe Gaissert as Dorothy. The process of any production can be felt in its performance, and with Looking at You, the rigor and fun are palpable. Rob Handel’s libretto is peppered with one-liners that ring like protest signs clashing into personal texts, serving a delicious pairing with Kamala Sankaram’s electrifying music. For anyone timid of wading into the world of opera, this is the perfect plunge.
Runs until 21 September 2019 | Photo Credit: Paula Court