Creators: Katie Green, Sean Moran and Michael Rau
The Homes We Build must be the most challenging show of the Electric Dreams Online Festival, now moving into its second week. Excruciatingly intimate, this experience allows you to live another life while giving you the chance to reinterpret your own. You and one other person become the actors in this tale of a relationship that spans 60 years. There is no one to watch you: you are both the performers and the audience.
Choose your partner wisely, although with the current restrictions across the world you may have to select someone already in your social bubble. In a way it could be easier to play with a stranger where both of you have nothing to lose by being staggeringly honest, and indeed in earlier iterations of this show ‘players’ were paired off with people they didn’t know. Of course, you don’t have to play as yourself; alternatively, you could decide on a character and navigate the journey as them, making the decisions you think they would make.
Over four hours –although you could decide to split up the show over a few days – you meet a romantic partner, and, soon, fall in love and begin to have discussions about marriage and children. The narrative is simple and realistic, but playing these roles will make you awkward and self-aware. There are 27 scenarios to play, and the most uncomfortable and yet innocent is your first date, where nerves will surely get the better of you, embarking upon your new life (which may be little different from your own).
The story’s very ordinariness means that there is a layer of predictability about The Homes We Build, and even though it is aimed at all genders, it is still fairly heteronormative insisting that you will get married and live as a couple. There are other ways of living, and yet this show settles on the most traditional, meaning that some players will often be in scenarios that they – or their character – would never encounter. The story controls most of your choices.
Creators Katie Green, Sean Moran and Michael Rau have also created a detailed handbook that is emailed to you before the show, providing hints and advice on how to ‘play’. It also suggests that you discuss issues around consent, and ways in which you could pause or even stop the show if the experience became too difficult or even too close to home. Initially, it may seem like an unnecessary precaution but the narrative may take you to some dark places.
As well as the handbook, you have to attend a Zoom meeting with other players and creators Moran and Rau. While it is thrilling to see the other couples online, nervous like you of what is about to happen, the 30 minute briefing session only repeats what you have already read and serves to add more time to the experience which is long enough already. If done in one sitting (in the UK), you won’t finish The Homes We Build until after midnight, when tiredness may have set in.
Ultimately, this show’s success depends on you, and on how much you are willing to invest in this alternative life. Playing with a partner, or in this reviewer’s case an ex-partner, may mean that you have to tread very carefully if you don’t want to reignite old dramas. But there will also be moments of joy, and other scenes will take your breath away. Who needs Netflix when you can star in your own box set?
Runs until 14 August 2020
Electric Dreams Online Festival Website