Bunny masks, video cameras help Super Night Shot open PuSh Fest with a bang

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Super Night Shot, the frantic, genre-mashing, and ultimately genius show that opened the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival last night, could not have been a more exhilarating launch to the event’s 10th season.

Armed with four cameras, four performers from the Brit-German troupe Gob Squad synchronized their watches and headed out into Gastown’s nighttime streets at 7 p.m., promising to return to a soldout Playhouse by 8 p.m. with an hourlong film in hand.

And there they were, just a few minutes late. Audience members were handed noisemakers to greet them as they stampeded into the theatre, cameras on tripods in hand, some of them dressed only in their underwear, ready to project what they had just caught on film.

Just what had happened out there on the streets? Within minutes, we were seated in the theatre in front of a four-channel projection screen finding out. Each one followed a performer out into a different area of Gastown. None was allowed any edits, so everything was shot in real time. Some magic sound mixer would turn the volume up on one at a time, adding melodramatic movie music where necessary.

And the results? To totally oversimplify, the loose narrative was that a hero (Simon Will) went on a quest, and we were told early on that the movie would end with him having a romantic kiss with a complete stranger.

What ensued was a manic trip through Vancouver’s nighttime streets. At one point, Will took a real homeless guy on a trip to the liquor store to buy a six-pack of beer. At another, performer Sean Patten talked a dude into acting out a Band-Aid commercial, and unsuccessfully tried to coax an aging soccer mom into smooching the hero. Mid-way through, things got positively surreal: performers stripped their coats to reveal their disco duds and donned freaky plastic animal masks. Sometimes moments would synchronize across all four screens, as it did in a warped rap number.

When Patten found his willing kisser, not a moment too soon, the climactic lip lock took place pseudo-romantically under the Steam Clock. Did I mention Will was wearing a bunny mask and a retro tuxedo at this point? All four cameras swirled and blurred in high drama.

Imagine how stoked the audience was, when the lights came up, to see the anonymous kissee appear for the ovation.

As seat-of-the-pants as the whole operation seemed, it was not just a logistical mindblower but actually had something deep to say about the faceless urbanites that fill a city and never get to know one another. Gob Squad’s manifesto is to “declare war on anonymity”, and there’s something almost moving about that happening in a place that’s been criticized for giving the cold shoulder to strangers. And let’s not even get into all the movie conventions that Gob Squad playfully upended in its Super Night Shot, presenting random urban banality like a blockbuster—as it's done in cities all over the world.

But wait. Sometimes when you try to describe a PuSh show, it starts to sound much more intellectualized than it actually is. This was the kind of risk-loaded improvisation that anyone could enjoy. As PuSh executive and artistic director Norman Armour so passionately said in a speech after the show of performing art like this: “The edge is now the centre....The niche is no longer a niche.”

He also said that Gob Squad’s second show at the fest, Gob Squad’s Kitchen, is “the best thing I’ve seen in 10 years”. And no doubt equally indescribable. Try to get tickets now.

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