Audience participation is a big part of Ce qu’on attend de moi, an innovative theatrical adventure making its West Coast debut at Théâtre la Seizième next week. A big part: the star of each night’s show will be selected from the audience. But the timid need not worry. Stepping into the spotlight is not at all mandatory.
“We don’t force anyone to take part in the show,” explains Gilles Poulin-Denis, who created Ce qu’on attend de moi with Philippe Cyr. “People have the choice of participating or not, and there are ways that you can avoid being part of the show if you don’t want to.”
On the line from his Ottawa home, Poulin-Denis explains that Ce qu’on attend de moi begins with several audience volunteers being interviewed about their lives. After that, the audience as a whole votes on whom it would like to see showcased; the lucky winner is then whisked away backstage, where Poulin-Denis continues the interview process, and the “actor” is asked to perform a number of theatrical tasks. All of this is shot by multiple cameras, with the result projected on a screen for the remaining audience members to watch. The final product falls somewhere between film, reality TV, and stage play. (For nonfrancophones, translation will be offered, in English, through headphones.)
“We have a loose script that we’ve created,” Poulin-Denis notes. “But there’s some holes in it, and whoever is the volunteer, we kind of create this piece with them. So they come in and kind of fill those holes and totally change the performance. When we did the show in Ottawa last March, we did two shows a night, and people would stay to watch both shows because there was such a difference. You could see the basic structure, but the show was completely different from one performance to the next, because it all depends on the person who’s elected.”
Creating the production afresh with each performance, he adds, can be more taxing for the crew than the cast. “We have no idea who we’re going to be playing with,” he says with a laugh. “It’s kind of like knowing half of the script and not the other half. ”
Because each performance is so different, it’s not easy to get a grip on what Ce qu’on attend de moi—which translates, loosely, as “I’ll do what is expected of me”—is about. Poulin-Denis says that it draws on the writings of French neurobiologist and philosopher Henri Laborit, who speculated that there are only three ways to escape societal conditioning: “drugs, mental instability, and imagination”. Ce qu’on attend de moi, naturally, concentrates on the last; each volunteer star is asked to imagine their ideal world. In the process, the audience learns about their dreams, their hopes, and their anxieties.
“Sometimes we don’t know exactly what the person is thinking, or perhaps they’re being a bit guarded on certain questions, and that’s fine,” Poulin-Denis allows. “But there are always some moments in every performance where we feel we have access to something very sincere from the person. And it’s quite interesting in that sense, that even with the screen and the movie aspect, that intimacy kind of comes through.”
Théâtre la Seizième presents Ce qu’on attend de moi at Performance Works from Tuesday to next Saturday (May 21 to 25).