Starring Bill Coleman, Andrew Hartley, Jolyane Langlois. Written and directed by Deborah Pearson. Choreographed by Allison Cummings. Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, to Sept. 23.
Discovering a new area of Toronto can be a magical experience, but it’s even more magical to experience a familiar place as though you’re encountering it for the first time. That’s the thrill of Theatre Passe Muraille’s first commissioned dance piece, Queen West Project, an interactive performance that transforms the expanse of Queen West between Shaw and Dovercourt for those who take part—if only for the duration of the show.
Upon arriving at the MOCCA, each of the six audience members (tickets are limited for each performance, of which there are four per night), is given an MP3 player and a map showing a unique pre-determined path. From there, they part ways, each accompanied by the voice in his or her ears and, eventually, a dancer who acts as a guide through the CAMH grounds. Created in collaboration with residents of Eva’s Phoenix, a shelter for homeless youth in Liberty Village, writer, director, and narrator Deborah Pearson explores the area’s history with mental health and homelessness in a piece of immersive theatre that’s quirky, intimate, moving, and a powerful example of the growing one-on-one performance trend.
The message of Queen West Project—that those inside CAMH aren’t that different from those outside the building—isn’t all that novel. And the sections of Pearson’s text that explain the history of the facility and its redevelopment are sometimes lost amid the intriguing and unconventional staging. But the concept, Allison Cummings’s choreography, and Thomas Ryder Payne’s sound design are not only surprising, but breathtaking enough to cast this well-tread area in a new and beautiful light.