PuSh Fest 2011: Neworld Theatre’s “PodPlays”

The setting is Vancouver. The characters are the voices in your ear, and you, alone with your thoughts and your city. You and your fellow audience member(s) are made both identifiably together, and incredibly separate, by the headphones you’re wearing and the mp3 players in your hands.

You’re attending “PodPlays – The Quartet”, an aural theatrical experience offered by Neworld Theatre as part of this year’s PuSh International Performing Arts Festival. The 70-minute walking tour of Vancouver is accompanied by the voices and music you hear as you listen to the the PodPlay score on an mp3 player. The helpful Neworld representatives will give you a map before you head out but you’ll hardly need it since the PodPlay track will tell you where to go and when.

I was able to attend a preview of PodPlays on Sunday, January 16. It did not rain on me.

The show itself consists of four separate pieces, thematically bound together by Vancouver itself. I enjoyed some pieces more than others, though I think this had more to do with my subjective preference for certain themes and styles than any difference in the “goodness” of the pieces. One story in particular did arrest me, stop my breath for a moment, and make me fight back tears as it pulled me through Gastown, guided by those bodiless voices. The whole 70 min of walking really came down to a few exquisitely painful or beautiful moments like that one.

I have been living in the Lower Mainland since 2005, and in Vancouver proper since last spring. Podplays showed me parts of Vancouver I had never seen before, and even things I have seen hundreds of times over became new– illuminated and imbued with meaning by the stories in my ears. It helped that the sun was just breaking through after a rain: everything was wet and glistened like it had just been made (and all for me!) and the grey old world, just for 70 min, was unbearably bright. I fell in love with Vancouver all over again.

More than just being directed to passively listen to the pieces as presented and follow the PodPlay directions, I felt the show was an invitation to indulge in my own thoughts and memories of Vancouver. An invitation to remember, for the rest of the time that I live here (and any time I visit should I ever choose to leave), that every piece of Vancouver that I have ever walked in has its story: the people who’ve walked here before, the buildings that used to be here before the ones that are here now, the forest that stood before that, and my story, only five year’s worth but no less important to me than any other.

I’m sure not everyone will have the same experience I did, though rain or shine you’ll certainly have an experience. The best way to find out what it will be for you is to go.

Go to PodPlays!

PodPlays run Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, noon – 4 p.m., January 21 to February 6. To book tickets call 604-602-0007 or e-mail podplays@neworldtheatre.com.

Neworld’s website has a description of each of the four pieces and more information about the show. I invite you to click here.

Things to remember if you are going to see PodPlays:

Call ahead to book a departure time. You may use your own mp3 player and headphones but if you do you will need to be e-mailed the sound file. If you want to use Neworld’s mp3 players and headphones, make sure they are available for the departure time you want.

PodPlays involves 70-minutes of walking, including stairs. If you have any concerns regarding this, I recommend contacting Neworld. Most of this walking takes place outside so check the weather forecast and bring an umbrella (unless you’re one of those hard core Vancouverites who don’t believe in umbrellas).

Full disclosure: I was able to see a preview of PodPlays because I will be volunteering as a route monitor for this Sunday’s performances. I was not asked or paid to blog about PodPlays, and I’m pretty sure no one at Neworld even knows that I have a blog.

If you do see “PodPlays – The Quartet” I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment about which pieces you enjoyed the most (and why) or drop me a line at twitter.com/niftynotcool.

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