A entertainment unit from Barrie, Ont. treated a assembly to a three-day opening that enclosed a moody opposite a …

The Curious Voyage starts with a array of emails from a illusory character.

Okay, it indeed starts with an email from Arkady Spivak, a artistic executive of Talk is Free Theatre, explanation we to pattern to hear from a illusory impression (and greatfully check your spam filter in box it ends adult there). But a summary that’s meant to launch a opening does indeed come from a illusory character, and his association is mostly vague, infrequently requesting information (mobile number, coupler size), infrequently charity hints during a arriving channel (be prepared to be picked adult in Toronto around midday on Tuesday, and to be driven to Barrie).

Talk is Free has been ascent increasingly elaborate, site-specific and immersive entertainment practice over a past several years. In 2016, a association staged a sailing prolongation of The Music Man that took a assembly all over Barrie, with opposite scenes set during a sight station, a library, city gymnasium and a waterfront park. Playwright Darrel Dennis’s Tales of an Urban Indian has toured cities in Canada and a U.S. over a past few years with a prolongation set wholly on a relocating city bus. However, The Curious Voyage tops these other shows in aspiration by introducing an wholly new spin to a production: general travel.

The three-day experience, as it’s referred to by a illusory impression behind a puzzling emails, starts in Barrie and continues to London, England, where it culminates in a opening of a tip low-pitched in a tip location. Creatively, it’s a partnership between dual directors: Daniele Bartolini, who is essentially obliged for a immersive component, and Mitchell Cushman, who leads a tip low-pitched (which is also an immersive experience, as is Cushman’s wont).

The Curious Voyage.

Claudia Brookes

Immersive theatre, site-specific entertainment and assembly appearance have been around for centuries — a “call and response” format is during slightest as aged as any eremite tradition. And in a Middle Ages, travelling troupes would uncover adult and spin a internal inn, a city squares, even a timberland clearing into a entertainment space.

But melodramatic practice that pull a bounds of both earthy plcae and assembly expectations have been on a arise over a past decade with high-profile productions that are both critically and commercially successful, like Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More, that has been handling out of The McKittrick Hotel in New York City given 2011. The assembly dons masks and explores bedrooms in an aged hotel, function on scenes, or infrequently carrying a one-on-one knowledge with a performer.

Tuesday, Nov 6, 1:45 P.M.

A immature lady wearing hosiery with sandals is pacing around a path in front of my apartment, smoking. He turns out to be my float to Barrie. When we proceed him, he asks my name, afterwards tells me to follow him to his car, a beat-up looking white Kia. we ask if we’re picking adult anyone else, he says no, afterwards looks during me sideways: “So you’re going to see, like, a show?”

He doesn’t seem to be in impression in any way. Is this partial of a show, sorry, a “experience,” or did this masculine usually collect adult a side gig shuttling confused humanities congregation to Barrie? After a bit of tiny speak about traffic, he catches himself. “I’m indeed not ostensible to speak to you,” he says. It’s during this impulse we comprehend a spin of faith I’ve put into a informal entertainment association — adequate to get into a automobile with a bizarre masculine for an hour-long expostulate adult a 400 highway — competence seem peculiar to a neutral observer. But if a tiny annoy isn’t a principle of initial theatre, it substantially should be.

In Toronto, in a early 2000s, a eccentric initial association Bluemouth constructed a array of site-specific works that culminated in a Something About a River trilogy in 2004, where a assembly trafficked in a propagandize train between sites all along Toronto’s buried Garrison Creek, from a (now defunct) Metro porn cinema to a arise home nearby Trinity Bellwoods Park to a tip room in Parkdale. They’re still active and also removing some-more desirous with their assembly immersions: in 2015, a PANAMANIA humanities festival compared with a Pan Am Games consecrated them to emanate It Comes in Waves, that began any opening with a assembly paddling over to a Toronto Islands in 16-person canoes.

3:05 P.M.

The Curious Voyage.

Claudia Brookes

We arrive during a Best Western usually off a highway, where we check in and watch an partial of Star Trek: The Next Generation until a subsequent object on my itinerary: during 3:50 p.m. sharp, my “experience” is meant to start in my hotel room.

In a mid-1930s, Ayn Rand wrote a courtroom play called The Night of Jan 16th, in that a jury is comparison from a assembly during any performance. The 1985 low-pitched The Mystery of Edwin Drood called on a assembly to opinion on who they guess a torpedo was during a finish of a show. And afterwards there’s a many maligned interactive cooking entertainment like Tony and Tina’s Wedding and a Australian prototype Dimboola, (not to discuss a even some-more maligned murder poser cooking entertainment that is positively a scandal of a operative actor’s career). Similarly, an interactive prolongation of a ABBA low-pitched Mamma Mia! involves cooking and sing-alongs.

4:00 P.M.

A hit during a door. A immature lady apologizes for technical problems and tells me that my knowledge will start during 4:30 p.m.

In further to a apparent logistical hurdles presented by such productions, they are costly, and as assembly ability is indispensably limited, they can’t rest on a poignant apportionment of sales revenue. For The Curious Voyage, usually 4 per cent of a production’s $650,000-budget comes from sheet sales, with a rest lonesome by supervision grants and private and corporate donations. But a prolongation has apparently been deemed a success — Talk is Free announced this week that they will be remounting The Curious Voyage in Toronto, nonetheless many of a details, including a locations, a characters, maybe even a tip musical, will differ from a Barrie/London journey.

4:30 P.M.

Another knock. At a doorway is a same immature lady as before, though now some-more apparently in dress and pulling a room-service tray. She asks a array of questions that leads to a contention about a inlet of good and evil, themes that will everywhere via a events of a subsequent few days.

The Curious Voyage

Claudia Brookes

Eventually, I’m sent down to a run where we get into another automobile with a foreigner and am ferried to a integrate of tip locations around Barrie. One is an unit in a residential complex, eerily illuminated and full of scary immature people in rabbit masks. The unreal barter existence atmosphere is heightened by a fact that a radio is manifest by a window of an upstairs apartment, watched by someone going on with their normal, non-immersive entertainment life.

Dusk falls during a expostulate and a automobile stereo plays a dark, pushing soundtrack. This time, a motorist unequivocally is silent, vocalization usually to give brief instructions. “Ring a buzzer for J. Perry, and contend Alden sent we for a package.”

Talk is Free does a lot of work with lady (2016’s The Music Man had a lady carol behaving alongside a veteran cast), and a Barrie apportionment of The Curious Voyage is achieved mostly by teenagers from a company’s mentorship module (although dual pivotal roles are played by veteran actors). This heightens a surreal peculiarity of a record — a afternoon scenes in Barrie are achieved for an assembly of one (everyone goes by this partial of a knowledge during opposite times), and to be a usually adult in a room amid all this strangeness is unsettling.

6:30 P.M.

I’ve been told to pattern a hit on my door, and afterwards to be dressed and prepared for a eve during 7:30 p.m. (an progressing email had pronounced to move a imagination dress). The 6:30 p.m. hit turns out to be a contented organisation of volunteers from Georgian College sent to do my hair. It’s a good remit after a scary afternoon, and we finally accommodate a few of a other assembly members, including a bubbly internal publisher around my age and a integrate of late humanities administrators who are now congregation of Talk is Free. 

Once we’re dressed, a widen limousine takes us to a internal ski board that has been embellished out for what we can usually report as a spook prom, finish with a ghoulish dance party, after that we’re told we need to transport to London to find a puzzling impression named Antony. Upon returning to my hotel room (not too late, it’s a propagandize night and those scary dancing teenagers need to get home), we find a new email with a teasing summary from Antony containing a couple to a 1920 film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari on YouTube and a idea that it competence make for good bedtime viewing.

The Curious Voyage.

Claudia Brookes

We have a 5:00 a.m. arise adult call a subsequent morning to locate a float to a airfield (another widen limo, that feels unnecessarily decadent, though positively adds to a disjointed oblivion of it all).

The tour so distant has been roughly wholly a pattern of Bartolini, who strives to spin any assembly member into a protagonist of their possess story. My knowledge in Barrie, being driven around by strangers to bizarre locations during dusk, permitting performers into my hotel room for philosophical discussions, donning a facade and dancing with a garland of spook teenagers in a ski lodge, has positively been unique. It feels like I’ve landed inside a Myst-like mechanism game, and there’s many entertainment to be gained by perplexing to parse out what it all means.

Bartolini’s possess company, DLT, develops what he refers to as “audience-specific” theatre. It is immersive, he says, though his genuine concentration in formulating work is a attribute with a audience. “We wish to build structures and shows where a assembly is giveaway to speak and respond to a performer. It’s about a assembly being a genuine agent.”


After a two-hour moody delay, I’m deposited during a Morton Hotel in executive London, where it’s a service to be greeted by Raylene Turner, who is not a illusory character, though a comfortable and studious entertainment manager who has a knack for putting jet-lagged assembly members during ease. (She’s also a chairman behind all those illusory emails, though shhhh.)

As with many things theatrical, London leads a container when it comes to a immersive variety. A discerning peek during a internal Time Out indicates a half-dozen immersive productions of several forms on any given week, like Trainspotting: Live, or a some-more domestic Bullet Tongue.

Felix Barrett, who is widely credited with reinventing a entertainment stage in a U.K., founded Punchdrunk in London in 2000. The association premiered Sleep No More here in 2003, roughly a decade before a long-running New York production. They’re a tack on a London entertainment stage during this point, their productions (like 2013’s The Drowned Man) are frequency expected events. The organisation even has an improvement program, that allows them to work with educational institutions to emanate frequency specific works in a accumulation of internal communities. Over a years, a array of companies have popped up. Some, like The Big House and Dante or Die, have furthered a bounds of what entertainment can do; while others, like Secret Cinema, seem some-more prone to money in on a trend.


The London apportionment of a Voyage starts in front of a hotel, where those of us who have trafficked from Barrie are assimilated by another dozen or so people who are usually there for this apportionment of a experience. We’re divided into groups, led to opposite spots along a retard in front of a hotel and told to wait. “You’ll know,” we’re positive by Turner.

Cast of Sweeney Todd.

Claudia Brookes

For a subsequent dual hours, we confront a accumulation of characters (“experience agents,” in a parlance of a producers) vocalization opposite languages (a former Ukrainian restrained tries to dominate us in Russell Square Park, and a flattering French lady encourages us to poise for photos). Who can we trust? The Serbian-Italian masculine who accuses us of indolence and warns us of a sequence torpedo before ripping into an aria? What about a unsettled masculine we find semi-conscious in a messy, blood-spattered hotel room? Should we give him a tablet that competence be poison? And usually who is this Antony we’ve listened so many about? At one point, we’re taken to a groundwork of a grill and asked either we consider of ourselves as good people.

Through it all, a tiny organisation of 4 holds as we try a village and a hotel. Once a whole assembly comes behind together to transport to a subsequent tip location, we’re speedy to spend a train float deliberating what we’ve seen and experienced, what we consider competence occur next, and how it competence fit together. The normal Thursday commuters sitting around us on a double-decker train seem nonplussed.

In 1981, John Krizanc’s play Tamara was staged in a Toronto palace as a arrange of choose-your-own-adventure story — assembly members could follow opposite characters from stage to stage so any chairman saw a opposite play. At intermission, theatregoers could barter plotlines with one another, slanderous over cocktails.

An assembly member’s response to an immersive entertainment knowledge depends on their personal comfort spin (some people usually don’t like articulate to strangers or personification pretend), though a best immersive practice emanate a protected sourroundings to step somewhat outward one’s comfort section for an artistic encounter. There’s a spin of secrecy, a clarity that you’re in on something special that we competence not get from, say, a night during a furloughed association of Cats.

APPROX. 4:15 P.M.

We are guided onto a boat, where it’s suggested that one among a assembly ranks is an imposter — Antony might be stealing in plain site. (The organisation we saw a uncover with was formally surprised. The disreputable actor among us — Rory de Brouwer, who is also an partner executive on a plan — did an glorious pursuit consistent in to a group, arousing no guess whatsoever). He was positively a many convincing assembly plant I’ve ever encountered.

APPROX. 5:00 P.M.

And now we come to a purpose of a voyage, a place where all those themes, all those questions about a line between good and evil, and how distant one would go underneath a right circumstances, come together: a prolongation of Sweeney Todd staged in a room dim down a prosy alleyway.

(The Sondheim buffs among us might have guessed this in advance, as Anthony is a name of a immature masculine regretful lead in a story.) Sweeney Todd is traditionally seen in epic, operatic productions, with a grotesque, Grand Guignol cultured that creates stretch for a audience. But Cushman’s immersive entertainment puts a assembly right in a center of a movement as we follow a performers between 3 opposite rooms. As an assembly member, you’re frequency some-more than 3 feet divided from any given performer. Even your clarity of smell is engaged: a initial room, a stale basement, is dim and dingy, and a area of a show’s bleakest moments. Meanwhile, a upstairs is comfortable and smells like baking, a protected environment for a show’s lighter comedic scenes.

Michael Torontow as Sweeney Todd, Glynis Ranney as Mrs. Lovett.

Claudia Brookes

This insinuate vicinity creates a characters all a some-more sensitive and tragic, and a story resonates in an emotionally inspiring approach after a thought-provoking tour a assembly has usually been on. Michael Torontow is a absolute and suddenly pointed Sweeney Todd, and Glynis Ranney’s Mrs. Lovett is a explanation in useful desperation.

The tragedy lingers after a musical’s culmination is sung, as a audience’s try to extol a opening is interrupted when we’re led out of a room and behind to a boat, flitting any of a “experience agents” who glance during us. It’s a chilling ending, and it’s a service to get behind to a vessel where a balmy participation of Turner informs us that there is a money bar.

The “experience agents,” a bizarre characters we encountered progressing in a day, finally mangle impression and join us for a drink. It’s been a prolonged and extraordinary excursion for a organisation — we’re no longer strangers, and one splash turns into a few. We’re even assimilated by dual gentlemen who saw a uncover a few nights ago and wanted to stay on a journey, as it were. Contact info is exchanged, promises to stay in hold released — it’s some-more like we’ve spent a week during stay together than an afternoon during a theatre.

At any show, immersive or not, assembly members make themselves peaceful hostages to a artists for a tiny while. But distinct a play we watch passively, or even a uncover like Sleep No More, where you’re mostly speedy to try on your possess while wearing a mask, The Curious Voyage is an actively amicable experience. Us Voyageurs have spent several hours using around London, responding personal questions from strangers, perplexing to solve a mystery. A few of us even done tiny speak in a limousine during 5 in a morning and flew opposite an sea together.

For Bartolini, this clarity of common intercourse means a prolongation has been a success. “One thing about The Curious Voyage is that a village of strangers gathers together,” he says. “Through a knowledge of a uncover we build a micro-community.”

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