by Lynn on September 14, 2012

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following reviews were broadcast Friday, September 14, 2012. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING 89.5fm QUEEN WEST PROJECT until Sept. 23, and The ToyBox until Sept. 15 both produced by Theatre Passe Muraille.

The Producer and Host was Rose Palmieri

1) Good Friday Morning. It’s time to see what Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer has seen this week.

Hi Lynn. What was up this week?

I didn’t go to a theatre to see theatre. I took to the streets instead. Queen Street to be exact.

2) You better explain that.

Gladly. I saw the Queen West Project produced by Theater Passe Muraille. As we heard earlier from Andy McKim, the theatre’s inventive artistic director, the name translates as ‘Theatre beyond Walls’. And McKim has fashioned much of his season to happen outside the theatre, in other words, beyond the walls of the theatre.

In the case of The Queen West Project, it happens on Queen Street West and around the grounds of the new Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). The purpose is to explore the area’s relationship to homelessness, mental health and regeneration.

It was devised, written and narrated by Deborah Pearson, a theatrical dynamo—she did the libretto for A SYNONYM FOR LOVE at the Gladstone a few weeks ago–and Allison Cummings. Allison Cummings choreographed it but both Pearson and Cummings directed it. It is truly a collaborative work.

3) How does it work? Do you all go in a group along Queen Street?

No. You meet at the Museum of Canadian Contemporary Art. There are six people in a group. There are various starting times. I went at 7:30 pm. There you get a map of the route you will follow, a flashlight in case it gets dark and an MP3 player. While you start in a group you follow your own route, because each map is different. So each route is different.

You set off with the ear buds in your ears, following your map, listening first to a soundscape and then a woman talking about the area. She gives you directions. I am distracted by a dishevelled man who asks for money. I pass by him—trying to politely indicate no—while trying to follow the directions on my ear phones.

The narrator references the homeless guy asking if I notice him and did I give him money? I’m thinking, “was that an actor?” The homeless guy seems like one of those familiar homeless people I’ve seen in the area. He can’t be an actor. Can he?

I am directed to the park at Shaw and Queen, the park surrounding the new CAMH buldings. I find the marker that indicates I was in the right place. And I have to follow someone of my choosing. Do I follow that guy waiting for a streetcar, or do I follow that man wearing headphones, inside the park, leaning against part of the old wall that used to surround CAMH, weaving and bobbing to his own music? In fact he is listening to what I am listening to and he is dancing to the sounds or the music or the voice of the narrator. I follow the dancer.

Each participant has a dancer they follow. My dancer is Bill Coleman, tall, graceful, indicating silently to either follow or stay. We go deep into the park, around the new building complex, into the gardens, past a man on his prayer mat, praying. I wonder if he’s part of the show too, like the dishevelled man asking for money?

Often the recorded voice talks of how she has been suicidal and knows people who had been. She talks of the homeless; not accusatorily, but sensitively. She talks of the terrible cuts to social services and the cuts to the number of beds in CAMH. In other words, things that affect the people of the area, and in a larger sense, us.

At the end of the show, all the various folks who set out on their own journeys come together in the CAMH garden to watch a final dance, and then it’s over and we go through the park, to Queen Street and on our different ways.

4) Is it theatre?

In a way yes. Performance art, very theatrical, certainly. And it gets you into that world. You become aware of that homeless person because the narrator points him out to you.

5) Did you ever feel unsafe.

Never. There is always an usher close by in case a person feels unsafe. But I did appreciate that this experience got me to do things I would never do. I would never go into a park after dark. I did here.

It certainly got me to really focus on my surroundings. I was bombarded by distracting elements. The voice telling me where to go and what to notice and the homeless guy asking for money and trying to focus on what he’s saying etc.

In my ‘real life’ I don’t have an Mp3 or cell phone, so I don’t listen to music while I walk to work or talk on the phone while I walk. So in this instance I just felt pulled in all sorts of ways.

I see how distracting that bombardment of noise and talk can be. The result is that you don’t pay attention to any one thing, but this exercise makes me focus.

I notice that people jabbering on their cell phones just walk into traffic without paying attention and assume people will stop for them.

At the end of the show we take off the ear phones. I am concerned a bit, wondering how will I hear further instructions. Then I realize that’s not the point.

The point is now to listen and be aware of all the different sounds of the city, from crickets, to cars honking, to the sounds of traffic, and even quiet. I think that’s neat.

You never really do anything that is embarrassing. You just enter into it. I did realize that when I was starting off and the narrator asked if I was ready, I answered out loud, “yes” thus seeming to talk to myself like many denizens of the neighbourhood. I thought that was so interesting.

There is also a route for people who are not quite steady walkers and wheelchair friendly. That’s hugely important, thus making the show so inclusive.

6) And what’s The ToyBox?

The ToyBox is a space inside Theatre Passe Muraille for play for adults and children, technologically inventive with costumes and funny hats to wear, lego to build with, crayons and it’s free.

All created by the wildly inventive duo of Ben Chaisson and Beth Kates. There’s a huge screen projecting images that can be manipulated and changed while you watch it. Techno geeks will love it. I’m more a techno cretin, but I was mightily impressed with the possibilities of it all. It’s sweet seeing adults and kids colouring with crayons getting into the spirit of it; dressing up, having fun. Fun is the operative word.

Personally I had more fun on with The Queen West Project because I was totally involved. Both The Queen West Project and The ToyBox are intriguing and well worth your time.

Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and Passionate Playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at

THE QUEEN WEST PROJECT plays on Queen Street until September 23.

The ToyBox continues at Theatre Passe Muraille until September 15, after which it moves City Hall.

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