Review: THE GHOST WATCHERS, Barrie, Ont

by Lynn on July 10, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

The Ghost Watchers is an Augmented Reality Theatrical Experience blending live theatre and augmented reality.

Written by: Mary Barnes

Rochelle Reynolds

Emily Adams

Rhiannon Hoover

Trudee Romanek

Based on a concept by Michael Whyte

Directed by Iain Moggach

Composer, Josh Doerksen

Video Editor, Michael Whyte

Videography, Greg McFadden

Costume and props designer, Brenda Thompson

Cast: James Dallas Smith

Candy Pryce

David Evans

Alinka Angelova

Sarah Warren

Breanne Tice

Heather Dennis

Tour Guides: Sabrina Merks as Travy

Alyssa Bartholomew as Susan McDonald.

Iain Moggach is the whip-smart, creative artistic director of Theatre by the Bay in Barrie, Ont. I have found his productions inventive, unusual but still embracing theatre. If anything he strives to attract an audience that might not necessarily go to the theatre.

The Ghost Watchers, his latest show, is a case in point. Audiences are invited to gather at a certain point by Barrie’s Bay, bringing their cell phones, a good data plan with internet connection, ear phones and lots of curiosity. Initially it looks like a tour celebrating 150 years of Barrie’s establishment as a town. But Susan McDonald, the City of Barrie Historian, is interrupted by Tracy, who is on the trail of paranormal activity along the route. Tracy is a ghost ‘hunter’. Tracy wears a ghost-attracting hat and carries a ‘wand’ (that looks like a kitchen utensil—kudos to Brenda Thompson for the Costumes and props), that reacts when a ghost is near.  Together Susan and Tracy lead the group around various notable spots in Barrie’s downtown and along the way the group is ‘introduced’ to seven ghosts, each with their own story.

Through the wonderful state of the art “Spectrovision” that is made available to our cell phones we are able to ‘conjure’ up the seven ghosts individually on our screens. To a techno-nerd like me, this was quite impressive. Truth to tell, I had difficulty getting ‘connected’ so the always helpful Iain Moggach took the tour with me to see that I remained connected. He is the Artistic Director of Theatre By the Bay, the director of The Ghost Watchers and offers technical help to the tech-challenged. A multi-tasker to be sure.  

The ghosts, all with their own level of unrest and lack of peace, are a cross-section of cultures, ethnicities, ages and gender. These include ‘Hector’ an indigenous man who is trapped in his anger remembering what happened to him and his family all those years ago at the beginning of Barrie’s history. There is a young girl with a love of fire with terrible consequences. There is a lonely man named Thomas Baggs who has spent his whole life without friends, it seems, but with one exception. The stories are usually associated with areas of interest we see along the tour.

While all the stories are poignant in their own way the last scene, in Memorial Square, was the most moving to me. Our screens captured all the ghosts we had met along the way. But in the background was the memorial to the young people from Barrie who died during the war, with a statue to the unknown soldier in the middle. And behind that were the flags of the country at half-mast to commemorate the dead children from residential schools whose remains have been discovered over the last several weeks. Devastating.

The Ghost Watchers is a fascinating endeavor that is part history, part technological wizardry, and totally entertaining and moving. It’s a terrific way of easing into theatre going using the digital tools that are second nature to many in the population. It’s a good walk of 90 minutes and both Alyssa Bartholomew as Susan McDonald and Sabrina Merks as Tracy are wonderful, enthusiastic guides.

The Ghost Watchers plays in Barrie until August 28, 2021.

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