Review: The Spectators’ Odyssey.

by Lynn on November 13, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

 Live and in person, at various locations in an immersive journey, co-presented by TO Live and DopoLavoro Teatrale (DLT)

Plays until Nov. 14, 2021. (I saw this late in the run)

Creator, writer and director, Daniele Bartolini

Video/VR director and creator, Bruce McDonald

Co-director, technical director and sound designer, Matteo Ciardi

Choreographer and dancer, Esie Mensah

Poet and writer, Luke Reec

Set by DLT

Costumes by DLT

Lighting by Marco Santambrogio

Composers, Andrea Gozzi and Fred Péloqin

VR videographer, Ian Garrett

Additional written scenes by Megan Williams, Luke Reece, Bruce McDonald, Corrado Paina, Nicole Dufoe, Fred Péloqin

Cast: Sophie Bender

Said Benyoucef

Jordan Campbell

Nicole Dufoe

Eugenia De Jong

Tyler Graham

J.D. Leslie

Nolan Molfetta

Caitlin Morris-Cornfield

Antonio Ortega

Lucy Sanci

Iliana Spirakis

Madelein Storms

Dilay Taskaya

Michael Wamara

Maddelena Vallecchi Williams

Daniele Bartolini is a gifted theatre maker who has been enticing audiences to get up and immerse themselves in his various site-specific theatre creations for several years through his theatre company, DopoLavoro Teatrale (DLT). The creation of The Spectators’ Odyssey is his most ambitious creation.

From the programme information: “Delve into an interactive adventure inspired by Dante’s Inferno and Homer’s The Odyssey.  Immerse yourself in an epic world that blurs the line between reality and fiction.

((NOTE: Dante’s Inferno describes Dante’s journey through Hell, guided by the ancient Roman poet Virgil

Homer’s The Odyssey is an epic poem that recounts Odysseus’ 10 years fighting in the Trojan war and then the next 10 years as he tries to sail home, but meets disasters and enticements that keep delaying him. In the meantime, his wife Penelope waits patiently cleverly fending off the many suitors who have come to court her.)

“TO Live presents The Spectators’ Odyssey – o dell’Inferno, an immersive,
contemporary multimedia theatrical experience that takes the audience behind the scenes of two of Toronto’s most iconic buildings making the audience the central character in the narrative they experience. The Spectators’ Odyssey – o dell’Inferno is an adaptation of Homer’s The Odyssey and Dante’s Inferno. Both the term ‘Odyssey’ and ‘Inferno’ are used as metaphors and re-imagined to be two distinct epic journeys for the audience.

Beginning their voyage at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, audience members will voyage either to remote parts of the backstage area of the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts –, or to the St. Lawrence Market, depending on which journey they choose. While moving throughout the different spaces, the audience interacts with a variety of art disciplines including, dance, music, sensorial landscapes, new immersive technologies, virtual reality filming, installations, and others.

Audience members have the chance to experience one or two journeys. In one (Blue) they voyage to the remote parts of the backstage areas of the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts – across the stage, dressing rooms, auditoriums, rehearsal halls, fire exits, and other unexpected and secret locations. The second journey (Red)  takes them out of the theatre space and onto the streets of the surrounding neighbourhood as they make their way towards and then enter St. Lawrence Market – a place of exchange where worlds meet through stories.”

It’s not necessary that the audience be familiar with either The Odyssey or Inferno to enjoy the journey(s). If you are familiar with either poem it would add a layer of depth to the journey, and of course then the audience feels clever that they know what an allusion might be.

I took both journeys in one night and began with the Blue Voyage. Fascinating. As we go through the backstage areas of the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts for the Blue Voyage, we meet a dancer sitting on the floor, bent forward until she feels we have all filled into the small area. She then rises and silently leads us through the backstage.

Occasionally the group of eight voyagers is divided up and some of us go into various rooms where we listen on headphones to what I recognize as snippets of The Odyssey. We are then lead to a place called ‘Café Emotion’ with an exotically dressed Dilay Taskaya negotiates the various poles in the space and talks about emotions such as ecstasy, grief, vigilance etc. This got me thinking whether these were in fact emotions or reactions. Part of the Vigilance room was putting on headgear and experiencing Virtual Reality—in my case it was like being in the middle of an aquarium with sharks and other large sea creatures. Caitlin Morris-Cornfield represented Vigilance  and asked me what I thought that meant—we do interact occasionally with the actors. I wonder if some of our voyage echoes that of Odysseus as he meets the Sirens who try to lure him and his fellow sailors onto the rocks.

It’s an interesting experience as we travel through the theatre, seeing a video of the wonderful Esie Mensah dancing; and hear Luke Reece on audio recite a poem. Because we are experiencing many and various art forms-dance, music, movement, flickers of light etc. there is no time to reflect on any one instance. One of the last experiences is being on the stage of the Town Hall Theatre and listening to a man talking to us while a technician made sounds from his console.

The Red Voyage began in the lobby of the Bluma Apel Theatre of the St. Lawrence Centre. Nicole Dufoe gave us a primer on some of the texts used for the two voyages. In one we learned about the patience Penelope who kept waiting for Odysseus to return home. She weaved as she waited. Then we were asked to comment on people walking by the theatre, where they were going etc. A woman (JD Leslie) approached the theatre window, stopped and looked at us. We were asked to find out her story. We left the theatre and followed her as she lead us along the street, down a dark alley and onto the Esplanade.

NOTE: The Red Voyage is more energetic than the Blue Voyage. At times we are expected to run along the street or down an alley way. There is some climbing of stairs in the market.

JD Leslie silently opens a door to the market and we in. We are led around the aisle. We follow a woman in a yellow dress holding an illuminated florescent tube. She sits and repeats that she is a piece of art. And she is. A woman in a red dress (Maddalena Vallecchi Williams)  gives an im impassioned speech in Italian and then collapses on the floor. We are beckoned by a clown (Said Benyoucef)  wears a red plush ball on his nose) to climb to the upper level where he speaks French. He opens a fridge and takes out the pot inside and eats what’s in the pot with a wooden spoon. He gets sick and rushes around a corner where we hear the noise of expelling (either from one orifice or the other.) He appears again, relived. But then a jolly man (Nolan Molfetta) in a full light brown body stocking appears. He says he is the resultant excrement from the clown’s purging of the bad soup. The voyage is taking on a surreal, farcical tone. Hilarious. From behind a counter, “the poo” brings out a guitar and begins to play as he cheerfully leads us downstairs, opens a door for us, and bids us good night, as we leave the St. Lawrence Market.

I’ve had many memorable theatre experiences in my life, but I think being graciously bidden good-night by a piece of poo is one of the more memorable.

The Blue section of The Spectators’ Voyage around the backstage of the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts is more routed in The Odyssey in that I can see corresponding moments on our voyage. The point of the Blue Voyage is harder to establish. Is this the static life of Penelope as she tried to keep a grip on her situation at home? Are the random, erratic wanderings along the street and through the deserted Market corridors like Dante’s Inferno? I don’t know since I don’t know the work.

It was an interesting experience as all DLT experiences go. I have a feeling the point is deeper than having an interesting experience. If that is the case, I missed it. Still glad of the journeys.

TO Live and DopoLavoro Teatrale (DLT) present:

Plays until Nov. 14. 2021.

Running Time: Each voyage is 1 hour.

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