Imperial Theatre Gets Decentralized And Interactive With ‘Landline’

The Imperial Theatre in Saint John is partnering with Nakai Theatre in Whitehorse to bring Secret Theatre’s fascinating production, Landline, to Saint John. An innovative theatre experience for the modern era, Landline embraces current technology, merging a self-guided tour with discovery and unexpected human connection.

Audience members begin at the Imperial Theatre – at least the audience members on this end. They are provided with an audio guide and a phone number, and are then sent out into the city. Many of the guide’s loose directions encourage freedom of interpretation or ask them to visit places of personal significance. While exploring the city, the audience members discuss what they are seeing via text message with the provided phone number; on the other end of the line is another audience member who they have been paired with, following the same directions in a different city. As Landline progresses, participants are immersed in a sense of a shared experience, beginning their journey alone but ending alongside a companion thousands of kilometres away.

The creation of Secret Theatre’s Dustin Harvey and Adrienne Wong, Landline originally debuted in Halifax in 2013, and began touring internationally, partnering with theatres in Iceland, Scotland, and Wales, as well as plenty of locations across Canada, including Calgary, Vancouver, and Montreal, but this is its first venture into New Brunswick.

Over its years of touring, or ‘relocating’ as Harvey prefers to consider it, the audience reception has been strongly positive, as he shared with us: “People often come out of the piece excited and hopeful by what they experienced. Some of that is as result of chance, some if it is a result of what they put into it. (…) Some of it is how much they themselves put into the experience. If you are open and give yourself to the adventure you may discover something within yourself that surprises you. Some people experience moments of coincidence and serendipity that border on cosmic – like folks who find themselves stopping in front of the old apartment of a long-lost friend, or one time when two folks were partnered who had both recently finished chemo treatments. We can’t plan that stuff. It just happens.”

An ambitious undertaking with postmodern undertones, Landline invites its audience to rethink the boundaries and roles of theatre, technology, and even geography itself. Many of these core conceptual questions behind Landline are left unspoken during the actual production itself, leaving the audience to draw conclusions through their own experiences.

“For the longest time, theatre meant coming to this certain place to witness it,” says Harvey. “So, what I think we see changing (and this is certainly true of Landline) is the space where theatre takes place, and what audiences are doing during those experiences. How digital space or virtual experiences evolve the relationship, your guess is as good as mine, but the areas I am curious about are the ability to bring us together, to allow us to co-exist in ways that doesn’t privilege certain points of view or social power.”

Harvey emphasizes that Landline’s core intent for those interested in venturing out: “If you get anything out of Landline I hope it is the feeling of how it humanizes the other. Or it attempts to because it is not about the technology. It’s not about it being a theatre experience unlike anything you have done before (which it is). It is about finding something human in the shared experience. If it changes how you think about the world and the place you live in, even just a little bit, then we’ve done our job.”

Landline will be hosted in Saint John and Whitehorse from September 15th, 16th, and 17th. Participation requires a functional cell phone with a mobile plan including text and data, and comfortable walking shoes and an adventurous spirit are both strongly recommended.

Landline: Imperial Theatre | Nakai Theatre | Secret Theatre