How open are you about your stance on abortion?
If your neighbour smokes pot, should you?
How about the distribution of wealth; if you had a real say in it, would you make it equal?
While many of us, as individuals, like to believe we shape our world around us with the choices we make, oftentimes it does not feel that way. We get lost in the mix and our voices are hushed in the roaring crowd. But what if the crowd suddenly got a lot smaller and the choices you made had an immediate effect on those sitting right beside you? Enter 2010 PuSh Festival’s Best Before, an interactive theatrical experience like no other that puts 200 audience members in control of their own lives, their own world, and the fate of the community they help create and inhabit.
Taking place in the Vancouver East Cultural Center (the Cultch), the ambitious creators behind this digital microcosm use the traditional theatre space in a non-traditional way, projecting each audience member onto a large screen in the form of a small egg-shaped avatar, and giving them freedom to move around with a familiar-looking video game controller that comes attached to each seat. As you are ‘born’ into a world the programmers call Bestland, you have free reign to move about, which becomes integral to the yes or no voting that takes place in lieu of the moderators’ socially-determining questions.
Do you have sex at age 15? Move left for yes, right for no.
Do you keep the baby? Move left for yes, right for no.
Simple enough, but as the consequences of these decisions en masse begin to send people to either the hospital or jail, the push and pull of our collective conscience begins to undermine our independent motivations. After all, it’s for the greater good, isn’t it?
Slowly we see our world taking shape, built around the familiar controversies of everyday life, and playing cathartically upon our silent fantasies.
There is, however, a flesh and blood element to the performance which arguably relates to this digital exercise. We are greeted at the show's opening by a woman who gives a monologue about her own life and the choices she has made. A non-actor, she is joined throughout the performance by other real-life citizens who share the stage with the two computer programmers, and together, the four humans periodically halt the action of Bestland to deliver various anecdotes, testimonials, and humourous quips relating to certain choices they have made throughout their lives. Granted, the attempts to add an additional layer to the relative complexity of a performance of this nature are appreciated, especially under the pretenses of live theatre, what the message is supposed to be gets lost amongst the audience members’ anxious return to gameplay.
From taxes to God, children and divorce, few of the deepest human conditions are left unexplored. In the end you get the sense that the creators of this existential endeavour are trying to say something, that there is a message buried somewhere within the 1’s and 0’s of Bestland, but apart from the inherent social commentary surrounding a political experiment of this nature, nothing profound materializes through this modern mixture of mediums. That being said, if you’ve ever wanted to go on a killing spree, commit suicide, or shoot heroin from the comfort of your own seat than this performance is for you.
Best Before runs until Feb 6 at The Vancouver East Cultural Center. For ticket information please see www.thecultch.com