I missed Boca del Lupo's The Voyage when it was first staged as part of their "micro-performance" series last fall. Given the buzz then, I made sure to see it this time around. And so yesterday I made my way to Granville Island, briefly bid adieu to the brilliant late afternoon sunshine, and submitted to being locked inside a shipping container for 20 minutes. The experience was underwhelming.
The Voyage is about human trafficking, Vancouver being a favoured port of entry for the smuggling of illegal migrants across the Pacific and into North America. All this we are told in advance of the show, as we gather at The Anderson Street Space (TASS) headquarters of the company. And this: that the show will place us "in the shoes" of someone being trafficked.
The experience starts with the assembled audience (there were about 15 of us in total) being loaded into a panel van waiting at the entrance to TASS. It's cramped and hot, and the van is prone to sudden starts and stops. But at least there's still light. And, oh yeah, an accompanying audio track. I knew that the whole premise of The Voyage was sensory: visual deprivation on the one hand, and acoustic immersion on the other. However, I didn't expect the latter to include the looped meta-commentary from media and political pundits that frames this simulation of being trafficked. It immediately took me outside my body--the ring of sweat forming around my neck, my awareness of how closely I was pressed up against the person squeezed in next to me--and reminded me not just that this was "a show," but also here's what you should think about it.
Ditto the chorus of voices that ends the audio while we are inside the actual container (located on the old loading dock between Emily Carr University and the Granville Island Hotel). The minute its door was bolted closed and we were plunged into a darkness unlike any other I've experienced in the theatre I was back inside my body. That sensory awareness only increased as the sound score (created by Jean Routhier and Carey Dodge) began, starting with the tell-tale bleats of the forklifts used to load heavy freight onto boats. When, half-way through, we hear the sounds of laboured breathing I had to briefly catch my own to determine it wasn't coming from me. And once the container "arrives" in Vancouver and there is a banging and cry for help, I was momentarily tricked into thinking it was coming from one of my fellow audience members.
But then, just before the doors of the container open and we are "released" back into the bright sunshine and our equally shiny Vancouver lives, we are returned to the meta realm, with a final loop of what I assumed were testimonials from trafficked individuals. In a piece that is otherwise brilliantly constructed around the conceit of "showing-by-not-showing," this insistence on telling at the beginning and end is perplexing and, it seems to me, fundamentally at odds with the experience of bodily empathy at the core of the work.
Kudos to Sherry and Jay and the whole Boca team for attempting to get us to see more feelingly in The Voyage. I just wish they trusted their audience to connect the social and political dots.