So the party got started in a big way last night: the 10th anniversary celebrations of the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival kicked off at the Playhouse with Gob Squad's Super Night Shot. An arts collective based in the UK and Germany, Gob Squad have toured this piece to six continents, performing it more than 200 times. In each case, the premise and parameters are the same, though the changing location--and especially the people encountered there--always means that the results will be unique.
An hour before the performance begins, four members of Gob Squad turn on their Sony digital cameras, synchronize their watches, and introduce their roles in the film they are about to collectively shoot on the streets of Vancouver. One of them--Simon--has been elected to play the hero in the film, the aim of which is not merely to capture a real-time representation of the city, but also, in the process, to "declare a war anonymity." To this end, another member of the quartet has been tasked with finding among the citizens of Vancouver a romantic co-star for Simon, someone who--regardless of age or gender or ethnicity--will agree to kiss our hero (or at the very least his rabbit mask) at the climax of the film. A third member's job is to do advance publicity for the film, which involves pasting cut-out images of Simon's face on various available surfaces and, in one memorable sequence, announcing the film's premiere to the packed diners in a trendy restaurant (the Flying Pig, I think it was). Finally, a location scout is sent in search of the perfect spot for the film's concluding clinch; since none of our four intrepid filmmakers ever really leaves Gastown, this of course turns out to be the steam clock at the corner of Water and Abbott.
There are some rules governing all of this mayhem: the cameras must continue to roll for the duration of the film, with no cuts allowed; and the film has to look good, a dictum easier said than done given that each of the four members serve as their own crew, holding their cameras--mounted on mini-tripods--in front of them as they walk the streets of Gastown. Occasionally the performers set the cameras down on the ground and interrupt their vérité shoot with some Busby Berkeley-style bits of song and dance--quite literally in the case of a group rap and an homage to Singin' in the Rain (though, ironically, last night Vancouver's skies were clear). Obviously, then, the conceptual parameters of the piece allow the performers some control over its outcome. At the same time, their various contingent encounters with the people whose paths they cross--some of whom are suspicious and brusque, others of whom are highly voluble and wonderfully garrulous--reflect back to us some necessary (because instantly recognizable) shocks to our collective civic nervous system. Simon, wanting to do good, encounters a homeless man early on and offers to buy him something to eat at the local supermarket; but soon after the man has convinced him that he can best help him out by buying him some ciders at the liquor store. And near the conclusion of the film, looking to redistribute, as instructed, the wealth (in this case a toonie) he has managed to collect from a single passer-by, Simon places the money in the cup of a panhandler who says he'll use it to buy a beer.
Meanwhile, our casting agent is getting anxious because they're approaching the end of the film and he still hasn't found someone to kiss Simon. Mercifully, he comes upon a group of friends whom I took to be foreign language students (an interesting comment on the economic, geographic, and social intersections of the local and the global). He manages to persuade one of them--Rodrigo--to kiss Simon in his rabbit mask and they rush off to get their shot.
This accomplished, the team then climbs into a waiting rental car and hightails it over to the Playhouse, where we have been waiting to cheer their arrival. Only then do we actually enter the auditorium, with the footage (including a final sequence filmed from the balcony of the theatre) the collective has gathered projected before us on four side-by-side screens. It makes for a doubly uncanny experience, the déjà vu of what we are witnessing coming not just from the instantly recognizable images reproduced before us, but from the familiar (in ways both good and bad) story of our city they tell.
Given that, as PuSh Artistic and Executive Director Norman Armour announced in his speech following the screening, the Festival is so much about place (a theme echoed in the broadside published to coincide with the 10th anniversary, in which yours truly has a short essay), it was an absolutely spot-on opening. I look forward to what remains in store from PuSh over the next three weeks--and in the decades to come.
Happy birthday everyone!