Review: You Are Very Star by Electric Company
You Are Very Star is a curious, inventive, and adventurous evening of artistic experiences. The site specific work unfolds at the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre, which, serves as both the central character and thematic hub of the piece.
The event (it would be limiting to describe it as a play) begins well before one’s arrival through an online, interactive prologue. The microsite introduces us to certain themes and ideas within the work, encourages early introspection through a series of abstract questions, and, most intriguingly, connects us with an individual named Hafa. Though we never learn her identity until Act III, Hafa connects with audience members via text message, Facebook, and Twitter in lead-up to the performance.
The on-site experience plays out over three acts, each occupying their own place in time, while sharing the Space Centre as a common setting.
Act I happens in the basement auditorium and tells of a pitiable academic’s attempt to become a spiritual leader in 1968. We begin at the moment of his undoing, then- in fits and starts- crawl backward through time to discover the characters and events that led to the reckoning. Michael Rinaldi gives as standout performance as pleading, insecure Professor, creating a character who we pity and care for, despite not particularly liking.
When lights come up there is no chatty intermission, but a madcap scramble throughout the Space Centre. This is our second act, set at this very moment, with the audience constituting the cast. With maps in hand, the venue has become an installation of small experiences: tying stuffed animals to zip lines, tasting strange powders, launching bottle rockets, receiving urgent missions via walkie-talkie, and more. It is a rare thing to see adults let go of inhibition en masse and give themselves over to excited play.
It is not until we head upstairs to the Planetarium for Act III, set in far away 2048, that we come to understand the meaning and purpose behind the fun. Here, humanity has been divided into two- for all intents and purposes- species, those like us and those who have been technologically augmented. The augmented individuals are functionally immortal, can divide their consciousness and attention across 1,000 distinct streams, and are on the verge of transcendency, when their leader disappears. The search inevitably leads to the very space where we sit.
The three experiences (four, if one considers the prologue) do not all come together cleanly in the end; it is not that kind of piece. Instead, they contain echoes of one another, hints of deeper things that invite dwelling and meditation. Were You Are Very Star a film, it would fill hundreds of webpages and forums with fan theories and debates.
The most lasting impression of the piece is that one has experienced something very special; and that many people worked very hard to create this special thing for them. From the architects of the three acts, Craig Erickson, Georgina Beaty, and Kevin Kerr, all of whom cite collaborators, to the collective cast and inspired designers, to the open-minded staff of the Space Centre, it is clear that many hands came together to create something unique to our time and place. A strange little gift that is just for Vancouver.
This review is based upon attending a preview performance. You Are Very Star runs to June 29 at the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre. Tickets and information at ElectricCompanyTheatre.com.