On Friday night I was invited to HIVE 3, a site-specific installation of 12 short, concurrent performances out at the Great Northern Way campus. HIVE 3 is a collaborative project of over a dozen local theatre companies. I think of them as ‘second-generation companies’. Not as old or established as the Arts Club or the Vancouver Playhouse, but some (like Pi Theatre or Theatre Skam) have been around for at least fifteen years.
Each show occurs in a walled-off corner of the space, though a couple actually happened in shipping containers outside. The performances ran 10 to 20 minutes in length. For some shows you simply queued up, but plenty of others had hoops you needed to jump through to gain admission. You might have to get a token from a previous attendee, or secure a ‘VIP invitation’ from a bouncer with a clipboard. The Electric Company performed for one audience member at a time, and they ran a lottery to choose the lucky winner. I didn’t see it, but the company’s GM assured me they’d post video of the show on their website after HIVE 3 closes.
UPDATE: Here’s the Electric Company’s show.
My friend called the evening “the Fringe on acid”, and that’s a pretty apt description. I saw six shows over two-and-a-half hours, and they varied in quality and tone the same way any six Fringe shows might.
My favourite was probably Boca Del Lupo’s “The Interview”, which used clever projections and a treadmill to tell the story of an embedded reporter in Afghanistan. I assume it was fiction, as it featured a plot point very similar to the 1949 Mann Gulch Fire (retold in this nice folk song). I also liked Pi Theatre’s “House/Home”, which was kind of a burlesque pop-up book of a playlet (that’s their show in the photo below). November Theatre’s “Ana” was a carefully-crafted little nugget which seemed just right for the evening’s constraints of time and space.
Others were less successful. Nearly all the shows suffered from a lack of reach. Many companies were experimenting with form–more on this in a minute–but few aspired to genuinely take on a meaningful theme or move the audience. Maybe the evening’s format discourages weightier topics?
On the whole, I applaud this approach. It’s probably the first time in my life when I’ve attended a theatre show and been (just barely, admittedly) on the old side of the audience. Most of the audience still had their own hair, and it wasn’t grey. In a world where the big theatres regularly target senior citizens, that fact alone is pretty exciting.
It’s also a great opportunity to take the temperature of what theatre artists are thinking about these days. One trend I observed was how so many of the shows were concerned with or were mediated through technology. The aforementioned “Ana” includes a long (if familiar to me) riff on analog vs. digital. “House/Home” was performed using microphones and all the audience members wore headphones (this was also intended to manage the noise bleeding between shows). Theatre Replacement’s “S.P.A.M.” had some clever schtick involving the audience’s cell phones, though they could have constructed a more intriguing story or framework for the interactions.
I had a chat with one of the organizers about how HIVE amortizes risk for the performers. The audience member pays one price ($25 for adults, $20 for students and seniors) to get in, so the pressure is off any one particular company to sell tickets. They can take chances and experiment, and don’t have to be utterly concerned with the bottom line.
Likewise, the twelve companies can pool marketing resources. The capacity for each night is only 200, and HIVE 3 runs for eight nights through March 20. Surely the combined email lists, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts of the 12 companies are more than enough to scare up 1600 attendees.
You’re not going to be moved to tears by anything you see at HIVE 3, but if you’re up for a concentrated shot of theatrical creativity, check it out.