Intentionally or not, we take assumptions into the theatre with us. Namely, how we experience it: where to sit (in the dark, in the audience) and how to take in what unfolds (passively, quietly) are well-established in our minds. Site-specific theatre—setting scripts in places that are not theatres—challenges these assumptions to an extent, but rarely do such offerings rival the uniqueness of what The National Elevator Project does: the Theatre Yes-curated cycle of short plays uses the titular setting to give a peculiar, active and engaging take on theatre itself. There's a more direct connection to what unfolds, partly because it's happening inches from you, under the same lights, and partly because here it's so well-executed in such close-quarters.
As theatre, The National Elevator Project will surprise you, consistently and in the most curious of ways. All eight short works are staged in elevators spread across the downtown core; all are within about 10 minutes' walk of each other, or closer. You meet at the Tix on the Square office in Churchill Square, get handed a map, and have the freedom to tackle the plays in any order you want. As you go, you'll find your proximity magnifies the theatrical experience: there isn't a fourth wall, per se. Actors make eye contact and occasionally engage with you, though the audience participation factor isn't likely to scandalize anyone, nor is it totally prevalent; a few of the shows prefer you bear silent witness to the events they contain.
The brevity of the scripts makes it hard to go into depths on the specifics without giving the whole plot of each away (and trust me, you want to take in these as fresh experiences), but they run from smart comedy to affecting drama to beautiful wistfulness. A few highlights: “The Club” by BC playwright Kendra Fanconi, maximizes the energy and fun of the confined space, and even manages to pack in a surprisingly resonant, woozy, confessional punch at the end. Jason Chinn's “I Love Your Hair and Other Conversations” plays with time and and edits, and manages to skew some societal norms through its quick-change comedy; “The Tip of Things,” by Governor General's Award-winner Catherine Banks, rides on a quietly building intensity as you slowly grasp the depths of the story unveiling before you.
The National Elevator Project's only complications have little to do with the art itself: over a given night, you have a two-hour window to see all eight shows, which sounds like plenty of time, given their length. It actually proves a bit tricky to see all eight in a single go (I didn't), due to the unpredictable timing of things: you get stuck waiting for elevators, for shows to conclude and then reset. The issue's an unusual one for theatre—audience traffic-flow management?—but it's something they'll surely figure out how to minimize as the project continues. (The next cycle of eight new plays is in February). Meanwhile, the chance to destabilize your existing ideas of how theatre should be structured and shown alone is worth exploring, especially as well as it's being done here. There's a familiarity to The National Elevator Project: you frequently find yourself waiting for the elevator with strangers. But then that feeling inverts itself into something new: for the first time, the elevator is the destination, one that delivers you to an indelible experience.
Until Sun, Oct 27 (7:30 pm – 9:30 pm nightly)
Various locations (meet at Tix on the Square), $17 – $25