Ringing endorsement for phone theatre

Toronto company sends escape from routine down the line daily

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We can’t go to the theatre right now, but luckily, the theatre can still come to us.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/04/2020 (842 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

We can’t go to the theatre right now, but luckily, the theatre can still come to us.

In The Ministry of Mundane Mysteries, a remote, improvised, immersive experience created by Toronto’s site-specific theatre company Outside the March, that’s exactly what happens. Through a daily 10-minute phone call that happens over the course of six consecutive days (from Monday to Saturday), an inspector from the Ministry will devote himself to solving your very own mundane mystery.

Created by the company behind The Golem’s Mighty Swing, which premièred at the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre last November, The Ministry of Mundane Mysteries is co-directed by Mitchell Cushman and Griffin McInnes, with a cast made up of Jamie Cavanagh, Shannon Currie, Colin Doyle, Sheri Godda, Sébastien Heins, Liz Johnston and Jonathan Shaboo, as well as Winnipeg actor Toby Hughes.

Outside the March The Ministry of Mundane Mysteries tailors each remote theatrical experience to the individual.

It’s not local theatre, exactly, but what does that even mean in a world where nobody can gather together in the same space? How do you capture the liveness and ephemerality of theatre if you can’t be together? These are big questions and nobody has any answers yet, but a good old-fashioned phone call is a definite possibility.

It’s just a more intimate form of immersive theatre for the company, which has made a name for itself by transforming underused or non-traditional spaces — from abandoned cinemas to funeral homes — into stages with the mission of “implicating our audiences in the stories we share.”

The process is simple. Tickets are $35; you select a start date and preferred time for the daily call at Mundanemysteries.com, and then choose which ministry department best suits your needs: Misplaced Keepsakes Division; Striking Coincidences Think Tank; Missed Connections Unit; or Paranormal Activity Task Force. You can also provide more information to help the team personalize your experience.

My initial call came from Insp. Heins (Sébastien Heins). I have intense phone anxiety and was nervous, but Heins’ calm voice and feigned genuine interest put me at ease right away.

We talked about my case, The Mystery of the Wailing Walls, inspired by the creepy sound of a baby crying I occasionally hear from an apartment in which no baby lives, and we also just talked about life. Insp. Heins listened to my worries and my fears, and assured me he would solve my mystery.

He also assured me that nobody else would call but him. And reader? I believed him.

However, my trust was utterly shattered when I got a call from former Hudson’s Bay Company employee-turned prominent fur trader Andrew McDermot. Things escalated quickly and before I knew it, everything was about communism. The next call was a communist impersonating local legend and erstwhile elevator inspector Cheryl Lashek, and the next from a man claiming no communists were involved in my ghost-baby mystery at all.

People kept passing out, getting beat up and knocking over giant pig statues. The Cheryl Lashek impersonator told me not to talk to Andrew McDermot again; McDermot accused me of being capitalist bourgeois scum (he didn’t use those words but the intention was clear); and Insp. Heins told me it was OK that I didn’t become a doctor because being who I am was good enough.

Beyond the inspector, no one in the show uses his or her real name, but thanks to the strong storytelling skills of the actors involved, it was all extremely entertaining and ultimately wrapped up pretty darn neatly.

It was also the most fun I’ve had since this whole pandemic started.

Even though each caller seemed to operate under slightly different rules — I was an active participant on some calls while others were more expository — in every conversation, I felt like I was in good hands and often stepped out of my comfort zone, which is part of the immersive theatre experience that’s extremely valuable.

In the six weeks since Canadian theatres shut down owing to COVID-19, there has been no shortage of work being brought forth by theatre artists who are emboldened rather than frightened by the new restrictions of our world.

All this work has been a respite from the real world, but none — except perhaps The Under Present for Oculus Quest, a virtual world inhabited by characters controlled by live performers — has been as successfully imbued with the elusive and unspeakable qualities that the best immersive theatre contains as The Ministry of Mundane Mysteries.

Maybe this isn’t the theatre we wanted, but it’s the theatre we have right now.

And it’s a lot of fun.

frances.koncan@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @franceskoncan

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