At the beginning of June I took the train to Montreal to catch Manual, created by Adam Kinner and Christopher Willes, at OFFTA.  Presented inside Concordia’s Webster Library, Manual largely presented a familiar dramaturgy of participation as we are directed to look, really look. A gift from early-twentieth century Russian formalism, this is the ostranenie of the art frame that uses participation to displace the ordinariness of life. And what is not to love about really looking at a library. You will have to excuse my sentimentality, but as an academic who spends a lot of mundane time in libraries, the experience of aesthetic defamiliarization blossoms into affection and I am reminded by Manual that a library truly is an everyday miracle in action.
But apart from ostranenie, what other participatory dramaturgies are at work here? And what do they mean?
A couple things that are not happening here. Manual is not exploratory. We are not set loose in the library to choose an autonomous path.  I am attached to my guide Christopher. He asks me to silently follow him and I do. The other quality to notice about Manual specifically in my relationship to Christopher is that this is not an encounter (pace Nicholas Bourriaud’s relational aesthetics). The intent of the experience is not for us to meet each other. The focus of the work is not autobiographical. It is not about me as me (see Lost Together or 4inXchange) Likewise it is not about Christopher (see Trophy or human library experiences).  In addition to remaining almost completely silent which restricts verbal interaction, there is no mutual gaze; Christopher doesn’t look at me. He is either ahead of me or he seems to hover just behind my shoulder. We look at things together but we do not look at each other. Companionable, playmate, but ghostly. To describe Christopher’s function in Manual, Avery F. Gordon’s definition of a ghost resonates for me: “The whole essence…of a ghost is that it has a real presence and demands its due, your attention.”  Just as I am not “me”; Christopher is also not “Christopher.” And I mean this in the nicest way. Manual is not about confessing or sharing secrets. (Which is, to be honest, a relief sometimes.) But we are engaged in a kind of intimacy. We are playing a private game in a public space. We are secret weirdos. We are making secrets.
The performance begins with both of us looking at a notebook in Christopher’s hand. There are pre-written, penciled messages on a small palm sized spiral bound flip notebook. “Is this thing on?” I follow Christopher silently through the library trailing a metre behind. Initially I am attuned with heightened attention to the library-ness of the library. Look books! (Cool.) We play Follow-the-Leader through the stacks. When Christopher pauses to inspect the bookshelf, so do I. He points to a book title on a spine. (I can’t remember exactly what he picked but it amused me.) I choose a similarly quirky book title and touch it. He picks another one. So do I. Is that what was supposed to happen? Dunno. It is a silent improvisation. Throw the ball. Catch it. Throw it back. This is a very satisfying kind of co-creative partnership. A tiny game for two.
As it continues Manual opens other silent creative dialogues. At another bookshelf, Christopher presents a single piece of paper, and invites me to read with him, alternating sentences in whispers. I am wearing earpods and my voice and Christopher’s voice sussurates in my ears and in the auditorium behind my eyes. Next Christopher opens a book of abstract photography and choosing one image, he suggests that we play, you know, that game where you find images in the clouds. “A wrinkled piece of cloth,” he says. “The craters on Mars,” I reply. And so on.
In the final section, we take three giant steps backwards and we stand next to each other, facing a shelf wall—the sorting shelf—where books are collected awaiting a return to their proper order elsewhere. The books are a motley mix of all subjects, temporarily companionable side by side. Christopher and I too. He gestures for me to press play on the audio player. As his voice sounds in my ears, musing about the serendipity of books that have been pulled out and read, and then put back, I start to listen. Christopher takes another step backwards and then with a quick shift behind me, he is gone. (I know he is not really vanished, but like the audience to a magic trick my attention has been adeptly directed elsewhere.) Was he even here?
Why is the play called Manual? For a theatre scholar, this is always a good question to ask. Certainly, the show is manual, that is, tactile with your hands in a way that much theatre is not. Christopher’s hands are a prominent element in complement to his whispered voice. He flips the pages of his instructional notebook. In another extended scene, he also performs a kind of hand-choreography when he opens for me a series of books, deliberately turning to pre-bookmarked pages and slides sheets of cardboard to hide and reveal portions of the chosen pages. I did consciously remark Christopher’s hands—the skin, the nails, their texture and shade. A manual is also a book of instructions. Thinking specifically through the lens of participation, a manual is a ‘how to do stuff.’ And of course, participation is all about doing stuff. Usually things that we have not done before in places we have not been before. And as we’ve noted elsewhere, participatory audiences need instructions. The contents of a library—fiction and non-fiction—are manuals for everything in our existence, I suppose. The show itself then perhaps is a manual to the manual, an experience in how-to library. This is how you search—first you walk. This is how you choose books—try pointing. This is how you look—really look. This is how you read—let’s read together. Concentrate. This is how you put the books back—notice how they wait so patiently. It is a complete lifetime of libraries in miniature. It sounds trite to say so, since this is true of the accumulation of all experience, but I will never library again without thinking of Christopher, ghost of the library.
 Consider other works in our gallery of participatory performance like Landline or b side.
 Avery F. Gordon. Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination. University of Minnesota Press, 2008. p.xvi.
The wonderful whirlwind of the Participatory Dramaturgies Summit was beginning to settle in my mind when an email from Mariah rolled into my inbox, seeking some feedback from participants to inform future iterations of the gathering. I was eager to oblige; the three-day experience was delightfully productive for me. I was still buzzing from the ideas that pinged about our virtual meeting space as theatre creators, thinkers, and communicators pondered the unique affordances of participatory art. I quickly answered the first few questions on the feedback form, but a multiple-choice prompt soon stumped me with a relatively simple inquiry: would you prefer an online gathering or in-person?
After a moment of pause in the face of this commitment towards virtual or physical, I selected in-person and moved on. Meeting people from my bedroom was convenient, but of course, the pleasure of connecting in a shared space is tough to forgo when given the option. But then I circled back. When I started to reflect on my engagement in the various panel discussions comprising a relatively large portion of the summit, I was forced to contend with the power of the Zoom chat. I know; part of me hesitates to commit “Zoom” to paper due to my more jaded sensibilities. However, on the other side of skepticism is an opportunity to rethink participation in panel discussions and foster digital community creation.
Participants from the summit will likely remember the cheeky chaos of the first panel discussion, which saw the chat erupt after the speakers invited us to award them with points based on their contributions. The idea was to gamify the experience, giving the chat control over who would speak based on the overall value of their point totals. The trick: there was no limit to the number of points that could be given. For 20 minutes, the chat exploded as our little audience rebelled, questioned, and used this system to award unfathomable amounts of positive and negative points to see if our influence would manifest anything tangible. The result of this experiment was the creation of a digital community which immediately reminded me of a Twitch stream.  The streamers (panelists) focused on creating content while also addressing the chat community comprised of viewers vying for the attention of both the streamer and fellow viewers. Like many Twitch chats, ours was equally unfollowable at times; the feed quickly scrolled by as new comments rolled in, rivalling Lightning McQueen with their speed. I was confronted with the competing choices of listening to the panelists, reading the chat, or formulating a comment of my own.
Scholars have explored the implications of fast-scrolling Twitch chats, including a study from Nematzadeh et al. (2019) which labelled this experience as an overload regime: “If the frequency of messages keeps increasing, participants cannot handle the increased information load indefinitely, and so we expect that, past a certain threshold, an increase in information load will correspond to a decrease in user activity. We call this the overload regime.”  Indeed, it should be noted that some viewers were absent from the chat, acting as lurkers in the background whose presence was assumed but not demonstrated. Whether or not this was due to an overload regime would be pure conjecture, but I will say that several participants shared a feeling of exhaustion after the panel ended.
None of the other panels would reach that peak level of chat activity over the next few days; this was perhaps for the best, given the challenging cognitive load carried by such an experience. However, I’m grateful that the first one ignited our participatory spirit and cemented an engagement with the chat community. In the end, participating in the Zoom chat was one of the biggest positive takeaways for me. It was satisfying to see others engage with my comments or ideas, and I learned just as much from the group’s responses as I did from the speakers. Resurfacing that Twitch connection, I’ll point to an ethnographic study from Hamilton et al. (2014) completed during the early days of the streaming platform’s rise to prominence, which found that one of the main benefits of participating in the chat was sharing: “Another common reward is the gaining of knowledge and skills available from other community members. In stream communities, this often takes the form of game skill and knowledge, which may be uniquely available from the streamer or their viewers.”  I similarly felt that I was taking advantage of the expertise of this found community, and the trading of knowledge made the act of participating in the chat rewarding.
Some may worry that the chat could be a distraction, but in my own experience as a panellist, I found the chat to be more of a help than a hindrance. Fielding live questions from audience members with a microphone or from the panel mediator can be stressful because there’s less time to sort through ideas and articulate answers on the fly. In contrast, the digital chat allowed me to read questions from the crowd ahead of time, meaning thoughts could percolate in the back of my head before answering them. The chat also allowed for more direct bridging between the speaker and the crowd by offering opportunities to respond to the concepts and comments raised by viewers. I recall seeing a discussion about Overwatch  in the chat pop up during my panel that I happily addressed due to my interest in the game. Sharing my main character of choice and some thoughts on the meta took less than 30 seconds, but in doing so, I was able to contribute to community growth through a personal connection.
In another Twitch parallel, the chat also had a dedicated moderator as Jenn and Mariah traded panel and chat mediation duties. In Twitch, moderators can ban viewers if they post offensive comments, but they also serve as facilitators of participation. The same Hamilton et al. (2014) study mentioned previously found that “the role of moderators is not only to keep the discussion in line, but to engage viewers and promote participation and sociability. This most often involves greeting viewers, answering questions, and trying to connect personally with newcomers”.  As panel chat mods, Mariah/Jenn similarly responded to comments from viewers, asked questions and fostered this secondary discussion as necessary. The use of chat moderation helped legitimize the textual conversations and combat any fear that a comment would be disruptive or unwelcome. Under their guidance, the chat community thrived.
And so with all of this in mind, I returned to the question: would you prefer an online gathering or in-person? Don’t get me wrong, physical gatherings are lovely, and I would jump at the chance to flex my small talk skills and fully loaded dad-joke humour. However, in the face of mounting evidence, I moved my cursor and changed my answer. For a participatory theatre summit, I simply couldn’t resist the immediate participatory potential of the digital chat community and the relationships it built between panellists and viewers alike.
 Twitch.tv is a streaming platform where creators play games, chat and interact with viewers in real-time.
 Nematzadeh, A., Ciampaglia, G. L., Ahn, Y.-Y., & Flammini, A. (2019). Information overload in group communication: From conversation to cacophony in the Twitch chat. Royal Society Open Science, 6(10), 191412.
 Hamilton, W. A., Garretson, O., & Kerne, A. (2014). Streaming on twitch: Fostering participatory communities of play within live mixed media. Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 1315–1324.
 Overwatch [Video game]. (2016). Blizzard Entertainment. A team-based shooter with a vibrant online community and constantly shifting meta-game.
Ask nicely. Keep your hands to yourself. No means no. CW: this show contains scenes of domestic violence and strobe lights. Please note: participants are welcome to opt-out of this experience at any time. “Please dress warmly and wear sensible shoes.” 
Consent is understood to be ongoing, enthusiastic, and informed.
When doing pretty much anything with another person, asking for consent is necessary for good relations. In early lessons on sharing, asking for consent is one of the earliest ways we teach children to be good friends. As adults, we’re taught that healthy pleasure and intimacy require asking for and receiving a certain kind of robust consent. As adults (and as children, in different ways), having control over our body and our surroundings is necessary to our human experience. Once, Jenn told me her favourite thing about being an adult is saying no to things she doesn’t want to do. Giving and receiving consent can be liberating and clarifying for both parties in a relational exchange because in order to achieve consent, both parties must mutually agree to a given action.
As a legal concept, informed consent entered the vernacular in the mid 20th century and it is really only in the last decade that major theatres in Canada have adopted policies around content warnings as a method of asking for consent from their audiences. When content warnings are made visible to audiences in advance they offer an implicit invitation to opt out of the experience. Typically, this content warning takes the form of a list of potentially triggering things that will be shown. Sometimes, Bourgeois Theatre companies will offer a brief synopsis of the difficult material or a list of resources for people who may find themselves triggered by the content. This may well be sufficient when the primary mode of engagement in typical bourgeois theatre is watching and the audience is safely separated from the fictional world by a fourth wall. However, what happens when participatory dramaturgies move beyond the engagement of our eyes and ears with a fictional plot? What happens when we are asking much more from an audience-participant’s body or from their autobigraphy? The difficulties of achieving a more comprehensive relational consent for participatory theatre that meets the standard of being ongoing, enthusiastic, freely given, informed, consent are significant. But likewise, the potential risks for the audience-participant if this standard is not met are also significant.
As a strategy for good relations in participatory dramaturgies, inviting participants and collaborators to consent to everything that will be asked of them allows for a deepened engagement. When they are asked for consent, participants feel safer in the magic circle and are more likely to engage deeply in an experience when they know the rules, follow the handrails, or have a guide. In this context, what does success look like?
Consent is ongoing. Asking for and receiving ongoing consent requires a kind of constant checking in. Over time, it can be both reinforced and retracted. Ongoing consent acknowledges that people’s feelings may change in ways they can’t control. Although everyone should be doing this regardless, some participatory dramaturgies lend themselves to this check-in process better than others. In Tanya Marquardt’s Some Must Watch While Some Must Sleep, participants text back and forth with both the character of Tanya and their alter ego/sleep persona X nightly for two weeks. Participants engage in conversations with Tanya about gender, sex, intimacy, nighmares, and dreams. Over those two weeks, we develop a meaningful and trusting relationship through the dialogic exchange. Jenn exchanged thousands of texts with Tanya/X, I added them in my phone as a contact. As audience-participants develop an ostensible friendship with Tanya/X, the conversation turns to trauma and healing. Tanya/X share some of their experience with trauma, and they invite texters to participate in a series of healing meditations. In that context, it was meaningful and necessary for Tanya to check-in. While I was texting Tanya, they would constantly ask me how I’m doing or what I needed from them to feel good. If I took a while to respond to a text, I would be met with a text that said, “How are you feeling? Are you ok?” More than simply giving participants the chance to opt out, Tanya actively sought from participants their ongoing consent. We were, not just permitted, but actually invited to revoke that consent without penalty. There were many opportunities for participants to check in on how they were feeling cared for and no pressure to respond to that text. Plus, inviting participation through text message makes the decision to opt-out easy. Like letter writing in the mail, texting is slow and extended. Jenn points out that in texting, time is elastic and spacious.
Consent is informed. To be fully informed runs counter to the essential quality of drama that unfolds in linear time as if it is spontaneous. A key part of the experience is bearing witness in real time to each fresh unexpected moment. An emphasis on linear and Aristotelian dramaturgy suggests that knowing exactly what’s ahead can undermine an experience. While being surprised and moved through the embodiment of a participatory dramaturgy is touching, informed consent requires participants to know what’s in store. In David Ball’s prescriptive guide to dramaturgy Backwards and Forwards, he insists upon discovery as a core dramaturgical principle. For Ball, “dramatic tension requires that the audience desire to find out what is coming up.”  How can asking for informed consent in participatory dramaturgies still centre the audience’s desire and discovery?
Two shows, David Gagnon Walker’s This is the Story of the Child Ruled by Fear and Radix Theatre’s TBD, use theatrical “rehearsal” embedded in the performance structure as a dramaturgical strategy to provide audience-participants with an embodied and informed preview. In Radix Theatre’s TBD, participants are asked to go on a three-week long experience, meditating on death, transformation and rebirth, beginning with the moment of their own (fictional) demise. Besides the heavy content, the participatory activities staged in TBD are notably invasive. For example, during the experience, actors put up missing person signs with your face on them in your neighbourhood. On one day, an actor in an featureless morph suit enters your house with an offer to help you with a household task. Participants are (with their permission) geotracked through their phone for the duration of the experience. To achieve informed consent, Radix Theatre is explicit as to what the performance will entail. First, participants fill out a waiver form before they start. Participants must acknowledge that “TBD will bring up notions of death or dying and that I am mentally and emotionally stable enough for this to occur.”  The waiver also asks about participants’ surroundings, “Do you live alone? If you live with others will they be comfortable with a TBD performer visiting your home a couple of times?” Second, before the performance begins in full earnest (before you ‘die’) there is an “intake day,” which functions much like a meet and greet. Participants meet each other and the acting company. A schedule is passed around. Radix Theatre lays out the tasks and scenes associated with each day of the experience in great detail, giving participants an arena to ask any questions they have. This reveal is not too too revealing because the point of the show is an experiential? meditative? exploration of death. The discovery of what will happen to you isn’t the point but rather, what you think about what happens to you as it’s happening to you.
There is a pre-show moment in David Gagnon Walker’s This is the Story of the Child Ruled by Fear that offers an invitation with similar intentions. In this piece, participants are asked to recite from a script with other audience members. The script itself, an autobiographical story written by Walker, is about fears and facing them. Depending on where the audience is sitting in the room, they are each cast a role and given characters to play (including a chorus). Participants are asked to read aloud with strangers, an anxiety-inducing experience for some. Participants are informed of what they are reading through the script in their lap. While the participants gain confidence in their collective reading, Walker’s “child” faces fears of his own. Formally, Walker models a kind of facing of fears through his invitation to participation and while his characters inside the play face fears of their own. In the first moments of the play, Walker asks two of his participants to read a scene and he gives them some directorial coaching. Readers are given an opportunity outside of the frame before the formal “reading” begins to warm up their voices. Because this piece is about fears and facing them, the participants’ comfort is of the utmost importance. Using a “cold read” as a recognizable rehearsal technique to hold onto, Walker invites participants to play “theatre” together.
In order to experience the full transformative potential of all three of the shows described here, participants need to feel safe. Participants feel safer when they are given the opportunity to give their informed and ongoing consent. In the case of these shows, the experience isn’t about the suspense of what happens next as it unfolds, but rather a personal and lived experience of the work as it happens. Being told about that in advance doesn’t spoil it because it can’t be spoiled.
 bluemouth inc. “Please Dress Warmly and Wear Sensible Shoes.” Canadian Theatre Review, no. 126, University of Toronto Press, 2006.
 David Ball. Backwards and Forwards: a Technical Manual for Reading Plays. Southern Illinois University Press, 1983. p.59.
 This language appears in the TBD "Waiver Form", as sent to us by Radix Theatre.
#ThrowBackThursday. This post looks back to a play that we saw and wrote about back in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although this show analysis speaks to a performance I attended in 2020, the Ministry of Mundane Mysteries continues to this day in February 2022! After two successful runs, “solving over 1000 cases in 233 cities worldwide,” the Ministry of Mundane Mysteries now runs their shows on-call, with a team of 25 actors available for booking anytime. You can register for this show here.
My mystery was “The Case of the Missing Cake Pan.” Launched in March 2020, The Ministry of Mundane Mysteries is a performance series imagined by Toronto-based company Outside the March to “spark connections through Telephonic Investigation.” In this live, episodic, performance for one, participants are treated to a tailor-made interactive play. Starring the participant, it’s a whodunit that unfolds over the phone.
The rundown. Each participant is responsible for thinking up their own mundane mystery. The door that won’t close? Radioactive running shoes? Unripening avocado? No missing socks though, “we’re socked out over here,” as Commissioner Mallory Murtaugh says in the FAQ on the Outside the March website. For six days in a row, at the same time each day, your mundane mystery comes alive through a zany cast of characters that draw you into conversation as you co-construct a personalized adventure. Throughout this adventure, nuggets from the participant are weaved into a structure predetermined by Outside the March.
This “fill in the blanks” style of performance, classified by Espen J. Aarseth as using a “configurative” user function,  relies on participants to insert responses to a recipe crafted by the artist. Similar to mad libs, the pleasure comes from a low-stakes participatory input into the work.
To accommodate the bespoke nature of each mystery, the plays follow a strict dramaturgical pattern that is common to every episode while leaving room for the insertion of unique autobiographical details. Developing an improvisational collaborative dramaturgy, Outside the March explores the balance between structure with flexibility. How big are the spaces I am filling? Will how I fill in my blanks change the direction of the piece?
Mundane Mysteries is built as an ordered series of checkpoints and pivotal moments that became identifiable to us as we compared our personal mysteries.
Phone Call 1: “The Interview.” The first call is from an Inspector from the Ministry, who is handling your case. Inspector Johnson interviewed me about my mystery, pressing for the names of any suspects or leads I wanted them to follow up on. Did I suspect my roommate? Then, you are asked a list of seemingly random questions. Where do I buy coffee? How long have I lived where I live? Because this first contact is framed as an intake interview, the imposition seems natural. They are leaving no stone unturned! My Inspector is trustworthy, thorough and insists she will do all in her power to solve this case. The phone call ends with the Inspector letting you know they will be in touch.
Phone Call 2: “The Informant.” The second phone call comes from a different voice. They call in a whispered panic. “I shouldn’t be talking to you. Don’t tell anyone.” In my case, the caller was an Australian man who used to work for Northside, my favourite local coffee shop. Clearly, he had done his research weaving in details about the Kingston coffee scene, the coffee shop, the Northside menu, and the women who run it. He then divulged that he believes they are behind this missing cake pan. This was my first lead.
Phone Call 3: “The Threat.” The third phone call comes from another new voice. At first, the caller purports to be a representative of a reputable business (Loblaws supermarket, in my case). They offer an easy solution to your mystery and invite you to close the case. “You don’t need a cake pan, anyway. You can buy your cakes from us.” As the phone call devolves, you learn they are not who they said they were and instead they work for the folks accused in the last phone call. My caller confessed to actually being a lawyer for Northside and threatened me with a rogue boomerang if I didn’t retract my accusations and call off the investigation . . . or else.
Phone Call 4: “The Stakeout.” In the fourth call, your Inspector finally returns, asking you for updates on the investigation or details on any weird phone calls you may have received. When you update them on what the two previous callers have said, they are unsurprised because they are calling you right now from a dangerous undercover situation investigating this very accusation. Whispering and afraid, my Inspector informs me that she is calling me from a hiding spot in the basement of Northside. She has ended up in a “boomerang room” (whatever that is). There is a loud commotion of percussive noise and yelling, and the call is promptly cut short.
Phone Call 5: “The Decoy.” The next phone call serves to throw your nose off the trail. This caller offers a weird, out-of-left-field solution to your case and encourages you to close the investigation with the Ministry. In my case, this fifth caller was an optometrist (?!) asking if I had heard the recent rumour circulating about people who wear clear framed glasses (which I do, as I had previously told Inspector Johnston.) Apparently, folks all over the world in clear framed glasses have found themselves unable to see anything square. With hesitation, I said, “Yes let’s”  and the phone call ended with the caller shouting, “She bought it!”
Phone Call 6: “Case Closed.” Finally, on the last day, you’ll hear back from your inspector, apologetic and embarrassed about the failed stakeout mission. They solve your case, thank you for your time, and play your favourite song to close the call. In my case, the folks had done some research about my roommate’s Mundane Mystery and blamed the case on her Inspector, Inspector Doyle. Apparently Inspector Doyle loves solving mysteries for us so much that he broke into our house, stole the cake pan in hopes that he would get to solve the case and look like a hero. Although he’s since been fired from the Ministry, they still can’t locate the cake pan.
In a New York Times review of the Ministry of Mundane Mysteries, Alexis Soloski gave the show a rave review, insisting that the show “let me be who I am (a harried writer and home-schooling flop who might be drinking too much right now) and met me where I was, usually at my kitchen counter, slicing apples for the children’s lunch.”  Because this dramaturgical structure feeds into the drama and the well-recognized narrative of a “whodunit,” Outside the March inspired participants to assume agency through small pieces of autobiographical information and spun it into a wild adventure that made the listener feel “seen.” Soloski’s review captures that sense of personal care in an anxious time, The Ministry of Mundane Mysteries “asked about my world, listened and then let me slip free of it, at 10-minute intervals.” 
 “The Ministry of Mundane Mysteries,” www.mundanemysteries.com.
 Espen J. Aarseth, Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins UP, 1997), 64.
 “Yes, let’s!” is a common technique used in improvisation drama games. One person proposes an activity: “Let’s squawk like chickens.” And the expected group reply is “Yes, let’s!” Followed by everyone commencing to squawk. The ethos of “Yes, let’s” is core to collaborative improv where any truth established by one person becomes so for all others. It is a willingness to accept any direction and to endorse it as the new reality.
 Alexis Soloski, “There’s No Place Like Home (Theater),” New York Times. 16 April 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/16/theater/immersive-home-virus.html
 Soloski, “There’s No Place Like Home (Theater).”
We are overjoyed to announce the inaugural play/PLAY: Participatory Performance Summit! Taking place from 7-9 April 2022, this summit is an invited gathering of artist-creators and scholar-researchers of participatory performance in Canada. As the first “event” imagined by the team behind play/PLAY, the summit will be hosted by Jenn Stephenson and Mariah Horner with support from production manager Dylan Chenier and stage manager Christina Naumovski. Our goal is to offer summit participants a space to meet and talk with other artists and researchers, present work, and participate in engaging debates on participatory performance. The intention of the summit is to bring together a select group of artists and scholars who share an interest in participatory theatre events in an interactive gathering.
By participating in the virtual summit over Discord, participants will have the opportunity to:
Why are we doing this? First, we’re eager to get the artists from our gallery and the writers from our reading lists in conversation with each other. Over the last four years, while we were collecting and analyzing over 70 participatory shows in Canada in an online gallery, we were simultaneously researching and writing a scholarly book on participatory dramaturgies. As we continue to populate our gallery, we realize we’re watching a community of real experts in the field creating and thinking in real time. We know you, you know each other. Plus, everyone has been so open with us! Strangers are answering our cold calls, artists are sharing archivals, and scholars are sharing nascent ideas in interviews. We have felt a great sense of camaraderie and generosity from the artists and scholars in this cohort and it’s time to bring everyone that we have learned from and with together. As we continue the project of writing this book on participatory dramaturgies, we are excited to put our own principles into practice and participate in conversation on these topics together.
Besides the fact that we believe this group simply needs to connect with each other, we are eager to experiment with conference structures during the summit. During a conference panel about participation and immersion in 2020, artist and friend of the Summit Alex McLean wished that all panel talks started after the introductions and biographies. He put his finger on a desire of both artists and scholars to spend more time looking deeply at our participation practices together, moving beyond surface descriptions of our own work, and instead getting into connections and extensions. We are eager to open a space for these artists and scholars to grapple with shared issues and interests. After two years of the COVID-19 pandemic and resultant social isolation, we have felt a real need to play and disrupt in a collective. Because we both work at the intersection between artist and scholar, we know about the value that comes from deep analysis and a dynamic creative commons.
At this time, participation in the Summit is fully subscribed, but if you would like to learn more, please email us at email@example.com.
Check out some of our confirmed participants here and read more about the summit here.
A very common point of focus in participatory theatre performances is on the singularity of the audience participant. I’ve written elsewhere that a recurring marker of certain types of participatory theatre is that it is not only created by me (through my participation) but also for me and about me.  The pull to autobiography is strong. And you can see why. If the audience-participant is asked to do something or give something, all they have immediately at hand is themselves—their physical labour, their ideas, their opinions, their ability to solve puzzles, their personal history, etc. In a show like Lost Together, autobiographical play is crafted by and for a solo audience member. In 4inXchange, we share autobiographical details in a small group of four. Even in larger audience groups, like TBD or Foreign Radical or Intimate Karaoke, although we might be surrounded by others, the focus of my experience still solidly lies on me as an individual. My placement in relation to the participation of the others is sometimes serial and sometimes parallel but in every case we are separate.
This, however, is not the case in two recent participatory performances I witnessed. Instead of the personal focus of participation as autobiography, in these shows we are amalgamated, we blend together, we are interchangeable, we are a collective. Our individuality is purposely effaced. My self as self is irrelevant.
The first of these shows is Saving Wonderland. Presented online as part of the Next Stage Festival, Saving Wonderland blends dramatic storytelling with choose-your-own-adventure decision making and escape room puzzle-solving. The show uses a range of tech platforms including live-action Zoom broadcast, audience chat, and a game app for our phones. The premise of Saving Wonderland is that when Alice visited Wonderland previously she broke it somehow—time is looping and the storyworld is disintegrating— and only Alice can fix it. What is central however is that all of us in the Zoom audience are collectively Alice. There is only one Alice and it is us. The characters address us as Alice. When presented with a puzzle to solve or a choice to be made, we use the game app which works like a poll. The majority vote determines our choices. Similarly, for the puzzles or other digital tasks, if most of the group gets the right answer, we are successful. It is entirely possible to do the show as a disparate assemblage of pure majority rule. On the other hand, on the night that I participated, a leader emerged in the chat and directed our voluntarily coordinated responses, saying “Let’s pick the Red Queen.” or “I think the answer depends on a Fibonacci sequence.” (I, for one, was happy to follow Jackson’s lead. He always knew the right answers.) Either strategy is fine, but whether we remain aloof or choose to consult, the app operates to funnel our input into the oneness of Alice.  (The app game task where we each have to mash the on-screen button as fast as we can but without going “over” speaks especially strongly to our role in an invisible collective.)
The other show with a similar collective audience character and mode of participation is David Gagnon Walker’s This is the Story of the Child Ruled By Fear.  The play is a poetic fable of the journey of the eponymous character of “the child ruled by fear.” Here, a small number of audience participants, (perhaps six or eight people) sit near the front at cabaret tables each equipped with a reading light and a script marked with highlighted section. When their turn comes, each of these participants joins in to read a character. The creator, Gagnon Walker, serves as the Narrator. Audience readers play different characters but also significantly they all, at different times, give voice to the Child. The rest of the audience is also invited when cued to become a chorus. My favourite speech of the chorus is: “We are real. We are real. We are real.” The effect of this collective reading is perfectly described by the show’s promotional blurb which describes the experience as “a playful leap of faith into the power of a roomful of people discovering a new story by creating it with each other.” And so it is. The suggestion emerges that at some point in real life Gagnon Walker might be the child ruled by fear, but then through our dispersed and collective voicings so are we all. We all have fears and sometimes we can be brave and sometimes we can’t. The play evades a simple answer. Nevertheless, the true outcome is that in the end, we have all partaken in a collective journey to create something that we don’t know how it goes, and we journey together with generosity for the risk of participating. The result is a kind of vulnerable rough beauty.
 My article “Autobiography in the Audience: Emergent Dramaturgies of Loss in Lost Together and Foreign Radical” is forthcoming in Theatre Research in Canada 43.1 (2022).
 Spoiler alert: The ending for my play-game experience (which was different from Mariah’s) returning us all as Alice to a blue-sky morning on the riverbank before we ever meet the White Rabbit and before the start of the events of the book Alice in Wonderland. We are told by the Cheshire Cat that the only way to really save Wonderland is for us not to enter in the first place. (See blog post from on 19 July 2021 being unwelcome.) This is emotionally bittersweet but also astonishing in terms of game play and participation. Essentially we are being told that the way to “win” is not to “play.” (!!) We do not belong in Wonderland.
 Mariah and I were all set to fly to Calgary to see this show as part of the High Performance Rodeo festival in January when the Omicron variant of COVID caused all live performances to be canceled. The creator very generously shared an archival video with us.
Roger Caillois (Man, Play, Games) identifies the randomness of chance or what he calls “alea” as one of four core categories of games.  In opposition to ‘agôn’ or games of skill that engage players in direct competition, alea involves no skill at all. Both agôn and alea are premised on equality; but whereas equality in agonistic competition is about fairness in the rules so that either player has the same chance of winning, equality in alea manifests in contingency putting the players in the hands of fate or the universe. The player in a game of chance is entirely passive and whatever happens happens. The only determinate action the audience-player makes is the decision to begin to play and then subsequently to end play. In between, active choice is between random, superficially identical options - do you go through the door on the left or on the right? - or the choice is to activate the randomizing mechanism, rolling the dice, or similar. The choice is heartless. As Caillois writes, “It grants the lucky player infinitely more than he could procure by a lifetime of labor, discipline, and fatigue. It seems an insolent and sovereign insult to merit.”  Either the audience-player chooses directly in this kind of desultory fashion or defers choice to a non-human participant.
The morality of gambling as an affront to the Protestant work ethic and possible social damage of addiction aside, it is worth thinking about how choices with unpredictable seemingly random outcomes generate aesthetic understanding since this is a common dramaturgical strategy for shaping participation. How does alea mean? The audience plays the game but we are merely the conduit of fate. We spin the wheel but choice is external; the mechanism is the dominant driver rather than the player. The universe is the playwright. This feeling of passively ‘letting it ride’ can be pleasurable if the stakes are low and the attitude not too existential. Sometimes the effect is a hopeful sense of being safe in the hands of Providence, that things are as they should be. Sometimes, by contrast, being subject to randomness is a desolate peek into the abyss; we are adrift in an uncaring universe. Nothing matters.
In the Dungeons & Dragons themed participatory show Roll Models,  randomness manifests in the repeated rolling of the dice. Just as in the table-top role-playing version of the game, the dice operate in this “live action” version to determine the outcome of an audience-player’s asserted prospective action. “I will cast a spell to throw a magic net on the dragon.” Roll an “8” and you are successful. Roll an “18” and perhaps you not only avert the danger but you may also be rewarded when the dragon becomes a friend and ally. Roll a “4” however and you might find yourself in the net instead. Part of the improvisatory narrative skill of the performer who acts as the ‘Dungeon Master’ host character is to interpret the raw number generated by the dice, translating that information into context-specific (also usually absurd and hilarious) dramatic exposition. Greg Costikyan in his book Uncertainty in Games notes that among the sources of uncertainty (performative uncertainty of player skill, puzzle solver’s uncertainty, hidden information, and so on.) randomness, which many players despise, has some particular strengths, notably “it adds drama, it breaks symmetry, it provides simulation value, and it can be used to foster strategy through statistical analysis.”  Actually, the dice are a pretty good substitute playwright. Perhaps the possible message here is simply a reminder of the unpredictability of the universe. It is a truism that even the best plans, enacted by highly skilled characters might fail, or conversely, the unconsidered shot in the dark by an unprepared novice might succeed.
Humans also introduce randomness into participatory performances. Another way that contingency appears is as a branched narrative or experience. For example, Monday Nights is actually four plays in one. The performance is divided into four strands from the very outset when the first task of each audience member is to inspect the contents of four gym bags. From these autobiographical assemblages, I pick whose team I want to be on. In the moment of choosing, the other three branches vanish. Others will follow those paths but they are closed to me. I can see the other teams across the court but I watch from the outside and cannot access their experience. This melancholic regret of the path not taken is always embedded in any choose your own adventure schema. In Monday Nights, the dominant feeling is a sense of belonging, attachment to my captain and the other audience-players who made the same choice. I am on the red team. Do I wonder what it is like to be on the blue team? Perhaps a little.
By contrast, the regretful wonder of what might have been is the principal theme of Outside the March’s play Love Without Late Fees (Tape Escape). The central conceit is that the immersed audience is running a video store dating service called “Six Tapes to Find the One.” A series of escape room style puzzles activates the branching mechanism. Audience choice is indirect. Successfully solve the puzzle and rent Mr. Holland’s Opus and our couple Matt and Sarah do one thing. Fail to solve the puzzle and rent The Shawshank Redemption and Matt and Sarah’s relationship takes a different track. The effect here of alea in the creation of thirty-two unique endings is to remind us that the journey of a love relationship can indeed feel like an exercise in serendipity. If this or that hadn’t happened we wouldn’t have met. Randomness is a life quality that we recognize. Love relationships are really like this sometimes. And so the flip-a-coin branches replicate a real-world situation. The audience then plays the role of “the universe”; our puzzle games are part of a superior ontological realm that somehow determines the romantic fate of the would-be lovers. This game mechanism stands in as a simplified parallel for the impossible-to-comprehend complexity of the world.
The impossible-to-comprehend logic of the universe made manifest in games of alea is adapted in Foreign Radical to comment on the Kafka-esque arbitrariness of bureaucracy, specifically the all-powerful surveillance of border control. Badgered by a maniacal game show host, the audience-players are compelled to answer revealing questions with public actions, dividing ourselves into four corners of the room based on yes or no responses. “Have you watched online pornography in the last twenty-four hours?” “Have you signed a petition critical of the government?” “Do you use encryption to mask your internet use?” “Do you own a pressure cooker?” The answers to the questions are not random; they are autobiographical confessions. But the consequences of the answers are random. Based on their answers, certain members are banished out of the room. Is this a reward or a punishment? Do I want to go there or stay here? The underlying value system is purposely opaque. We are at the mercy of a game we cannot comprehend, unsure if we are winning or losing.
Beyond game structures that mimic the contingency of choosing this or that to create meaning, the basic situation of audience participation is a prime source of randomness. In her list of reasons that drive participatory art, Claire Bishop notes that not only does participation create a more egalitarian or democratic base for creative engagement, there is an aesthetic benefit in the greater unpredictability of input via audience contributions. The benefits from greater diversity of randomness as well as the pleasures of surprise and serendipity are held in balance with reduced coherence resulting from less artistic control. Participatory works built as a series of one way gates or are “on rails” manifest relatively low randomness and relatively high control. One way to provide guardrails is by providing the audience-player with a script. In the case of shows like Red Phone and Plays2Perform@Home (both produced by Boca del Lupo, Vancouver), there is literally a script. In Red Phone, the audience-player enters a standalone red telephone booth. Inside the booth is a teleprompter-style screen and a red telephone handset. Talking to another audience-player in a second, somewhat distanced phone booth, the two of you perform a scene, voicing dialogue. Within the tight parameters of the scripted task, each version of the experience looks (at least from the outside) nearly identical. Meaning lies in how the players, now transmuted to actors/characters, collaboratively navigate both the fictional relationship unfolding line by line in real time and the real-world partnership of smoothly making a thing together.
Works that incorporate improvisation, by contrast, feature high randomness and low control. Dice are not the only source of alea in Roll Models. Although there is a traditional audience, four audience members are invited to become role players. Each one creates a fantasy-adventure style character; they are paired with an actor who plays that character and who is effectively their live avatar. Through their role-play quest, the players make choices and declare their intentions, (with success or failure determined by the dice) the actor-avatars are challenged to realize those actions. In this way, Roll Models centrally locates the values the randomness of audience input as the catalyst for its core understanding. Costikyan notes that not only are endings uncertain in games (unlike in drama) but the journey to that ending is also uncertain. “Uncertainty is in the path the game follows, in how players manage problems, in the surprises they hold.”  It is precisely that this grappling with uncertainty is the source of pleasure in Roll Models. The audience-players are randomness generators; they are part of the game mechanic generating ‘friction’ for the actors. They are basically more sophisticated dice in human form. The appeal of the show then, and indeed its raison d’etre is to generate joyful laughter not only at the absurdity of the ad hoc plots but in the virtuosity of the actors as they frolic in unpredictability. In the secondary audience, we thrill to the successful struggle in their performative acrobatics to respond to the unexpected twists of the plot and to bring it all together (somehow) in the end. Their victory over the obstacles of alea is our delight.
 Roger Callois, Man, Play, and Games, Translated by Meyer Barash (Urbana and Chicago, University of Chicago P, 1961), 19.
 Caillois, Man, Play, and Games, 17.
 Roll Models was presented 18-26 August 2021 in City Park, Kingston ON. The show was conceived and performed by Alicia Barban, Joel Blackstock, Tyler Check, Callum Lurie, and Sayer Roberts.
 Greg Costikyan, Uncertainty in Games, (Cambridge MA and London: MIT Press, 2013), 86.
 Costikyan, 13.
CW: colonial violence
As thousands of unmarked graves of children who were held captive at Canada’s residential schools were unearthed in July 2021, Dr. Alan Lagimodiere, the new Indigenous Reconciliation and Northern Relations minister in Manitoba spoke publicly for the first time. In this speech, Lagimodiere says, “the residential school system was designed to teach Indigenous children the skills and abilities they would need to fit into society as it moved forward.” At the time, many white settlers in so-called Canada were finally unlearning this dangerous lie, grappling instead with the truth that this state-sponsored educational institution had explicit goals to “kill the Indian in the child.” Wab Kinew, the leader of Manitoba’s NDP, interrupted Lagimodiere, approaching the podium saying, “I am an honourary witness to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I listened to stories of the survivors and I cannot accept you saying what you just said about residential schools.” More than listening to testimony, being an official Honorary Witness to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) comes with an active commitment to tell the truth about colonial violence in so-called Canada. “Witnesses were asked to retain and care for the history they witness and, most importantly, to share it with their people when they return home.”  Notably, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation asserts witnesses must commit to participating in a future where the genocide of Indigenous children is not forgotten or misunderstood. Kinew’s active interruption and correction of Lagimodiere’s narrative illustrates this commitment to participation that includes the destruction of false narratives.
While Kinew’s intervention did not occur in an explicitly theatrical context, it serves to illustrate the participatory capacity of performing witnessing as an act that changes both the participant and the world. Historically, some theatre theorists have articulated both the potential and outcome of this act of bearing witness as an activist element of being a spectator. Sometimes this activism is framed in moral or educative terms. In the introduction to his 18th century play The Robbers, German theorist Friedrich Schiller articulates the power of bearing witness as a preparatory practice for avoiding vice. Schiller says, “if I would warn mankind against the tiger, I must not omit to describe his glossy beautifully marked skin, lest owing to this omission, the ferocious animal should not be recognized until too late.”  For Schiller, theatre provides the space for audiences to safely bear witness to a metaphorical tiger, so that they will be ready for the dangers of immorality they will meet in real life. For Kinew, Schiller’s tiger is the testimony he heard. Where Schiller only expects action in the outcome when he shows his audience the “tiger,” witnessing as a dramaturgy of participatory theatre encourages action from the moment you first meet the testimony or the tiger. As a witness to the TRC, Kinew heard testimony with the intention that he is prepared to fight for (in Schiller’s case, against) what he heard. So, how exactly can this witnessing act be theorized as an active invitation into the future?
Indigenous writer Samatha Nock unpacks the subtle differences between listening and witnessing. Nock insists that “too often we think that the act of listening is equal to the act of witnessing.”  She describes listening as a passive endeavour. By contrast, she says that when we “witness a story we are not only present physically, but emotionally and spiritually, to hold this story in our hearts.” When we witness a story, “that story becomes a part of us,” and “you have entered a very specific and powerful relationship that exists between the storyteller and the witness.”  Witnessing is an active and ongoing invitation to participate in relation, it’s a contract between the witnessed and the witness, signed by the act of hearing testimony.
For our colleague Julie Salverson, a scholar of witnessing, “to be a witness, I must find the resources to respond. It isn't only passing on a story that matters; I must let the story change me. This makes me vulnerable in the face of another's vulnerability. I participate in a relationship. But to be present in a relationship, I must have a self to offer. Tricky territory. Who, right now, has the nerve to reveal themselves?”  Salverson also asserts that “courageous happiness”  is a resource to activate witnessing. Where Nock names the agreement as “relational,” Salverson says that “witnessing is a transaction that is personal, social and structural.” 
Salverson cites the work of Roger Simon and Claudia Eppert who claim that witnessing “demands (but does not secure) acknowledgement, remembrance and consequence. Each aspect presents different obligations.” These three moments of witnessing: acknowledgement, remembrance, and consequence are a map of activity from which participatory witnessing is charted. Acknowledgement is the awareness and confirmation of what is being witnessed. Remembrance “commits a person as an apprentice to testimony.”  As an apprentice to testimony, the witness agrees to be employed by testimony; an apprentice signs a contract as a novice committed to work. Remembrance marks the changing of the witness. The third term, “consequence,” is about obligation, about what we do with the knowledge we perhaps wish we did not have.”  Consequence marks the changing of the world. This is what Kinew does when he steps forward to speak.
Trophy, a work of solo storytelling, created by Sarah Conn and Allison O’Connor, materializes this three-part path of witnessing as theorized by Nock, Salverson, Simon and Eppert and exemplified by Kinew’s interruption. Marketed as “an episodic performance and living installation built around stories of transformation,”  audiences of Trophy are invited to roam through a “pop-up Tent City” of simple white tents. Each tent features the live recitation of an autobiographical story from a person in the community who experienced great change. After audience members listen to the stories of transformation, they are invited to write their own stories of change on coloured pieces of paper and attach them to the tent. “How the installation evolves is determined by the public’s interactions with it,”  Conn and O’Connor say. This visible and participatory manifestation of witnessing, I hear your story and it changes me (and the tent!) means that “the experience of Trophy becomes an expression of all participants’ stories, and a compelling exploration and conversation about how we all experience change.” 
Witnessing is a core participatory dramaturgy. Bearing witness is a participatory dramaturgy that signs a deal to continue to participate beyond the show. Witnesses are not participants in “spectacle or escape, or passive avoidance, it is the deadly game of living with loss, living despite the humiliation of trying endlessly, living despite failure.” 
 “The NCTR Supports Honorary Witness and invites Minister for further Education,” The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. July 16 2021. https://nctr.ca/the-nctr-supports-honorary-witness-and-invites-minister-for-further-education/
 Schiller, Friedrich. The Works of Friedrich Schiller: Early Dramas and Romances...translated from the German. George Bell & Sons, 1881, p xiii.
 Nock, Samantha. “Being a witness: The importance of protecting Indigenous women's stories,” Rabble. September 5 2014 https://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/samantha-nock/2014/09/being-witness-importance-protecting-indigenous-womens-stories
 Nock, “Being a witness.”
 Salverson, Julie and Bill Penner. “Loopings of Love and Rage: Sitting in the Trouble,” Canadian Theatre Review 181, (Winter 2020): 37. doi:10.3138/ctr.181.006.
 Salverson, Julie. “Taking liberties: a theatre class of foolish witnesses,” Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance, (June 2008): 246.
 Salverson, “Taking liberties,” 246.
 Salverson, “Taking liberties,” 247.
 Salverson, “Taking liberties,” 248.
 “About Trophy,” https://www.thisistrophy.com/about.
 “About Trophy,” https://www.thisistrophy.com/about.
 “About Trophy,” https://www.thisistrophy.com/about.
 Salverson, “Taking liberties,” 253.
Participation assumes an invitation. Something is happening someplace and audience-players are welcomed with an invitation into the territory of the magic circle of play. But what if we are not welcome? What if some are welcome participants but others are not? Normally, the value of universal access is invariably taken as given, and yet, there are some contexts where a closed door is not only a valid option, but is itself a powerful dramaturgical strategy that speaks in meaningful ways to the nature of an invitation and what or who authorizes that border crossing.
One specific example of being unwelcome manifests in David Garneau’s articulation of the necessity for what he calls “irreconcilable spaces of Aboriginality.”  These are “gatherings, ceremony, nehiyawak (Cree)-only discussions, kitchen-table conversations, email exchanges, et cetera, in which Blackfootness, Metisness, and so on, are performed without settler attendance. It is not a show for others.”  The unwelcome of these irreconcilable spaces first assert a private space, convenings---physical or virtual---that are closed to the gaze of outsiders. These are spaces of non-visibility that resist scopophilia. Second, Garneau says that beyond resistance to looking, these spaces also operate in resistance to resource extraction. There is a need to evade and resist colonial modes of engagement which are “characterized not only by scopophilia, a drive to look, but also by an urge to penetrate, to traverse, to know, to translate, to own and exploit. The attitude assumes that everything should be accessible to those with the means and will to access them; everything is ultimately comprehensible, a potential commodity, resource, or salvage.” 
[What does this mean for my own Western-trained academic praxis? Read, collect, quote, cite, analyse, apply, synthesize, extend to new contexts. This is what I do. I have become acutely aware that it is without doubt a deeply extractivist approach. I begin with the assumption that everything is available to be read, quoted, and repurposed. Looking at this page, quotation marks and parenthetical citation brackets now look to me like nothing so much as spoons for my hungry scholarship and the scoop-like jaws of a giant yellow bucket excavator. I feel ashamed of my familiar mode of operation, and at the same time am profoundly uncertain how to proceed. How to engage with knowledge from other sources with respect and reciprocity?]
Dylan Robinson in his book Hungry Listening takes the next logical step: “If Indigenous knowledge and culture is mined and extracted, then it would follow that another key intervention for disrupting the flow of extraction and consumption would be the blockade.  He then does exactly this and performs the exclusionary blockade surrounding an autonomous textual territory. On page 25 of the Introduction, he writes, “I ask you to affirm Indigenous sovereignty with the following injunction: If you are a non-Indigenous, settler, ally, or xwelitem reader, I ask that you stop reading at the end of this page. . . . The next section of the book, however, is written exclusively for Indigenous readers.”  He also provides an explicit invitation to rejoin the book later at the beginning of Chapter 1.
Among the modes of non-participation in participatory theatre, the strategy of the blockade, of being unwelcome, functions differently than other multilinear mappings that also close off possible paths. In a choose your own adventure experience, multiple paths are available to you, but standing at the juncture point you choose one over the others. You still remain ignorant; it is an experience that you will not have, but the key difference is that you had an open choice. And that awareness of the path not chosen, like the blockade, functions to create dramaturgical meaning. The form of the experience can be marshalled to speak. The path that is closed off not by choice but by the consequences of my action is also distinct from the blockade. In Love Without Late Fees, an escape room/theatre play by Outside The March, for example, if our group of audience-players ‘wins’ at our episodic task then the plot moves in one direction and the couple rent one movie, but if we fail at the task, they rent a different movie and the romance plot moves in a different direction. Again there is a path that is removed from our experience but the closing of that option is causal, tied directly to my actions; there are transparent consequences. In both cases, the closed path could have been traversed within the parameters of the game-play. Any of the paths would be equally viable under other circumstances without prejudice.
What did I do at Robinson’s injunction point? I stopped reading. My personal history is one that renders me unwelcome in this delimited space. I am the child of refugees. My parents arrived as children on Turtle Island to the city of Montreal by ship across the Atlantic in the years following World War II. All four of my grandparents were Holocaust survivors; their parents, most of their siblings, nieces and nephews having been murdered by the Nazis. Being stateless, Canada was a welcome haven. Clearly, I have no rights of welcome to asserted territory of Indigenous sovereignty, geographical or textual. However, my lifelong citizenship story is founded on the imaginary of being welcomed as a proud first-generation Canadian, and so it is a new thought for me to stop and think about who did that welcoming all those decades ago and what was their authority to do so? This is one of the effects of Robinson’s performed blockade.
What does it feel like to be locked out? Surprise, certainly. What? I’m blocked?! That first hard stop is followed by a tingling pull of curiosity and FOMO. What am I missing? No peeking. Really, no peeking. I feel like an outsider. This is of course the intention and I must admit that this is not a common feeling for me. I am pretty accustomed to being able to go where I want and feel welcome. I feel a bit bruised. Hmmph. Ultimately, my feeling is respect for the closed door; it is rude to go somewhere and force your way in when you are explicitly asked not to attend.
But, this is exactly what I have done in life. (Even if not me, myself, directly as an immigrant, at the minimum I am the mute beneficiary of my unwitting ancestors’ door crashing.) And so the performance in Hungry Listening of a participatory blockade not only opens consideration of my personal imbrication in colonization, and challenges me to figure out why I am unwelcome and what I can do in response, but on a general level engages the flip side of thinking about the invitation. Instead of focusing on how to make the transition to theatrical participation easy as Gareth White does,  by rendering that transition very difficult if not impossible as Robinson does, we now may be engaged with how and why the border crossing of participation sometimes should be hard.  Who are the rightful holders of sovereign authority inside the circle, and what are the appropriate credentials to enter?
 Garneau, David., “Imaginary Spaces of Conciliation and Reconciliation: Art, Curation and Healing.” Acts of Engagement: Taking Aesthetic Action In and Beyond the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Edited by Dylan Robinson and Keavy Martin. Wilfrid Laurier UP, 2016, 27.
 Garneau 27.
 Garneau 23.
 Robinson, Dylan. Hungry Listening: Resonant Theory for Indigenous Sound Studies. U of Minnesota P, 2020, p.23.
 Robinson 25.
 White, Gareth. Audience Participation in Theatre: The Aesthetics of the Invitation. Palgrave Macmillan 2013.
 To date, I have not yet encountered this kind of unwelcome of an audience in an actual theatrical performance; however there are some recent adjacent examples relating to theatre-making processes and also to theatre reviewing. In the rehearsal process for Encounters At The Edge of the Woods (Hart House Theatre, September 2019), director Jill Carter held some separate sessions for Indigenous and non-Indigenous cast members. Moyan, Trina. “Encounters at the Edge of the Woods: Answering Calls and Standing at the Edge of a Pandemic.” Canadian Theatre Review 184 (Fall 2020): 76-81. When Yolanda Bonnell’s play bug was presented by Theatre Passe Muraille in February 2020, Bonnell asked that the work be reviewed only by folks who are Indigenous, Black, or people of colour. One of Bonnell’s asserted reasons is “that bug is an artistic ceremony, which she says ‘does not align with colonial reviewing practices.’” Fricker, Karen. “Critics who aren’t Indigenous, Black or people of colour aren’t invited to ‘bug.’ Yolanda Bonnell explains why.” Toronto Star 10 February 2020. https://www.thestar.com/entertainment/stage/2020/02/10/critics-who-arent-indigenous-black-or-people-of-colour-arent-invited-to-bug-yolanda-bonnell-explains-why.html. Recollet, Karen and J. Kelly Nestruck. “A Cree professor and a white critic went to Yolanda Bonnell’s bug. Then, they discussed.” The Globe and Mail 16 February 2020. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/theatre-and-performance/article-a-cree-professor-and-a-white-critic-went-to-yolanda-bonnells-bug/ See also: Carter, Jill. “A Moment of Reckoning, an Activation of Refusal, a Project of Re-Worlding.” Canadian Theatre Review 186 (Spring 2021): 8-12. https://ctr.utpjournals.press/doi/full/10.3138/ctr.186.002; Carter, Jill. “My! What Big Teeth You Have!” On the Art of Being Seen and Not Eaten.” Canadian Theatre Review 182 (Spring 2020): 16-21.
Remixed, created by the artists behind Trophy , blends the materiality of receiving a gift in the mail with an app-based personal questionnaire. As “a listening party for one, performed together across time and space in a collective experience,” the artists invite interactive participation before, during, and extending beyond the scope of the time we share together at the show. The creators, Laurel Green, Sarah Conn and Allison O’Connor are experts in care, moving audiences softly through a personal playlist of stories and music while offering us tools to literally plant change and watch it grow. Nurturing change through emergent strategy is the name of the game in Remixed. Our small acts assemble the show but also re-assemble ourselves, sending us off into the world with a sense of our own potential.
And a seed.
When the show starts, I am invited to open a cardboard box that arrived by post a week prior. Inside the box, there is a small cardboard pot, a soil pellet, a beautiful hand crafted paper ball, and a circular piece of cream canvas mat with three painted circles on it, delineating where to place the other objects you were gifted. After placing the items on the cloth as instructed, I am then invited to fashion the cardboard box into an upright phone stand set for the performance. (Genius!) After “setting the stage” for myself, I answer a series of meaningful and personal questions. Through the interactive app, I select a graphic of a face or a visual of a heart beat to communicate how I’m feeling at the time of performance. The app asks questions about what things make me calm, the music I listened to as a kid, the music I listen to now, and my relationship to change. As I ponder my own intense relationship to systemic change in light of these questions, I meet the spinning wheel, showing me that something new is aggregating.
The app then spits out a custom playlist, specifically made for me. Featuring a collection of both music and personal monologues inspired by my answers to the preceding questionnaire, this playlist is to be listened to while I move through the other instructions from the show. The first song that preceded the monologues was totally on point with my assertion earlier that I definitely listened to early 2000s pop when I was younger; Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” blasts through my headphones. I felt seen, I felt heard, I want to dance along. The playlist was a gift, personally made for me, that put my lived experiences and memory in conversation with an emergent world beyond (See I LOVE YOU.). Listening to music from my youth while listening to stories about radical change from people I’ve never met put the personal in conversation with the political. My curated stories were mainly autobiographical stories of participation in systems change. I heard from a queer person who told the story of the first time they participated in a Pride parade. I heard from a Sri Lankan immigrant who runs programs to demystify the process of getting permanent residency in Canada. I heard from someone who runs cultural sensitivity training. I heard from an Indigenous woman who told the story of the healing ceremony that happens when a family member dies.
While I listen to this playlist of songs and stories, I am told to place the soil pellet in the pot and fill it up with water. I take apart the little paper ball to find it full of seeds. Then I plant the seed in the soil. I am left with the explicit instruction to continue to nurture the plant, to keep it alive. I am challenged to carry the stories of individual and systemic change I have heard with me beyond this moment, to actively encourage visible and emergent change through the now embodied metaphor of nurturing a little sprout. The key point here is that this gift stays with me. Jenn reminds me that we don’t usually get mementos like this in bourgeois theatre. My sprout grew on my windowsill for a month after the show.
Each of the stories in my personal playlist swirled around tiny individual intensely-local moments of change inside a bigger systemic movement. The stories lean into what adrienne maree brown calls emergent ways of thinking around the "the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions.”  Remixed offered me not only autobiographical stories of small participation in big change and but also an invitation to try it out myself. This kind of emergence, specifically planting the seed, is a future-oriented phenomenon. The seed proves a perfect metaphor for the fact that small acts of nurturing and care do the real work to change the world by first changing my world. The website for Remixed cites Octavia Butler to remind us that “all that you touch you change, all that you change, changes you.” We hear the stories of change, they change us, we actively bring life to something green. Although the modest scale of Remixed prevents us from accessing fully emergent pattern-making, the artists echo Augusto Boal’s rallying cry that performance can act as “rehearsal for the revolution.”  Remixed is an example of training for phase change, or what Jenn calls “proto-emergence.” This is how we start with just one of those simple interactions brown describes. The first in a potentially rich network of such interactions. Through planting the seed, I was acting as a vehicle for change --from the storytellers, through my hands, into the dirt, up into the sun.
 Trophy is an award-winning interdisciplinary creative collective based in Ottawa that makes both performances and installations. Besides Remixed, they are known for their installation Trophy, a series of tents that house personal and autobiographical stories of change.
 adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy : Shaping Change, Changing Worlds. Chico: AK Press, 2017, pg 2.
 Augusto Boal, Theatre of the Oppressed. Theatre Communications Group, 1985, pg 155.