Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.
DopoLavoro Teatrale’s (DLT) website offers an intriguing invitation to “become the protagonist of your own adventure” within an urban landscape of the city, at the “centre of a walkabout narrative that blurs the lines between reality and fiction”.
Strange? Yes. That’s the attraction of The Stranger 2.0 Above and Below, an immersive theatrical experience that unfolds along the streets of Toronto as two independent journeys that begin “above” . . . or “below”.
The Stranger 2.0 is the brainchild of Daniele Bartolini, Artistic Director of DLT, an international company founded in 2006 in Florence, Italy, and based in Toronto since 2012. It is dedicated to innovation and experimental multi-disciplinary artistic practices. DLT presented the inaugural version of The Stranger at the SummerWorks Performance Festival, which inspired other editions that have performed in cities world-wide, including in India and Europe. The company also created and presented two new versions in Toronto in 2015 and 2016.
This year’s iteration continues the tradition of the original The Stranger. It is an immersive, interactive and eclectic theatrical experience in which the audience becomes the protagonist, and the city becomes the stage. The 75 – 90-minute journey is limited to two audience members at a time, with shows beginning every 20 minutes. Audiences enter a secret world by following “strangers” into streets, alleyways and undisclosed locations. The downtown is reimagined as an urban labyrinth, and the participants find themselves at the centre of a narrative that unfolds gradually. An innovation of The Stranger 2.0 is a virtual-reality component, developed by mixed-reality content specialists toasterlab to simulate the digital environment of a videogame.
We caught up with the innovative Bartolini to delve deeper into the genesis, development and global resonance of The Stranger.
SesayArts: What an interesting concept for a theatrical experience! What gave you the idea for The Stranger 2.0?
DB: The idea came to me while I was walking alone around the city shortly after moving to Toronto. The concept is about allowing the entire city to become a stage, having performers emerging from the crowded streets. The Stranger was originally presented in 2014, and it has toured globally ever since.
Last winter I thought of bringing the show back because I think this idea of connecting with strangers, people we don’t know but that we share the same space with, is still really relevant. This led me to think that we should allow two audience members at a time, creating space for more human connection and interactions.
SesayArts: What was the biggest learning or insight gained from the original run of The Stranger, and how has that helped to shape the experience of The Stranger 2.0?
DB: I learned that the audience is eager to connect and go down a rabbit hole, a labyrinth you create for them. The first time I did The Stranger, I didn’t know people would be so willing to participate and take part in our scenes. I think there is a need in our society to connect with other human beings. With The Stranger 2.0 we want to bring our form of audience-specific theatre to the next level.
SesayArts: Who should experience The Stranger 2.0, and what can they expect? (It sounds a little unnerving, to tell you the truth. Is it?)
DB: I think anybody can experience it. People just need to be open to a new experience and trust the artists. We are there to take care of you. This version of the show is more gentle than past editions. I don’t think the experience is unnerving; it might take you a little outside of your comfort zone at times, but we always do our best to ensure that every audience member is comfortable during their experience.
SesayArts: What do you hope Toronto audiences get out of it?
DB: I hope audiences let themselves go during the show. I hope they surprise themselves. I want them to have a different and special day. I hope to help initiate the thought that art is not something to look at from afar but something to engage and have an intimate relationship with.
SesayArts: What has been the biggest challenge and biggest surprise of creating The Stranger (1 and 2.0)?
DB: The biggest challenge of The Stranger and The Stranger 2.0 are the logistics. It takes an incredible amount of work to put something like this together – every detail, the timing of each scene, creating the route for the show. But all of the hard work is worth it when we see the first audience member going through the show – that is a magical moment to us.
The biggest surprise is always to discover new potential and talents in the amazing team of core artists of DopoLavoro Teatrale, amongst whom are Raylene Turner, Rory de Brouwer, Danya Buonastella and Vincent Leblanc Beaudoin. Without these people, this work would not exist. The other big surprise is the team of new artists we collaborate with and seeing them slowly understand the form and begin to delve further into it, and then the incredible contributions they make.
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What: The Stranger 2.0 | Written and directed by Daniele Bartolini | Assistant Director and Production Manager: Raylene Turner | Produced by Daniele Bartolini, DLT, Istituto Italiano di Cultura | Executive Producer: Thomas L. Mallon | Community sponsor: Villa Charities | Virtual reality scene produced and developed by toasterlab with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts
When: Running until September 29, 2019
Ticket holders will be notified by email of the exact meeting point 24 hours before their show time.
Info and Tickets: dltexperience.com
© Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya / SesayArts Magazine, 2019