Listen to Me explores conversation in a world without technology. Photo: Courtesy of Jenny Escobell.
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The sixth annual undercurrents festival is taking place from Feb. 10-20 at the Arts Court, featuring a selection of original and contemporary theatrical productions from local and visiting artists, including numerous University of Ottawa students, alumni, and professors.

To give you a taste of what the festival is offering this year, we’ve previewed two of the nine unique shows, one featuring a current U of O student and the other featuring an established alumni. Listen to Me and Getting to Room Temperature are both opening on Feb. 10, the first day of the festival, and run until the final day. You can read our preview on Getting to Room Temperature here.

Find more information on how to get tickets or about the other shows in the festival here. Students with valid ID can purchase “pay what you can” tickets at the door if not sold out in advance.

U of O student-directed play lets audience interact with performance

Picture this—you’re young, you’re single, and you’re sitting across the table from a complete stranger you met on Tinder who refuses to look up from their cell phone. Technology may have brought you together, but it seems that it’s keeping any real connection from forming now that you’ve met up.

In a world where the traditional act of dating is becoming dated, Catherine Ballachey and Stephanie Henderson are bringing Listen To Me, a dynamic and nontraditional play, to Ottawa’s theatre scene. Listen To Me allows audience members to interact with performers in a “speed dating” setting where delving deeper than smalltalk, without the distraction of technology, is the ultimate goal.

Ballachey, who is finishing her master’s in theatre theory and dramaturgy at the University of Ottawa, teamed up with Henderson, a friend she met while completing her undergraduate degree at Simon Fraser University and founded Resounding Scream Theatre, based in Vancouver, as a way to create their own work after graduating.

The play was written by Henderson, who is holding down the fort back in Vancouver, and was adapted for Ottawa by Ballachey, who is directing it for the festival. Going with the contemporary theme of the festival, the play is uniquely structured to give the audience member a chance to engage with actors and be a part of the performance themselves.

“Of course we have a structure and actors kind of guide the audience members through that, but the actual responses from the audience members we cannot control, and that’s kinda the fun part,” says Ballachey.

While this may seem daunting for even avid theatregoers, Ballachey says it’s nothing to be afraid of.

“It can be an intimidating situation to be one-on-one with the actor, but the control is always in (the audience member’s) hands, and they wouldn’t be asked to do anything they wouldn’t normally do.”

Although the actors do guide participants through the discussion, they still allow for control of the conversation to the audience in order to ensure a “genuine connection” is made between the participants and actors. 

The structure of the play also has a bit of anonymity to it, as audience members are mingling with actors whom they’ve most likely never met before. According to Ballachey, in previous showings the audience has taken advantage of this.

“The interesting stories that I heard were people kind of confessing things that they had never confessed before, or sharing kind of secrets that they’d be ashamed to share with anyone else,” says Ballachey.

For the undercurrents festival, the play will be shown in the bar of the Arts Court Studio, so people can watch for free, or join in on the fun for $12 a ticket. The play is approximately 30 minutes long and allows for eight audience members to participate at a time.

Ballachey encourages those interested in participating to be open to the possibilities the play affords and “let spontaneity happen.”