HIVE2: from hassled to hilarious - to June 14 at Great Northern Way Campus

HIVE2: the crowds gather

HIVE2 takes our audience selves and blurs the possibilities of what we're invited to be.

When we walk into the large, hangar-like space that used to be a Finning factory, the atmosphere is enticing. The lighting is medium-low but comfortable. Curtains and doorways close off certain parts of the building, piquing our anticipation. People gab and drink as they stand waiting at the "stations" that each of the 11 theatre companies has installed to sort out different sizes of audiences. Capacities range from 1 for The Only Animal to 18 who get to carry "The End Is Here!" signs for Rumble Productions.

So who are we as we wait in this shared space, which also houses the bar and is immersed in huge video projections of bees in a hive? Are we individuals or part of the buzzing group, as the video suggests? Are we hanging with pals, or will we interact with strangers who stand in the box beside us while we wait for the Felix Culpa show? A sense of "let's do this together!" begins to build. And then, a smell. Does the scent of chocolate chip cookies wafting from the Theatre Replacement show distract us from being audience member to being hungry kid in a childhood kitchen?

Some of the theatre comes right at us. It's impossible to avoid the bullying voice of the soldier in the Conspiracy Theatre show, which is quickly dubbed "The Guantanamo Piece" although each performance in HIVE2 is untitled. Participants were willing to wear an orange jumpsuit and earmuffs-plus-blindfold apparatus that left them dependent - and hassled by the actors - as they were rope-led through the party and outside to a metal container where they were locked, alone, for I don't know how long.

All evening, the officer in charge screams at anyone who gets in her way. I am too exhausted from a long week to be psychically self-protected enough to participate, so in that sense my interaction with her bullying is probably analogous to what goes on in the real world: overempowered anti-terrorist authority comes at so many people just carrying on their regular lives, and people resent it. I stand my ground and stare her down when she ordered me out of her way because I resent being yelled at, even while I know perfectly well that her role-playing is deliberate. She eventually accepts my reciprocating role-play (as the unintentional resistor) and ignores me. I'm sure there were many other unscripted theatre moments like that in the night; the blur between audience, actor, performance and general ambience is total in that moment.

Unlike some others, I find the layout initially confusing to navigate and thus "lose" some time having a glass of wine with my two friends before we figure out that lineups are part of the process. Then, following the HIVE guide, we mosey to the Christmas Tree to wait for the Theatre Replacement gig.

Wait times are social and laughter-filled. As the evening flows, the groove of strangers comparing experiences with each other deepens. Partying is integral to the HIVE2 setup. So I mean "long" here only in that if each performance runs 5 - 15 minutes, and if you're waiting for 10-15 minutes between them, there's no way to see all the shows.

The three works that I do get to see all ask the audience to participate differently. It's almost a shame to write about them because so much of the HIVE2 experience is the anticipation of not knowing quite what to expect.

Theatre Replacement lets the audience take the lead - but it's the audience from the night before, not the one we're in now. Last night's viewers had chosen favorite YouTube videos and the two actors, introducing themselves only as Maiko and James, act out the first three minutes of comments listed after the videos. The acting is simple and undistracting, allowing the "conversation" of unrelated comments to be the focus. The effect moved between hilarious and surprisingly ironic.

The realty tour by neworldtheatre is activist in a smart way that combines laughter with political commentary. The performance pits three different "Derek Johnstons" against each other during the tour outside and around the back to the $600+ "condo." The "Derek" from Columbia speaks in Spanish, for example, and her translation roughly is: "The amount of money you're thinking about spending on this property could buy housing for my entire village back in my country." Serious comments about being on unceded Salish territory and ridiculous descriptions of a moveable industrial sink as a state-of-the-art toilet keep the work informative without becoming pedantic.

Boca del Lupo's piece expertly takes me to a place I haven't yet been as a viewer. Lying down on our backs a crawlspace, face up, the seven of us in that group relax comfortably into our individual sets of big headphones. Gentle, almost trance-club music fills our ears; the air is warm. After two or three minutes, it seems we might enter a pure-luxury piece, a floaty, sensuous experience. But as the performance begins, the lighting changes. Now that the "ceiling" is lit, we're looking up a 20-foot industrial chute, and a wounded military man is lying on the glass a mere three feet above us. The plot is deliberately slow and dreamy, but in a nightmarish way as the man relives gunshots and other sounds of war. When a woman entered on a rope ladder from above, a betrayal happens just when we think their relationship is about comfort.

HIVE2 is fun, challenging, ridiculous, amusing, smart and so worth seeing. The literal side-by-side contrasts of shock theatre, gentle home baking and internet surfing, "impossible" staging (looking up from under the actors), happy blathering at the bar and the mysterious "but what is The Only Animal doing to people?" (among other crowd-generated rumours) brings audience members to a place where we're flexible, curious and open. We're rewarded with good theatre plus great conversations as a result.

_A Magnetic North Presentation, HIVE2 is performed by Vancouver's Boca del Lupo, Electric Company, Felix Culpa, Leaky Heaven Circus, neworldtheatre, The Only Animal, Radix, Rumble Productions, Theatre Replacement, Theatre Conspiracy and Victoria's Theatre Skam._

By Meg Walker