PodPlays — not to be confused with Pod-People, who are wont to snatch bodies — are brief and portable bits of performance, conceived locally by Neworld Theatre and developed in partnership with the Playwrights’ Theatre Centre and the CBC.
PodPlays are a convergence of centuries-old storytelling and mobile device technology. The 15-minute plays are downloaded onto portable media players and listened to while walking a prescribed path, through a downtown Vancouver neighbourhood, for instance. The stories unfold against the backdrop of the surrounding cityscape.
Unlike the more common experience of sitting passively in a theatre (or the even more common Vancouver experience of sitting passively in a half-empty theatre), PodPlays rely on the audience to become active participants in the storytelling. By prompting us to follow the characters on a predetermined path — physically moving our bodies through both familiar and unfamiliar territory — these transient and immediate stories become emotionally transformative.
“The PodPlays come out of two of my interests: intimate micro-theatre performance and the disembodied storytelling of radio,” says Neworld’s co-artistic producer Adrienne Wong.
Personally, I’ve always been a huge fan of radio plays. My first introduction to Martin Short was thanks to a CBC radio play — something about a dorky lab technician, the hard-to-get girl of his dreams and a bunch of singing lab rats. It was fantastic! Or maybe I’m confusing Little Shop of Horrors with The Secret of NIMH.
This summer, Neworld will present 10 PodPlays, including Jan Derbyshire’s Dog of Your Understanding, a co-production with Screaming Weenie Productions timed to run during Pride.
Harvey, the titular dog in Derbyshire’s piece, has been commanded by his master to “stay.” And stay he has. For 140 dog-years. Now Harvey (or, more specifically, his ghost) needs us to take him for a walk on a would-be reunion journey through downtown Vancouver, following the sound of his master’s voice.
The West End gaybourhood — and at least one of its more prominent heroes — serves as a backdrop to this lasting story of a dog and his owner.
“What surprised me was how much it was like writing for film,” Derbyshire says. “The audience becomes the camera.”
That audience-as-camera point of view becomes firmly voyeuristic in CE Gatchalian’s Authentic, which begins with a hookup at the Kingston Hotel between a here-on-business New Yorker and a Vancouverite. Their online exchange is so sexually charged, they forgo the usual naked-and-headless photo swap and jump directly to the hotel room.
Their physical attraction is palpable, but both the plot and the journey around the Granville Strip take surprising turns as the intellectual and emotional attractions unfurl.
“Despite having lovers and lives that are entirely separate, every two or three years they find their way back to each other,” says Gatchalian. “It’s an intense and unconventional relationship that unfolds over 11 years.”
It’s also the most autobiographical piece he’s ever written, and condensing 11 years into 15 minutes forced Gatchalian to self-edit ruthlessly. “It would take me two or three hours to write a couple lines,” he says.
But Gatchalian seems happy with the result. Puffing up his writer’s chest a little, he promises that Authentic is “the most R-rated of the PodPlays.”
I tell him I’m glad to hear that, considering that Derbyshire’s piece is about a man and his dog.