ERASER is an immersive and interactive production. With an ensemble cast of six performers, the audience is invited into the experiences of a set of Grade 6 students at the beginning of a new school year. This collaborative effort, directed and choreographed by Bilal Baig and Sadie Epstein-Fine, is presented at The Theatre Centre as part of Why Not Theatre’s 2019 RISER Project.
When you first enter the space, you are given a photo nametag of the performer/character you’re meant to follow during the show. I was placed with Jihad, a Lebanese boy with an artificial leg and a deep love of pizza. Before the show begins, each small group of audience members spends a few minutes getting to know the character who will be their guide throughout.
As the new school year unfolds, old friends reunite, new friends are made and they all must face fears, share knowledge and resolve conflicts as they arise. The tensions range from slight to relatively traumatic. There’s an awkward first kiss in phys-ed class, teasing about “stinky” foreign food over lunchboxes, and well-meaning yet indelicate condolences for the death of a family member. These moments feel intimate and truthful with this dynamic and compelling cast: Christol Bryan, Marina Gomes, Yousef Kadoura, Tijiki Morris, Anthony Perpuse, and Nathan Redburn.
Your experience of the story is an extension of your guide’s as you follow them through their school day. You can roam freely if you choose, but I discovered it’s best to stick with your guide and discover the other characters as interactions occur. This way, each group experiences the story dynamically, from slightly different perspectives, their attention pulled this way and that as dramatic episodes erupt in the periphery.
I figured grade school would be quite different now from my experiences of about thirty years ago, but I was thoroughly disconcerted by just how intensely familiar everything felt. It was oddly cathartic to be reunited with the sights and sounds I remember from my adolescent life, to re-discover through young eyes how discussion and empathy are essential to building community.
If I were to highlight a particular aspect of this production out of the many that impressed me, it would be this: while I felt anxious and self-conscious about the format of this show as it was first introduced to me, I found myself completely drawn into this world as it revealed itself. Baig, Epstein-Fine and their creative team have achieved something rather remarkable here: relevant topics—cultural sensitivity, disability, sexuality, etc.—seem to rise to the surface organically, rather than as talking points.
And, most telling perhaps, I miss all of these characters very much.
ERASER is a thoughtful and exceptionally well-executed piece of interactive theatre for all ages.
ERASER runs May 7 to May 14, 2019
at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West)
see website for info and tickets