Created and performed by bluemouth inc., and presented as part of the 2020 Progress Festival (SummerWorks), Café Sarajevo is an immersive, interactive theatrical experience that explores borders, nationalism, and the forces that can unite and divide us.
The production takes the form of a live podcast, where two hosts interview Lucy Simic (co-creator) about her recent trip to Bosnia, her father’s birthplace. Disturbed by Trump’s presidency and the xenophobia his rhetoric has normalized, she set out to explore divided cities, places fraught with trauma from the Bosnian war, where personal and political history are caught in a festering knot.
When you first enter the space, you are given both an audio and visual headset. You may be asked to participate—lending your voice or body to any number of readings or enactments—though these instances are brief and relatively low pressure. And, of course, are requested at your comfort level.
Following the performers though music, dance, games, and 360 video, the audience is asked to examine nationalism by becoming virtual war tourists. With the help of the visual headsets, we can place ourselves on the very streets where violence occurred. As Simic describes the experience of her trip, she and fellow creator/performers (Stephen O’Connell, Mariel Marshall and Peter Musante) provide a theatrical framework.
A voice calls out for you, music hits your ear, a projected image catches your eye, a smell invites you in: your attention is drawn in all directions. One of the most intriguing notions for me was that of language—how the very words you choose in a place like Serajevo, even in the most casual scenario, can reveal your political views and mark you as a friend or foe. How you order a coffee, the name you give it, can elicit either hostility or affection.
There is a simultaneous intimacy and remoteness to the 360 video element. The ease with which one can observe, so closely, calm environments that, not so long ago, were the site of devastation—this causes the mind to bifurcate, where sensory input and imagination work separately, yet in tandem, to create an eerie tension.
Without gimmick or contrivance, Café Sarajevo is thoroughly well-executed immersive theatre that is consistently engaging and frequently moving.