TIN CAN TELEPHONE is Porch Light Theatre’s offering at this year’s digital Hamilton Fringe Festival. Written and performed by a team of high school drama students and youth leaders, aged 17 to 19, this audio drama features four diverse coming-of-age stories. Each one draws the listener in with a distinct personality and examines a specific cultural or psychological experience.
Written by Chyler Sewell, Abi is a meditation on the concepts of home and family. Indigenous identity is never mentioned explicitly, but the contextual clues are clear and poignant. She relates the sounds and textures of her home, Garden River—a world of pine trees, early morning dew and sparrow song—and her yearning to return. “Home is not perfect,” she reflects, but it is healing. Comparing this to the loud and jarring urban environment of Hamilton and the friends she has made there, she reveals an impressive ability to contain a multitude of conflicting feelings and reconcile them. A deep, quietly moving sense of appreciation pervades Abi.
Metia Irakunda’s From Congo to Kenya takes us on a journey from one African country to another as our storyteller and her family flee from war. From the perspective of a 6-year-old, the trauma of the refugee experience is certainly woven into this tale, but the overall tone is optimistic and celebratory. From the sweetness of mangos to the stress of a mother hunting desperately for a house, there is a sense of wonder and awe in every detail. Particularly vivid is her portrait of Christmas in Africa, capturing the fun and excitement of new clothes for church, visits with extended family and an abundance of food.
Sonny Duan’s The Odd is the most down-beat of the four. Set in a mental health facility, we hear an in-patient’s inner turmoil juxtaposed with her despondent behaviour. Struggling with suicidal thoughts and hinting at an inability to connect with her parents, her anger is a desperate reaction to a pervasive pain that feels deliberately abstract yet viscerally potent. “Killing myself is like killing the villain of the story and that made me the hero.” With dark musings and a harrowing moment of self-harm, this is the most cynical of the stories. Its final moment sparks a glimmer of hope without falling back on a definitively comforting resolution.
In Bruce Wu’s entry, Travel by a Friendship, he shares an experience of self-discovery and self-improvement. Touching on the immigrant experience, he relates the move from Vancouver to China and then back again for school. Determined to prove he “doesn’t need friends,” he isolates himself to focus on his academic studies. His intense self-reliance leads to some sleep and stomach problems, climaxing in a health scare underscored with an eerie high-pitched drone. Breaking him out of his comfort zone, a new friend leads to a genuinely surprising twist.
Each piece features a simple yet textured background soundscape that creates a very vivid sense of place. Designed and engineered by Emily Townshend, these atmospheric sound elements quite elegantly rise and fall with the ebb and flow of our awareness.
Under the direction of Karen Ancheta and Aaron Jan, TIN CAN TELEPHONE features a well-balanced variety of moods that maintains engagement, making each piece distinctive yet contained in an expansive, shared universe. Also, there is an in-person version of this show which promises to take audience members into special pockets of Hamilton to further the immersive experience.