Presented by Toronto Fringe, the Primetime Festival opened this week. There are five shows in total, scheduled for specific live performances and some on-demand access during the month of November. The defining aspects of the festival are its diversity, accessibility and interactive opportunities.
You access the festival entries though the gather.town app and are then lead into a performance space on that platform or on Twitch or Zoom. There are festival front-of-house staff available 30 minutes prior to showtime to guide you through any of the technical aspects of the apps. It’s a good idea to set-up a Twitch and/or Zoom account ahead of time, to help make the process as smooth as possible.
The gather.town app has a definite old school video game appeal. Your avatar and the environments appear in 8-bit style graphics. The keyboard controls are very simple and you can enable personal video and audio as required.
Performed by creator Velvet Wells (The Velvet Duke) and presented solely on gather.town, Djinn Joint invites us into the world of dJerald the Djinn, a self-defined “people pleaser,” who finds joy and meaning in the granting of wishes. We learn that the deadline for his million-wish contract looms large, threatening his retirement.
During the show, the audience can the submit wishes that will make inform much of the content. Participants are invited to join mini-committees to vote on the these wishes. The specific voting criteria is haphazard. Sometimes they are judged on their validity; at other times it feels as if the practicality of satisfying the wish is the determining idea.
The inconsistencies are immaterial, it is the interaction itself that seems to be the point of the voting, the chance for participants to move their avatar into a space where everyone can potentially see and/or hear them. dJerald the Djinn sings a little improvised ditty about each wish; these are charming and cringe-y in equal measure.
dJerald the Djinn alludes to an inner conflict between people-pleasing and dismantling the trope of the “magical Black man.” Though this idea is fraught and intriguing, it is never unpacked. Examining this resonant notion would have made for a less tranquil experience for the audience, but the lack of exploration feels like a missed opportunity.
Wells voice is undeniably soothing and the created space feels very warm and accepting. The wishes themselves, and our communal appreciation of them, create a satisfying balance of the frivolous and heartfelt. Though this feels less like crafted theatre than a low-key hang-out with strangers, Wells is a charismatic host and keeps the vibe chill and engaging.
Mind of a Snail’s Project-A-Sketch has a similarly cooperative feel. Creators Jessica Gabriel and Chloe Ziner have crafted a whimsical and psychedelic experience. After the gather.town intro, the audience is lead into a twitch.tv stream. Live from their living room, with overhead projectors and a multi-camera set-up, we delve into a magic portal where communal creativity reigns.
The audience votes on one of three objects to be their guide into the portal. At the performance I attended, the endearing little frog-human hybrid creature won out. As the frog-person dives into the portal, the audience is taken to a space with interactive tech that allows us to collectively create some fanciful content.
I’ve been a long-time fan of Mind of a Snail. Their hand-crafted shadow-theatre is consistently playful and deeply evocative. The style is immersive and kaleidoscopic, incorporating an array of startling perspectives, traveling scenery and seamless, imaginative transitions.
It is possible to view the show without your own Twitch account, but having a Twitch account allows you to access the chat function during the stream. Like Djinn Joint, interaction is key here. Gabriel and Ziner mine the chat for some very inspired improvisation. It’s a game and you’ll want to have some cards on the table.
Oh, and I developed a pretty intense crush on Ziner’s Corey the tech guy persona. Corey’s affable vibe is a definite highlight as the very meta bridge between the phantasmagorical world and the nuts-and-bolts of the creation process.