For a meditation on capitalism and our inevitable replaceability as cogs in its relentless machinery, work.txt is remarkably reassuring. Even more surprising: it’s a theatre experience that relies heavily on full audience participation yet at no point did it trigger my social anxiety. Presented by The Theatre Centre for a limited run, creator Nathan Ellis’s interactive piece draws the audience out of their role as passive spectators and has them, well, perform the show!
Arriving in the space, we are confronted with a large projection screen, an ink-jet printer, a pile of wooden blocks and two standing microphones. Prompts on the screen direct the audience to take the blocks and place them somewhere in the space. A single, plucky individual must start, but we quickly become an efficient, collaborative unit building a little wooden city on the stage. When our sprawling, improvised construction is graced with some atmosphere—theatrical lighting, mist and soundscape—it suddenly feels purposeful and we’re proud of it.
It’s our’s. We built it.
From there, prompted by text on the screen, we deliver the show’s dialogue—sometimes en masse, sometimes in groups, sometimes solo. A lot of humour and a rather authentic sense of solidarity comes from the random, intensely relatable categories the show divides us into. People who get up before 6am, people who prefer red wine, people who hate interactive theatre, people who would rather be watching Netflix—if and when we identify, we speak.
Sometimes people get up and do scripted scenes. The show fully acknowledges how potentially uncomfortable some people might be with all of this. One of Ellis’s great achievements here is the way the components of this experience gently break down our alienating defences and help us see surrounding strangers as ultimately safe and supportive.
Most of our time together is very funny; a communal joy and collective excitement fill the theatre. There are also eerie, sad and existentially terrifying moments. Carefully considered elements of the show guide us to fixate on the mundane, demoralizing experiential void of meaning that lurks beneath so much labour. It is a chilling reminder of our mortality and insignificance. But the sense of community fostered here serves as a whimsical bastion against the doom-spiralling triggered by this banal fact of our lives: a strategic dehumanization of many for the profit of the outrageously privileged few.
The dizzying finale starts off as a simple epilogue referencing labour activism, climate change and late-stage capitalism, but evolves into increasingly speculative, absurdly cosmic fever dream ramblings about a possible distant future. It’s mesmerizing, though not nearly as fun as the sing-a-long segment that precedes it. Oh, that was glorious!