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Live theatre coming to Lansdowne with 'C-O-N-T-A-C-T'

The play, which asks its audience members to listen through their headphones in an outdoor setting, explores the psychological toll of social isolation.
2021-07-21 C-O-N-T-A-C-T theatre
Artist rendering of live, outdoor theatre production C-O-N-T-A-C-T in Ottawa. Photo/ C-O-N-T-A-C-T

C-O-N-T-A-C-T is a new play, and a new kind of play, coming to Ottawa.

Written during the pandemic, and based loosely on pandemic lockdowns, C-O-N-T-A-C-T uses social distancing protocols and digital cellphone technology to give the its audience the experience of suspended animation in a safe, socially-distanced, outdoor space.

The story is almost mythological. Beginning at the Horticultural Building, the 45-minute play follows Sarah, a 20-something woman who has lived in an existential haze of groundhog days where everyday is the same for too long. As the play progresses, Sarah meets Raphael, an angel-like character who steers Sarah toward something resembling resolution. A “Sarah's Odyssey” if you will.

What makes C-O-N-T-A-C-T timely is its use of digital technology.

Masked, the actors don't speak their lines, but convey their thoughts and bits of dialogue through a pre-recorded soundtrack linked through to the audience's cell phones. Not only is it expected to bridge the social distancing gap, it's supposed to give the audience a powerful, almost cinematic sense of intimacy with the play's characters, as if they can read the thoughts of the two characters.

At the same time, it emphasizes the character's sense of isolation and confusion.

“It's a unique theatrical experience,” says the production's director Charles Roy. “The show speaks to COVID without necessarily being about COVID. It's very timely.”

“It feels like you're overhearing someone else's thoughts. It works brilliantly, and the climax is very emotional, cathartic. It's a gripping, engrossing 45-minute experience. Isn't that what we all been waiting for?”

Presented by the Glebe Business Improvement Area, the City of Ottawa and the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, C-O-N-T-A-C-T was originally created in Paris as an experiment in live performance during pandemic. Geared to younger audiences, the original Paris production caused such a sensation, it moved to London, where it ran in three separate productions simultaneously for six weeks to accommodate demand.

The artistic director for the Elgin and Wintergarden Theatres in Toronto, Roy secured the rights for the Canadian premiere at Dundas Square and College Park in June, and began directing the Ottawa production, with others planned for Montreal and Vancouver.

The Glebe BIA secured the production to reinvigorate a COVID-weary Lansdowne Park and Glebe retail sector.

“This is an exciting...opportunity for people to reconnect with the arts in a dynamic setting,” says Glebe BIA executive director Andrew Peck. “We are thrilled to bring this one-of-a-kind theatrical experience to Landsdowne.”

C-O-N-T-A-C-T opens on July 22 and continues with six shows weekly until the Labour Day weekend. Tickets are available here.

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