I have a soft spot in my heart for the Italian Canadian company DopoLavaro Teatrale ever since I first experienced their unique and fully immersive theatre production a few years ago. Their actors took me through the alleyways and streets of downtown Toronto not just as a spectator but a full-on participant. It was an unforgettable experience that I still talk about to this day. I’ve taken friends and family to subsequent productions and they too have had the same raving experience. The latest production, The Spectators’ Odyssey – o dell’Inferno, is set to run from November 2 to 14 with not one, but two theatrical experiences happening simultaneously.
Developed with the support of TO Live, The Spectators’ Odyssey – o dell’Inferno, is an immersive, contemporary multimedia theatrical experience that takes the audience behind the scenes of two of Toronto’s most iconic buildings making the audience the central character in the narrative they experience.
Created by Daniele Bartolini, artistic director, The Spectators’ Odyssey – o dell’Inferno represents a major expansion in terms of form in the way it combines the immersive qualities of alternate reality gaming and the emotional impact of high-level theatre to deliver a choose-your-own-adventure experience with deep emotional stakes.
We had the opportunity to learn more about the production form Bartolini…
Danté’s Inferno and Homer’s The Odyssey, how did you landed on these two to serve as inspiration?
DB: They are two voyages, epic and visionary, that connect a web of ancient and mythic stories. These stories are immortal. This creation looks at a golden thread that catapults archaic stories into our contemporary world. We know that Homer pulled from the oral tradition, Virgil looked at Homer, Dante looked at Virgil who looked at Homer. Today in Toronto we take inspiration and reimagine these epic poems, placing the spectator at the centre of the narrative: they therefore become Dante lost in the underworld, Ulysses lost in the ocean of the human experience. Homer and Dante are two visionaries, revolutionaries, who project humans, with their mortality, into the inexplicable – and unspeakable – world of the god(s). The mysteries and enigmas of the cosmos.
Participants are taking behind the scenes at one of Toronto’s most cherished performance venues, a rarity in itself. How did this opportunity come up?
DB: This creation is conceived to throw the audience in the mystery of creation. It is about stepping into the world normally hidden to the spectator, the backstage. Giving light to the underworld of the secrets of theatre, when the curtain is closed. Therefore being in an iconic Toronto venue was fundamental. Josephine Ridge and I connected during the pandemic, and a wonderful collaboration with TO Live and DLT started. This piece has always been conceived to be in a theatre. Pre-pandemic the show was set to open at National Arts Centre in Ottawa and it was developed in association with National Arts Centre’s National Creation Fund. It is a creation about theatre conceived for large scale theatrical spaces, conceived for the theatre as a whole, the theatron, the place where the mortal beholds. With this piece we want to generate an intimate encounter between the spectator and the agitation of the inspirations of the artistic and theatrical soul. In addition to this, like in every DLT show, you are then invited to step in the threshold of reality and artifice and you will find yourself lost outside, in a neighbourhood at night time. The theatre explodes and opens the gates of the real living street.
The experience also helps to support Toronto’s theatre industry. What can you tell us?
DB: There are about forty extraordinary artists working on this show. A stellar team of collaborators coming from different disciplines and practices, an odyssey of people and artistic forms. The international creative team of Italian and Canadian artists includes video direction by Canadian filmmaking legend Bruce MacDonald, choreographer Esie Mensah, poet and writer Luke Reece, co-Director, Technical Director and Sound Designer Matteo Ciardi, Montreal based singer Fred Péloquin, journalist and writer Megan Williams, experimental musician Andrea Gozzi, Italian Canadian performer Maddalena Vallecchi Williams and many more.
There are many layers to the productions that are outside of traditional theatre and you’ve created some incredible experiences. What inspired this unique way of telling stories?
DB: Lots of it comes from direct life experience of being an immigrant in this country. I found myself lost in the city of Toronto shortly after arriving here, walking around and looking at strangers around me. At a certain point I had the idea that this displacement could become a performance itself. It is as if the city became a stage.
Some of other inspirations is that at DLT we have a profound love for work that questions the basics of any art form and that reinvents it. We find ourselves interested when there are intrusions of different art forms and mediums and how these push the concept of what is considered theatre (or art in general, life). We are interested in work that is ephemeral and unrepeatable, brought to life by the encounter of audiences and artists. The audience is the centre of our work, and this is why we call it audience-specific theatre. We design experiences/adventures where your role is shifted from viewer to protagonist and where you are invited to let your imagination go.
Covid has created some additional challenges for every industry. How has it affected the way you’re presenting these new works?
DB: The Spectators’ Odyssey – o dell’Inferno is conceived to happen with the restrictions in place due to the pandemic, by bringing a small group of 8 spectators at a time together, safely and distanced to a live and in-person event. We believe that having a limited number of audience members at a time will be an ideal reintroduction to live theatre for the public. They will have the opportunity to experience a live show again in an intimate and safe environment without the possible anxiety of being in a large crowd of people. Previously, in the Summer of 2020, DLT presented a live, in-person production during the pandemic at the Venice Biennale. We gained hands-on experience as to how we can safely bring audiences back to live events.
Differently from other DLT shows, where the performers interact physically with the audience members, for example by holding hands, painting together or dancing in close proximity, this show has been created in a way where the spectator-performer connection is still at the heart of the show, but without any physical touch.
There are two productions, how do we select what to do first?
DB: Audiences are strongly encouraged to see both. The two journeys are interconnected and designed in a way that it does not matter which one you see first, like in some Cortazar’s or Calvino’s novels you can choose your path, what to see first. So, how should you choose? Flip a coin and see what comes to you.
The invitation is to go towards the unknown, towards life.
“Midway along the journey of my life I found myself…”
How do you want to continue?
Blue or Red?
The Spectators’ Odyssey – o dell ’Inferno will be performed with timed entry. Groups of 8 will begin their voyage every 15 minutes for one of two different journeys downtown Toronto, each approximately one hour. Audience can choose to do journey A or B or both.
TICKETS: $49 general/$29 arts workers per journey or combined ticket of $75 general/$55 arts workers. Tickets are available online at www.tolive.com, by phone at 416-366-7723 & 1-800-708-6754, or by email at email@example.com.
Founded in 2006 in Florence, Italy by Artistic Director Daniele Bartolini, DopoLavoro Teatrale (DLT) is devoted to audience specific creations and multi-disciplinary contemporary performance. Presenting shows that roam anywhere – alleyways and hidden corners of Toronto, foggy canals in East London, independent theatres in West Berlin, ancient markets, secret beaches in Mumbai, abandoned clocktowers in remote villages of Tuscany, deconsecrated churches in the old town of Florence and exceptional showcases such as La Biennale di Venezia. DLT is now based in Toronto. DLT pursue an artistic discourse that places the spectators at its centre – www.dltexperience.com