Director Byron Laviolette doesn’t want to whitewash disturbing truths about science and humanity.
Spreading like the fictional outbreak at the centre of their apocalyptic sci-fi story, ZED.TO's ambitious experiment in large-scale interactive theatre is sweeping the city - and redefining the relationship between audience and performer in the process.
The last of three live, interactive instalments of ZED.TO's sweeping saga (the first two occurred at the Fringe and Nuit Blanche) will situate participants within the downfall of fictional biotech corp ByoLogyc, amid an epidemic caused by their deadly BRX virus.
This time the action takes place at the Brick Works in the Don Valley, and audience members can choose between four unique experiences or roles in the drama, from the grassroots resistance movement to the company's opulent board.
In addition to these three theatrical instalments, in which audiences are encouraged to interact with objects and characters, bits of the story have also been disseminated through websites, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, text messaging, robocalls, even a graphic novel. The sheer scale of the project is mind-boggling.
However, at the heart of this massive assemblage of storytelling is a simple goal: to remake theatre into an extended, interactive experience.
"We all shared a frustration with the traditional theatrical model," says director and "narrative designer" Byron Laviolette of the project's genesis three years ago.
"We wanted to find a new structure for storytelling and for building a new audience relationship that's not just them sitting in the dark. But once you let an audience stand up and open their mouths, you place a lot of power in their hands."
Laviolette credits online role-playing games and site-specific theatre as influences, but also cites important lessons learned while directing acclaimed Toronto clown duo Morro and Jasp, who are known for including audiences in their performances and for interacting in character with fans online.
"I've seen the effect that a little reach across the stage can have," says Laviolette. "I got a crash course in managing audience excitement and interactivity."
ZED.TO plays on a much-larger scale, but Laviolette says the same ideas apply.
"It's about having an end goal in mind for a given scenario, scene or performance and allowing the audience to play within that, but also being the guiding hand behind it without stepping outside the narrative."
On its surface, ByoLogyc is about the mistrust of big science and biotechnologies, but at a deeper level, it's about people and their lack of skepticism.
"The real thing under investigation is humanity's ability to delude itself, to think, ‘If it's too good to be true, maybe it's actually true.'"