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New Societies: fresh theatre

by | Jun 5, 2022 | Review | 0 comments

publicity photo for New Societies

Building a utopia: choices and consequences.

As I’m writing this, Re:Current Theatre’s New Societies is finishing up the last matinée of its run at Vancouver’s rEvolver Festival. The good news is that it’s going to be touring in Ontario this summer.

I knew when I booked this show that its short Vancouver run was going to be over by the time I could write about it, but I wanted to see New Societies because it came highly recommended as an innovative good time. It delivered.

New Societies is a theatrical game. When you enter the space, which feels like a casino, you get slotted into one of eight teams. Each team, which consists of up to five people, is guided through the experience by a croupier, a cast member who doles out cards, tokens, and sometimes-cryptic information. Together, your team sets about trying to construct a utopia on a new planet, with each team taking charge of a geographic area. I was from the East.

Together, you and your team face an endless stream of decisions — starting with how you’re going to make decisions: consensus, majority rule, rotating authority? You manage your resources. You buy and sell land if you want. You debate how much you’re going to spend on infrastructure as opposed to, say, the arts.

And you consider ethical questions. I don’t want to give too much away, but they involve things like crime, scientific experiments, and kids who are having trouble adjusting to their new home planet. Are you getting the idea? It’s frickin’ great. And it’s intense.

I was fascinated by watching how my teammates and I negotiated our relationships: those interactions were mostly what I talked about with other audience members after the show. It turns out I’m a ridiculous risktaker whose arguments pushed the East to the brink of self-destruction.

Structurally, New Societies, which was created by Toronto’s Re:Current Theatre and directed by Brian Postalian, is fantastically complex and well thought out. Your team’s every move and decision is recorded on a computer program — Sam Mackinnon designed the digital platform — and there are consequences for every action. As with a lot of art concerned with utopias, there’s a slightly creepy tone to all of this. For all of her slick charm, the “manager” of the “casino” is disturbingly omniscient. (Christian Ching’s scenography and Stefan Nazaravich’s sound design enhance this sense of unease.) But there’s also a pleasingly life-like randomness to the game’s events: out of nowhere, for instance, the East suffered a landslide and we lost half our resources.

The one thing I missed in New Societies’ two-hour running time was levity. At one point, I asked my croupier, “Doesn’t anybody ever party on this planet?” After well more than an hour of non-stop strategizing, I was in desperate need of a dance break.

That didn’t come but, when I left, I was satisfied. One way of understanding theatre is that it’s about assembly and social reflection — and it’s exciting when a company like Re:Current reinvents the terms for that exploration.

NEW SOCIETIES Created by Re:Current Theatre. Directed by Brian Postalian. Presented by Rumble Theatre as part of the rEvolver Festival. On Saturday, June 4 at the progress lab. No remaining performances in this run, but Re:Current is touring in Ontario from July 25 to August 15. Details will be available on the company’s site.

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