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Immersive theatre experience to explore what it means to wear clothing

This October, Swallow-a-Bicycle Theatre wants to give audiences a very different theatre experience with a topic that is literally close to the heart.

Clothing is a new production by the company that has eschewed the usual darkened theatre and passive viewing experience for something more immersive.

And as Mark Hopkins, co-creator the production and Co-Artistic Director of Swallow-a-Bicycle Theatre, said, an experience that aims to reshape people’s experience and expectation with the one thing everyone owns.

“Clothing is something that’s so ubiquitous. All of us wear clothing every day, but there’s so many complexities to it, that it really caught our imagination.”

Small groups of audiences of around 10 will have a personalized version of Clothing performed for them based on their preferences.

Audience members purchasing tickets to the performance are sent a short survey to fill out, said Hopkins, which then turns preferences like favourite colour, what style of clothing they wear, and what their size of clothing is into consideration for performers.

“When they walk into the room, they’ll be greeted by our performers, who have crafted a bespoke fashion experience for them. And then, as the experience unfolds, as a result of their choices, different things will happen.”

“They’ll be invited to do different things, so people should expect to be very active in this performance.”

Clothing is being held from October 5 through 14 at Good Thrift in Downtown Calgary. Tickets are pay-as-you want, with a suggested price of $20, and can be purchased at swallowabicycle.com.

Clothing was co-created by Barbara England, Bianca Guimarães, and Hopkins, and was produced by Vicki Chau. Christopher Duthie and Hana Al-Qadasi are starring, with assistance by Janice Chau and Deb de Brito.

A little enlightening discomfort

Hopkins said that one of the philosophies of Swallow-a-Bicycle Theatre was to create “productive discomfort.”

“What we mean by creating discomfort, is because I think often the status quo society, the status quo of the art scene, can and what we’re saying with Clothing, the clothing systems can unintentionally create harm.”

“We want to be a little disruptive, question what’s considered normal, and break down boundaries. We’re not just like making you uncomfortable for the sake of it. We’re we’re doing this to service the health and well being of artists and also our communities.”

he said that through the production, he hopes that people come out with a reshaped and also positive relationship with clothing.

The idea of Clothing, said Hopkins, has been one that has been in the works for nearly a half-decade.

He said the original genesis of the idea came about from participation in the 10-Minute Play Festival, where there was a production about why cast members in a play wear certain pieces of clothing and what they wish they could have worn.

He said the the current production borrows from a concept brought back from Brazil by Guimarães, which encourages creators to eschew thinking about a production in advance, and instead see what emerges from the process of making theatre.

That concept extends to how audiences will participate in Clothing.

“We are drawing a lot on the experience of shopping. Some people think about clothing a lot, I am personally not a person who thinks about clothing a lot. I have a very utilitarian relationship with clothing where you know, it’s kind of chilly out today, I put on a sweater. But in that relationship, I’m missing a huge chunk of the life of my sweater.”

“It was made somewhere in the world, using materials that were probably sourced in other places in the world. There’s so many people whose labor was involved in making this sweater. And then eventually I’m going to get rid of it either by donating, or throwing it out, and what happens to them like does it get go to landfill, Aas they get recycled. So I think what we’re trying to highlight in this show.”

And even though the traditional theatre experience tends to be more passive, said Hopkins, the concept of what makes theatre work remains despite being participatory.

“It reflects traditional theatre is that choices have consequences, and that’s true in our shopping as well. What we choose to buy, what we choose to engage in has consequences in the world.”

“When someone makes a choice in Shakespeare to murder their father, there are consequences to that decision. So folks should be prepared to see what could be a seemingly innocuous choice spin out in ways that they wouldn’t have expected.”