Pushing Buttons and Boundaries: The National Elevator Project Part 2 | By: Cheryl Vandergraaf

If you have ever argued with your spouse about whether or not to circumcise your son, wondered what hell looks like, or how heavy a box of lobsters is, then you’ll definitely be able to personally relate with the characters in The Elevator Project. Attending this performance is a cool contemporary experience worthy of adding and crossing off your personal bucket-list. Eight elevators present eight different scenarios, which provides a wide array of unique stories to entertain the audience. There are glimpses of relational conundrums, the possibility of an afterlife, and the intertwined concept of mortality and time.

What prominently stood out in my experience was the playing space itself: an elevator instead of a stage. Theatre YES’s production of The Elevator Project embraces post-dramatic style by placing more emphasis on liminal playing space rather than storyline. A small audience and a few actors share the same architectural limitations, which force us not to focus on the changing numbers as we ascend or descend floors, but instead to become active participants in the performance. I worried only slightly about accidentally leaning against buttons and thus arriving on the wrong floor (which did in fact happen), but the actors embrace these real-life situations, as theatre is meant to. Suspension of disbelief is easier to reach when you are personally at the location of the action, rather than viewing an onstage replicated scene from yards away.

Spending five minutes in a standard-sized elevator can surprisingly tell you a lot about people: their history, their troubles, why they love each other (or not), and where they could hypothetically end up five years from the fifth and final minute you see them. Theatre’s purpose is to evoke empathy and stimulate connection between a person and their emotions, and the performances in The Elevator Project deliver this to their audience and continue to draw many others. What is spoken and what is left unsaid is tangibly felt rather than heard when one is standing next to shock or heartbreak. There are no stage whispers or unnecessarily exaggerated facial expressions; there is no need for them because we are part of the story due to proximity and circumstance. Even though one of the performances is spoken completely in French, there is still a level of understanding for those who don’t understand the language because of the honesty and intention with which the actor fills his character. After stepping out of the elevator, goose bumps diminish and worried, creased brows relax until you step into the next elevator, nervously excited for what’s to come. It could be anything.

If you want to find out what could possibly happen in an elevator in five minutes, if you want to discover what I mean when I say that yellow Telletubby backpacks, handstands, and assassins can all be related, then attend at least one of the two rotations The Elevator Project is performing during the Canoe Festival, which will be running until February 2, 2014. For more information, check out their website at www.workshopwest.org or phone Workshop West at (780) 477-5955 for tickets.

Photograph courtesy of Lola_TC via Flickr

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