For the past eight years, Vancouver’s Zee Zee Theatre has presented Human Library, a unique experience in which participants would ‘check out’ a human for a candid conversation about their life experiences, culture and beliefs. This year, the personal, one-on-one encounters have been adapted to the digital space as Virtual Humanity.
“This past year has been one of both intense isolation and frisson. There has been a severe lack of face-to-face interactions that are not fraught or functional,” says producer Jordy Matheson in a media release. “Virtual Humanity creates a digital space that allows for a kind of open conversation and learning. The kind which can be difficult to come by in the intense and polarized online world.”
Going onto observe that much of the division is created from people not engaging with each other and really listening, Matheson continues by saying Human Library and now its digital counterpart, Virtual Humanity forces us to face our differences straight on.
“There is no turning a blind eye, no resting in apathy. It’s two people sharing something intimate as a means to incrementally change the world,” he says.
With such titles as “Perspective of a Mixed Man,” “Indigi-Queer Identities,” “Two-Spirit and Beyond,” and “I am not a scammer,” the online edition co-curated by Sam Chimes and Bunny (Daisy Joe), will feature an array of new and returning ‘virtual humans.’
This year’s roster will emphasize representation from Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) individuals, all available for 20-minute ‘loans’ over the course of four weekends.
Going digital will also allow an opportunity for those outside the Lower Mainland to participate as ‘virtual humans’ and audience and become part of the broader conversation on challenging prejudice.
In Virtual Humanity, audience members will select a title that may intrigue or confounds them from the collection of 20+ ‘virtual humans.’ They will then proceed into a one-on-one digital conversation over Zoom with their chosen ‘virtual human,’ who will share their true personal story reflected in their title over the course of 20 minutes.
As with Human Library, organizers say the project is designed to shatter preconceived notions about otherhood, to challenge biases and misunderstandings and to put a human face to difference as a means to foster empathy. The breadth of individuals extends from Zee Zee Theatre’s core philosophy that “everyone has a story worth sharing if we simply take the time to sit down and listen to them.”
Based on an open-source project originated by Copenhagen’s Stop the Violence collective in 2000, Human Library was originally ignited by a brutal hate crime. The subsequent global movement furthered the commitment to end violence, one person at a time, by narrowing the ideological gaps that divide us.
Virtual Humanity runs online from March 6 to 28. Visit zeezeetheatre.ca for more information.