With all eyes on the U.S. presidential election, the programming of Fight Night at The Cultch later this month is certainly timely.
“This is our fourth season, and when we are somewhere there are elections going on it always has a special resonance,” says company member Angelo Tijssens, by phone from Belgium. Mere days before Americans go to the polls to elect their new leader, Belgian theatre company Ontroerend Goed brings their show on elections and political manipulation to Vancouver audiences.
An interactive theatrical game, Fight Night literally puts the power into audience’s hands as they vote for their favourite candidate using handheld devices. The results are in real-time, with the outcome based on how audiences vote. But don’t expect any references to what is happening south of the border, as the version of Fight Night that Vancouver audiences will see is identical to shows that have already played around the world.
“It’s not like we’re going to start talking about Donald fucking Trump,” laughs Tijssens. “There are a few changes when we have new actors because we want their personal journey as part of the show. But we never cater to a specific audience because we don’t talk about local politics, but the mechanics of politics.”
Ironically the show has yet to play in the United States, but Tijssens says there is no need to change things up as the discussions Fight Night generates are pretty universal. “Trust me, they are the same everywhere,” Tijssens says with another laugh.
Fight Night was created in 2013 in response to the Belgian politics of the time, where it took a record-breaking 541 days for a coalition government to form in that country’s previous election.
“It always starts with some crazy idea from Alexander [Devriendt],” says Tijssens. “He had this idea about a show where audiences would vote for the actors.”
Tijssens is careful to explain though that Fight Night is not about democracy. “It is about voting,” he says. “Why we vote for someone, and how easily we are manipulated in that process.”
It is about voting. Why we vote for someone, and how easily we are manipulated in that process. – Angelo Tijssens
Receiving a voting device as they enter the theatre, audiences are manipulated by the actors on stage as they make their way to the finish line. As a result, there is potential for a different outcome each night.
“The device is like a little voting booth around their neck,” say Tijssens who goes onto explain how Ronald Reagan’s 1984 presidential campaign becomes part of the show.
“We use Ronald Reagan quotes without saying they are his quotes from his 1984 campaign,” explains Tijssens. “Regan talked about bears in the woods, which was a metaphor for the Soviet Union. Politicians use similar metaphors all the time about something lurking the dark to scare us.”
With a reputation for taking audiences out of their comfort zone with shows like Audience, Tijssens insists that Fight Night is intended to create a discussion, rather than offend.
“We want to make you feel a bit uncomfortable, but you are still safe,” he says. “It is not shock therapy, but we hope that you leave the theatre and think twice before voting, or even vote next time.”
Fight Night plays The Cultch (1895 Venables St, Vancouver) from October 18-29. Visit https://thecultch.com for tickets and information.