Surreal is an interactive and roaming theatre experience through Gastown. Photo by George Lawson Photography.
Surreal is an interactive and roaming theatre experience through Gastown. Photo by George Lawson Photography.

Vancouver’s Surreal Theatre makes its debut with an original new play, Surreal, an interactive and roaming theatre experience through the backstreets and alleys of Gastown.

Written and directed by brother and sister team Nick and Darby Steeves, Surreal tells the story of Tom and Charlie who haven’t spoken in years, but a chance meeting in Gastown thrusts them back into each others lives. While their perspectives on life have changed, they still understand one another better than they know themselves, forcing them to confront choices they couldn’t have on their own.

We find out more from co-writer and director, Nick Steeves.

[dropcap]Q[/dropcap]Where did the idea for Surreal come from?

A couple of years ago I saw a play in New York called Sleep No More. It takes place inside of a warehouse that has been designed to look like a 1930’s hotel. In it there are dozens of actors that you can follow around and interact with. I found this to be a much more engaging experience than traditional stage theatre and wanted to create something like it in Vancouver. The story lines of the two characters are taken from my own experiences and observations throughout my life in Vancouver.

[dropcap]Q[/dropcap]Do your characters Tom and Charlie come from real life?

Yes, Tom’s character is derived from my own personal experience in the tech industry and with others I have worked with. Charlie’s is derived from experiences of several people I have known throughout my life.

[dropcap]Q[/dropcap]You and your sister wrote and are directing Surreal together, what has it been like working with your sister?

It’s been great. Our talks have always been really constructive and positive. We’ve always had a great relationship throughout our lives. We are seven years apart in age, so we have not always had a ton in common, so I thought this would be a great project to work on together.

[dropcap]Q[/dropcap]Surreal is interactive theatre – what can audiences expect?

In Surreal the audience is a part of each character’s subconscious. This means that the characters will speak directly to them, just as if they would be speaking to themselves in their mind. There are also several points in the story where the audience has to help the actors solve several puzzles to progress the story.

[dropcap]Q[/dropcap]How do you manage audience members that might not be comfortable with being interactive?

Audience members are not forced to speak or interact directly if they don’t want to. The actors generally speak to the audience as a whole, so no audience member will be put on the spot to interact.

[dropcap]Q[/dropcap] How do you prepare your actors for the interactive part of the show?

We’ve done a lot of on-site rehearsals with friendly audience members to get them prepared for different scenarios. They’ve also acted out contingency plans for environmental intrusions, including cross-walks, emergency vehicles and non-audience interactions.

[dropcap]Q[/dropcap] The play is described as a “roaming theatre experience” – can you tell us more? What does that mean for an audience?

The audience follows the actors as they walk through Gastown, stopping at various points throughout the story for different scenes.

[dropcap]Q[/dropcap] Did you write the play with its Gastown locations in mind?

Yes. The streets and alleys in Gastown have so much character and history in them, which Tom and Charlie have as well, so it’s the perfect location for the play.

[dropcap]Q[/dropcap] Why should someone come see Surreal?

Surreal offers an experience in the lives of two characters who share with many young Vancouverites, in way that’s much more personal and engaging than traditional theatre. My hope is that it will not only delight regular theatre patrons, but also people who don’t normally attend theatre.
Surreal plays at a secret location in Gastown on Tuesdays and Fridays from June 28 to September 30. Visit http://surrealtheatre.com for tickets and information.