TBD: Liberation Through Hearing is an immersive theatrical experience
TBD: Liberation Through Hearing is inspired by the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Photo by Thomas Gould.

While a 21-day theatrical experience might sound like a daunting task, Radix Theatre’s artistic producer Andrew Laurenson wants to reassure potential audiences that TBD: Liberation Through Hearing isn’t nearly as time-consuming as it might sound.

“We know we are asking a lot of our audience, so we’ve designed things to be manageable,” he says. “Most of it is delivered to you, and most of it is consists of very short engagements.”

What Laurenson is referring to are the daily interactions that are the basis of TBD, a title that takes its inspiration from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Buddhist guide to death and rebirth.

“The Tibetan Book of the Dead is read to a dead person for forty-nine days after their death, and is a guide through the afterlife,” explains Laurenson. “We’re taking that conceit, and asking our audience to imagine they have died, and now we are their guides through the afterlife.”

Careful to point out that the company is not trying to promote Buddhism or encouraging audiences to become Buddhist – he claims none of the 80 members of the Radix collective identify as Buddhist – it is all about exploring the themes presented in the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

“It explores the ideas of living without fear, not being afraid of death, living in the moment, letting go of attachment and possessions, and avoiding distraction,” he says.

With the Tibetan Book of the Dead broken into three parts, the Radix collective realized that it also played nicely into a structure they were familiar with: that of a three-act play.

Radix Theatre artistic producer Andrew Laurenson wants to reassure potential audiences that its upcoming production of TBD: Liberation Through Hearing isn’t quite as time-consuming as it might sound.
Radix Theatre artistic producer Andrew Laurenson wants to reassure potential audiences that its upcoming production of TBD: Liberation Through Hearing isn’t quite as time-consuming as it might sound.

“Act one is about death, act two is about becoming, and three is about rebirth,” says Laurenson.

Along with trying to dispel the myth about the time commitment, Laurenson and his team are also upfront about the themes that are explored, to ensure everyone is comfortable. In fact, the Radix Theatre website goes as far as posting a warning to potential participants that says “you must be mentally and emotionally stable enough to consider notions of death and dying”.

“There is also an introductory meeting for participants so they can meet all of us to see we are not crazy,” he says with a laugh.

Along with that first get-together, there are also three half hour group activities and a closing, but the vast majority of the show is pushed to participants through their smartphones, and through an app that will be used to track their whereabouts during the course of the three weeks.

“We locate them through their smartphone which allows us to find them in public, and we intervene in their lives briefly, and benevolently,” he says.

Emphasising the “benevolent” nature of these interactions, Laurenson says that during the testing of the concept, participants found themselves expressing both joy and excitement as they went through their lives and these small exchanges popped up.

“Our test audience was never quite sure if some things were part of the show or real-life,” he says. “It heightened their awareness of what was going on around them.”

Of course, in keeping with an attempt to be as unobtrusive as possible, many of the elements are preceded by a text message to ensure that the timing of any potential interaction is okay with participants.

“Once and a while we might knock on their door, or mail them something, or deliver a package to them,” he says. “We’ve done a lot of planning for each day. Sometimes it is just a text message with a link to a podcast and other days it might be an image or something else.”

Pushing the limits of what constitutes theatre since 1998, Radix has produced shows inside an IKEA store, at a wake, in a parking lot, and even at the crosswalk at Hamilton and Georgia Streets.  With TDB though, we’re pretty sure it’s the first time they have asked its audiences to play dead.

TBD: Liberation Through Hearing plays out at various locations throughout Vancouver from October 25 to November 14. Visit http://radixtheatre.org for tickets and information.