Vertical City is an award-winning interdisciplinary performance hub consisting of an evolving group of artists exploring the relationship between traditional theatrical performance and guided audience interaction. Drawing on a spectrum of approaches, including installation, spatial engineering, aerial movement, soundscape design, and intermediality, Vertical City works on a wide scale of proportions, from large architectural landscapes through participatory 1-2-1 encounters. All Vertical City projects perform a desire for intimacy – within the performance context and between the performance and its audience.
The Vertical City Project. Photo by Pil Hansen
In 2007 in Toronto the accomplished aerial artists Lori Le Mare and Diane McGrath teamed up with Bruce Barton (as director) and Pil Hansen (as dramaturg), as well as two physical theatre performers, Frank Cox O’Connell and Marc Tellez (then members of the award-winning One Reed Theatre Ensemble) and musician/composer Anne Stadlmair to work on The Vertical City Project. The project began with months of part-time collective exchanges between all participants in the effort to discover connections and intersections in our training and experience and to forge a shared “language” for further development. Through extended exercises involving demonstration, teaching, and collaboration, we progressed into the thematic and formal creation of our first production. In Spring 2008 we were invited to participate in Harbourfront’s HATCH Program of emerging performance projects. That experience concluded with two work-in-progress showings that generated enthusiastic responses from our audiences and critics.
YouTopia. Photo by Bruce Barton
In July 2010 Le Mare, Barton, and Hansen reconvened with a new set of collaborators, including master puppeteers Ann and David Powell (Puppetmongers Theatre), soundscape artist Richard Windeyer (bluemouth, inc.), puppeteer/spatial engineer Marcus Jamin, scenic designer/visual artist Sherri Hay, and lighting designer Laird MacDonald. In September 2013, after an extensive three-year development period, Vertical City premiered YouTopia in Toronto to a strongly positive critical and popular reception. YouTopia, performed by Kiran Friesen and Adam Poalozza and featuring interactive media by Jim Ruxton, represents an ambitious experiment in interdisciplinary theatrical performance, incorporating physical theatre, installation art architecture, interactive media, a complex soundscape, spatial engineering … and pole dancing. In the wake of that production, a 12-hour durational version of YouTopia was commissioned by Nuit Blanche for its 2014 event in Toronto.
All Good Things. Photo by Bruce Barton
At the same time that Vertical City has been developing large-scale physical theatre like YouTopia, it has also been experimenting with micro performance models. The 1-2-1 (solo performer, solo audience member) performance All Good Things was commissioned by Buddies in Bad Times Theatre for its 2013 Rhubarb Festival, where it enjoyed a sold-out run and strong audience response. The production, which featured script and direction by Bruce, performance by Martin Julien, and dramaturgy by Pil, was then invited to Boca del Lupo Theatre’s Micro Performance Series in Vancouver in June 2014, where it its audience was expanded to 11 spectators per performance. In November of 2014 it traveled to Halifax, where it was performed by Ben Stone (in a filled swimming pool) as part of that city’s six hour Nocturne Festival—where it was staged, once an hour, before audiences ranging from 60-100 spectators per performance. And in May 2016 it will make its way to Calgary, once again with Martin Julien performing, for a return to its intimate, 1-2-1 roots.
Trace. Photo by Bruce Barton
Vertical City’s Trace extends the intimate, interactive dynamic of All Good Things into an encounter between two performers and an audience of 20-50. Sharing deep-seated, sensory-triggered memories, the performers collaborate with the audience to compose an always unique “ghost-telling.” Co-produced by Theatre Gargantua, Trace premiered at the 2014 SummerWorks Festival in Toronto, where it earned unanimously positive reviews and received the NOW Magazine “Audience Choice” Award. In January 2017 Calgary audiences will be able to experience Trace as part of this city’s international performance festival the High Performance Rodeo.
The Rogue Show. Photo by Cameron McLennan
Vertical City’s last Toronto production of 2014 was a collaboration with Allen Kaeja and Kaeja d’Dance entitled The Rogue Show. Kaeja’s first solo performance after decades of celebrated choreography throughout the world, The Rogue Show was an intense and intensely intimate tour de force. Directed and co-choreographed by Bruce with his signature immersive and participatory approach to performance, it offered its enthusiastic audiences a physical, philosophical, and emotional workout.
In January of 2015, Vertical City relocated to big sky country in Calgary, Alberta, and the city has greeted us more warmly than we could have hoped for. Our first performance in our new home took place in October and was a co-production with the celebrated Ghost River Theatre. Taste was an immersive experience hosted by Calgary’s celebrated in which blind-folded audience members, either singly or in groups of 2 or 3, were served a six-course taster menu while engaging in an intimate exchange with a solo performer. Working from Bruce’s site-specific script, Taste provided its participants with an intense and intimate sensory experience. The production was offered as part of the 2015 Beakerhead smash-up of art, science and engineering.
Taste. Photo by Bruce Barton
At the same time, we’re continuing our long and fruitful collaborations with our friends across the country, such as our current project tiny with Zuppa Theatre in Halifax. For full information about our projects–those past and those coming on stream–visit the Projects section of our site.