This Friday, the inaugural edition of 360 Screenings will give new meaning to "surround sound" by bringing beloved movies from the screen to real life.
You could call it a screen-age dream: to be able to touch, breathe, and interact with the world of one of your favourite movies. For instance, to feel the earth shudder at the approach of a brontosaurus in Jurassic Park. To request a song from Sam in Casablanca. To take a shower in the motel room in Psycho. So far, our own imaginations have had to fill in for the real thing. Until now, that is.
Ned Loach and Robert Gontier aim to make these dreams a reality for Toronto’s filmgoers. Through a mix of film and live performance, their project, 360 Screenings, is much more than a pair of 3D glasses. It aims to give audiences the smells, touches, sounds, and even the tastes of some favourite movies. They’re billing it as “Toronto’s first immersive cinema event.”
“There is a lot about film that lends itself to being recreated in a space,” says Loach, a lifelong film and theatre lover who knows his way around both art forms. “If it has a really strong concept of a universe, it lends itself very well to being recreated on a stage.”
With the inaugural edition of 360 Screenings happening this Friday, Gontier and Loach have been busy preparing a secret location, down to the props, music, food, and characters, to let their audiences literally step into the evening’s film—even if they don’t know what it is, initially.
“We want to create a sense of mystery. We’re really trying to hype that up,” says Loach. “The first half is spent just exploring and engaging and interacting with as much of the venue as possible. We want to break traditional expectations of an audience, touch as much as possible, move things around … if they didn’t know what movie they were going to be seeing before, they start to make the connections with what they’ve seen and recognize the characters, a crime scene, or the props.”
“Immersive theatre” productions similar to 360 Screenings have been huge hits with audiences in Europe and New York for a few years now. Some examples include the British company Punchdrunk and their Macbeth-inspired Sleep No More, also a major success in New York; Michael Sheen’s 72-hour-long The Passion; the recently finished Babel in London; and Calgary playwright Melanie Jones’s Endure, now on a UK tour. Toronto has likewise had its share of interactive theatre, including Necessary Angel’s seminal 1981 production Tamara, which was staged in Strachan House. Lately, local companies have getting in on the trend once again. There’s a remount of Dance Marathon this month, as well as a brief run of Uncanny House’s Hansel and Gretel “performance installation” The Hunger, opening this Thursday. The timing of 360 Screenings is right on schedule.
“We’re not selling the film itself, we’re selling the experience,” says Loach. “We love what’s happening in London and New York; now we’re taking those ideas and putting our own spin on it.”
“It really resonated with us,” he adds. “We’re hoping it resonates with Toronto audiences as well.”
Loach, who recently left his job as an associate producer and special events coordinator at Soulpepper Theatre to focus on his new project full time, plans on structuring the 360 Screenings “seasons” as a theatre company would. He hopes to complete two more events in 2012, though eventually he and Gontier would like to bump it up to five per year, each show with a two-week run in one of a few local heritage buildings that can fit anywhere from 200 to 500 people at once. Sleep No More has had no problem fetching those numbers in New York City week after week with a $90 ticket, but 360 Screenings has the added appeal of good, old-fashioned escapism, Loach says.
“Anything is possible in film. You can really do anything now with the technology that’s available,” he says. “It’s a departure from real life, and we’re exploring that. We’re hoping to have people step into a different world we’ve created, and at the end of the night they can return to their real lives.”