Review by Walter Monheit Jr.
Created by Robert Motum
Advisors: Dr. Andy Houston and Dr. Marcel O’Gorman
A Fourth Year Honours Project, Department of Drama and Speech Communication
“What you are witnessing is a performance created by a senior drama student at the University of Waterloo. We’re extremely sorry if this has negatively impacted your commute—this was not our intention.”
The evening was sultry. It whispered of Chaos and Old Night. What terror awaited you on…The Old Number Eight?
You catch the 8 bus at the Charles St. Terminal. The bus takes a 42 minute loop through Kitchener Downtown, Old Westmount, and the University, before returning to the bus station. You’ve been given a late model HP IPAQ personal digital assistant, a clunky looking device that works like a walkie-talkie with ear buds. You’ll be able to hear the narrator.
This worthy fellow begins with some existential musings on the isolation and forced distancing that we undergo when riding a bus, despite being crammed cheek to jowl with our fellow human beings. The bus is a metaphor, you suppose. You hear his voice in your head, droning on, subtly commandeering your attention, directing you to start noticing things going on around you. After a while, you do.
Somebody across the aisle asks you for the time. Too soon, the same person will ask again. Time requesting becomes a motif: people–actors, you presume– solicting you and other bus riders to provide that information. At one point, someone who has asked you for the time announces in a loud voice to the whole bus, “It’s 9:28!” Another person–a well-dressed young woman–turns in her seat and yells back sarcastically, “Thanks for sharing!”
You begin to notice other mini-dramas, if that is what they rise to, transpiring in the seats around you: a young man crosses the aisle to speak earnestly for a moment to another person, hand to her elbow; a woman stands in the aisle and shakes her hands as if to air-dry them; a burly man bellows about something to do with his favorite seat; a woman with pale skin is trying hard not to cry. At every stop, the principles get up, move to new seats, stand elsewhere in the aisles. But you start to lose track of who’s who. Are the folks who get on part of this thing? Some of them seem to be. They certainly act like they’re acting. But maybe that’s not an act. Is all this for your benefit? Who is the audience, anyway?
The line between actor, audience, and unwitting bus passenger blurs. You’re no longer sure who’s in this play and who isn’t. People get on and off, some in pairs and groups, and you notice they are carrying on their own conversations and interactions. Are they part of the performance? Are they merely performing their own lives, which aren’t part of this drama, yet which take on a reality that, otherwise unnoticed, the performance itself has served to cast in relief? We’re all on the bus together, and now you’re noticing your fellow travellers as discrete and crucial entities, as if in the past they had only been stage dressing for you, the only character who really mattered.
Meawhile, a tall, lanky fellow is sharing some hand lotion with another young man. Not something you see every day. He’s describing with fluid hand gestures…what?… a video game, a movie, an event? You can’t tell. The burly man is still whining about his favorite seat, insisting someone move so he can sit there; the attractively dressed young woman from before is on her feet, looking pensive.
In what seems to be a dramatic climax, a scruffy man takes a young woman into his arms for a swooning kiss. Then a bus stop is reached and he leaps off. “Did you know him,” someone asks? The young woman, looking distressed, waves the question off. She disembarks at the next stop, and appears to walk back toward the previous one.
It’s all become too much. You fiddle with the IPAQ, try to return to your own space, to screen out these impingements on your armor. You know you have failed some kind of test. You were a voyeur, but you didn’t learn to embrace those whom you viewed. What of it? It was all a play. There was no fourth wall, but thank god you had a fifth. You are ready to get off.
When you do, you return your device to the director, Robert Motum, shake his hand, thank him for the experience, then return, somewhat gratefully, to the solitude of your own car. One the way home, you notice there are a lot of people standing around, waiting at bus stops, lining the sidewalks. Not everyone is standing stalk-still. Some look to be conversing, some are moving in inscrutable ways under the faint city stars. They must all imagine they are at the centre of things, possibly seeing from the corner of their eyes your black car speeding past, a ghost in the night.