Stage

As Life Begins Again, What Happened Here Reflects On Our Time At Home

Your bathtub is just one of the places you'll be asked to listen to What Happened Here
Your bathtub is just one of the places you'll be asked to listen to What Happened Here Photo by Bradley Winkler, TestTube Creative
Remember all those news stories and videos of people around the world thanking frontline workers in various forms for their herculean efforts during the darkest days of the pandemic? The clanging of pots on balconies for hospital workers. The standing ovations for paramedics. The effusive thank you’s, often accompanied by healthy tips, to grocery store workers and food delivery drivers.

These folks got, and are still getting oodles of much-deserved love.

But now, as our infections lessen, our vaccine numbers uptick and we release from isolation, Strange Bird Immersive thinks we owe kudos in another direction.

Well, two directions actually. We need to thank each other for staying home and we need to pay homage to the spaces that housed us this past year. Sure, being cooped up was hard and yes, our homes often felt like prisons on those particularly difficult days, but we and the walls that kept us apart and each other safe did really important work. Work that should be celebrated.

It’s the idea behind Strange Bird’s new audio show, What Happened Here: An Audio Tour Of Your Home As Isolation Ends (written by Haley E. R. Cooper), a 30-ish minute immersive experience that smartly treads into COVID theatrical waters without falling prey to any too-soon or maudlin pitfalls.

Instead, the show is mercifully quite light and intellectually soothing. Odd thing to say about a COVID-themed play, but then if anyone can make a year of staying home interesting upon reflection, it's Strange Bird, the company known for its utterly unique, and superbly crafted immersive offerings.

So, we strap on our earphones (the entire household can listen at the same time, but best for everyone to have their own mobile device) and happily hit play on the user friendly technology (kudos for making this show a breeze to navigate) as we wander around our homes and listen to the show.

Go to the kitchen, or the bathroom, or your office the various instructions tell us in pleasant tones. In each room we’re asked to recall how we spent time in these spaces. How they morphed to our needs. What about them we found comforting. Look at these spaces anew, as we prepare to spend less time in them.

But our memories aren't the only ones in this show. We listen to a series of real-life stories (read by the authors) about what pandemic life was like for them in the kitchen, bathroom, office, living room, and bedroom. Most stories are familiar, even if the experience wasn’t exactly the same as ours. Weird food situations, habits forming, things missed and then provided by ones we care about. We smile at the funny and sweet moments, which are plentiful. And we’re grateful that the one heavier memory isn’t played for heavy drama and ultimately has a positive outcome.

We’re also grateful that we’re asked to be part of the show. After a year of endless passive watching and listening, interacting, even with an audio recording, is most welcome. We pick something specific from each room according to the instructions and bring it to the kitchen table to form a tableau of sorts.

What we realize is that these objects are a representation of the hard work we did staying home. Relics of our isolation, some to be tossed out now and others to be continually used, but perhaps in different ways, or with different meanings. Regardless, they are the 'we were here' shadow we've all cast this past year.

The notion of alone apart so that we can be together again isn’t something we weren’t aware of. But in doing it for so long, it’s possible we’ve lost touch with the gratitude of our voluntary collective efforts and the safety that our spaces afforded us.

It's nice of Strange Bird to remind us of it.

What Happened Here: An Audio Tour Of Your Home As Isolation Ends  is Pay What You Can. Visit strangebirdimmersive.com/whathappenedhere for tickets. Suggested donation $5.
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Jessica Goldman was the theater critic for CBC Radio in Calgary prior to joining the Houston Press team. Her work has also appeared in American Theatre Magazine, Globe and Mail and Alberta Views. Jessica is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.
Contact: Jessica Goldman