It’s like Night at the Museum, except in this case it’s not dusty dinosaur bones roaring to life but a Red Cross volunteer, a new immigrant and an immigration officer.
Live History, a theatre group based in Ottawa, travels the world offering interactive experiences at museums and historic sites. At their first stop ever at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 this week, they’ve orchestrated a production which show designer Joshua Kitz describes as Amazing Race meets an escape room. It’s called In Time and involves live performances, interactions with characters, tasks to complete, and people running around from exhibit to exhibit finding answers before the clock runs out.
“You’re interacting with live performers, some of whom are exhibits that have come to life and some who are members of S.N.E.E.Z.E. (the fictional Security Novices Examining Enigmas and Zoology) who are trying to keep control of these exhibits that are causing chaos in the museum,” Kitz said.
Every 15 minutes a new wave of participants enters the Assembly Hall where Martha, a no-nonsense immigration officer, tells them to pick a track: immigration officer, Red Cross volunteer, new immigrant, or S.N.E.E.Z.E. officer. There’s a different-coloured checklist for each track and they have 50 minutes to find the clues.
Success means they have a new job title and can sign the register, or are welcomed as new immigrants to Canada. Failure could mean they have to sing a Christmas carol in another language or are handed their deportation papers.
“If someone’s coming in they shouldn’t be afraid of failing. It’s actually quite amusing if you fail,” Kitz said.
The characters mingle with clue-hunters while chatting with each other and dropping clues. There are also several scheduled scenes throughout the day. While the actors perform, the audience pays close attention and scribbles answers on their checklists.
Bert Bertolo, who had three kids aged 10-14 in tow, was one of the first to take the challenge on Monday morning.
“Why? Because it’s March Break and we figured we would keep the kids busy and do something,” he said. “Hopefully it’s easy enough for the kids to do. I’m hoping it’s not too hard.”
It was tough to tell who was
more intent on scoring the answers: Dad or the kids.
Throughout his 50 minutes Bertolo was weighing fake loaves of bread, asking for answers from the actors, searching the exhibits and trying on a Red Cross apron while one of the kids took a photo. In the end, it was success for Bertolo and his crew. It was a challenge but everyone did well.
In her white hat and Red Cross uniform circa 1948, Jasmine Bowen (a.k.a. Sasha, the Red Cross volunteer) said this kind of performance is super fun. She said people get really into it because it truly feels like they’re stepping
into Pier 21 in 1948.
Since it’s not scripted and the audience is asking questions, the actors have to really know their characters. It involves an awful lot of research, said Bowen, who is in character for several hours a day all week.
“We at Live History make sure all of our actors are very talented in improv and we make sure they research their characters quite well. All the characters we’re playing here today are not real people but they represent many real people who came through the pier.”
Through her research, Bowen said she discovered the Red Cross volunteers at Pier 21 were very selfless people.
“Some of them came through as immigrants and wanted to help immigrants coming through and some of them were Canadians who were so welcoming and they opened their hearts and
homes and donated supplies,” she said.
She added the volunteers helped newcomers find where to go, find resources and contact their families.
“Because three of our characters are set in the late ’40s you get that experience and context from interacting with them.' Kitz said.
“It also allows the museum to come alive in a different way, and to engage it in a different way because you’re looking for things you wouldn’t normally be looking for.”