I’ve been thinking a lot about how arts groups are navigating canceled shows during this crisis.

So I was delighted by a recent discovery at one of Vancouver’s hardest hit attractions. Drawn by the promise of Lee’s Donuts and an aromatic coffee from JJ Bean, I meandered Granville Island like a tourist last week, peering at beads and blown glass, hoping the resident artists are able to weather this unpredictable morass of financial uncertainty.

I noticed an old timey phone booth and a written invitation to take part in an immersive play. Aptly titled Red Phone, it’s a project by theatre group Boca del Lupo, conceived by Sherry Yoon and designed by Jay Dodge, with technology by Carey Dodge.

There are 13 plays in all, created by playwrights from across Canada. I chose Sorry, written by Winnipeg playwright Ginny Collins. It explores the simmering resentment between two family members in a stilted phone exchange.

I entered the freshly sanitized booth and the red phone rang. I picked it up and after some confusion about what to do next, I realized I was in the play, meant to speak the lines of a character. Reading the words on the screen in front of me , feeling my voice rise in frustration and dip in resignation. It’s been years since I did any kind of acting, but the emotional memory of it was immediate.

Afterwards, I sat down with Pedro, the voice on the other end of the phone, and we talked (6 feet apart of course) about the feelings the short piece brought up. He spoke about his own fatigue with perpetual Zoom based table reads and missing the face to face exchanges that follow a live theatre event. We also explored the notion of apology as an act reserved for the privileged. How the person enduring the wrong sits with the suffering day after day, while the person doing the apologizing has the luxury of merely thinking about it, sometimes. It felt intensely true in our current conversation and justified uprising against systemic racim and white privilege.

As I approached the ticket booth to leave a donation (the play is offered freely, but donations are welcome), a staff member handed me a brochure so I could look them up online. “Here’s our cancelled shows,” he said with a resigned smile.

With the surprise delight of Red Phone ricocheting in my mind, I noticed a stencil graffiti with the word sorry near the exit of the island and felt a surge of hope.

As the economic world slowly opens up in Vancouver,  it’s encouraging to see groups like Boca del Lupo finding visceral ways to engage with audiences. I have faith more people will participate (and donate) so they can weather this storm and continue providing the essential experiences that help us understand each other in ways that extend beyond the ether.

You can reserve in advance or walk up during opening hours on their site.

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