A labyrinth of mini-MINE-atours

Shadbolt and Theatre Replacement co-produce digital parenting chapbook 

O, Death, where is thy sting? After all, one can always Respawn. Image: Theatre Replacement

If you’ve missed the World Premiere of MINE – the new multi-media, multi-generational, multi-layered showcase of brilliant, home-grown acting, writing and gaming talent from Theatre Replacement (T/R) – well, never mind.

All you’ve lost out on is the opening night after-party cheese plate. Other than that, every show of the MINE’s November 14-17 run at Burnaby’s Shadbolt Centre can equally count as a World Premiere, in that they’re all unprecedented.

Enacted in the infinitely expandablesandbox” computer game world of Minecraft, each performance presents new stunts, new fight moves, marginally new dialogue and wholly new scenery. It all unfurls on giant overhead projection screens, collaboratively computer-generated in real time by a quartet of locally recruited, pre-pubescent gamer geeks.

They huddle, mouse-clicking and murmuring into headsets, in the screen-light of their laptops around a deal table, stage right. At stage left presides media designer Remy Siu (簫逸南), reigning composer and tech wizard of Vancouver’s edgy Hong Kong Exile ensemble, who controls the on-screen camera angles. And stage centre, under the spotlights, sit MINE’s main live, full-size, real-time, corporeal actors: polymath Conor Wylie and T/R’s artistic director Maiko Yamamoto.  

They’re arguably the show’s Adult Supervision – Yamamoto, after all, is IRL mother to one of the juvenile coders, 11-year-old Hokuto MacDuff. But, watching everyone’s onscreen incarnations, it’s by no means clear just who is actually supervising whom.

It’s Siu who sets the tempo, with his pans and zooms over the young gamers’ impromptu landscapes and his propulsive soundtrack culled from Minecraft’s onboard jejune chiptune score. And the fledgling geeks, or at least their pixelated avatars, run hyperkinetic rings around the “adults,” generously pausing now and then to bail their computer challenged elders out of some digital scrape.

This generation gap is the starting premise of MINE. Screentime limitations notwithstanding, Hokuto sunk ever deeper into the Minecraft sandbox over the past few years. To fathom the virtual vortex that was swallowing up her son, Yamamoto felt she had to dive in after him under the guise (or “skin,” as a Minecraft avatar is called) of “Momko.”

This cyber-safari soon took on archetypal overtones of its own, recalling a whole range of Mother myths from the vendetta of Grendel’s mother in Beowulf to the orphaning of Disney’s Bambi or the loopy self-propagating timelines of Terminator 1. MINE serves up each of these stories in turn in the blocky geometry and lurid colors of Minecraft with tersely matter-of-fact pre-teen scripts.

In between these truncated skits, we’re treated to more philosophical mother/son dialogues (in complete sentences, no less) about the charms of the online world, its effect upon human relationships and the IRL challenges of growing up. These are Yamamoto’s actual conversations with Hokuto, but they’ve been machine-transcribed, run through a computerized text-to-speech generator and “voiced” by onscreen avatars – all as a “distancing technique,” Siu explains.

Inevitably, the talks remain inconclusive, but veer toward the immemorial conclusion that parenting – in cyberspace as IRL – must in the end come down to a process of (gracefully, lovingly) letting-go. Which brings us to the final fantasy skit, this one a bit nearer to the bone.

“The child born in space” mythologizes the origin story of young Hokuto, conceived by NASA commander Maiko and Astronaut MacDuff on a moon mission. Except midway through the adventure, the space boy somehow manages to obliterate the entire universe.

The screens go blank. The chiptunes fall silent. Nothing to be seen or heard but a few words of white-on-black text: “Sorry, Mom…” Pause, and then in echo of Bambi’s panicked cry, “Mom?...”

Momko, meanwhile, finds herself propelled into an Edenic virtual afterlife (looks suspiciously like Old MacDonald’s farm) where she meets Minecraft’s Original Adam, the game’s very first "skin," an unassuming slacker named Steve. She’s full of questions: Where am I? What will become of me? What of my son?

Steve peers into a deck of cards and deals them out one-by-one, all the while intoning some of what’s in store as Hokuto verges on adolescence and the world broaches the Anthropocene Era: stuff like climate change, girls, mass migration, drivers’-ed, virulent Artificial Intelligence, self-driving vehicles, Panopticon surveillance, acne…

“Shall I go on...?”

Never mind.  

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