These days, zombies are everywhere: TV, movies, the streets of Toronto, electoral politics. The hypothetical threat of the living dead has become so pressing that we now have survival guides and cottage industries devoted to an eventuality with no basis in recorded fact.
Yet while most of the how-to guides are perplexingly practical – even Zombie Runs are little more than tests of cardiac endurance – one question is never adequately addressed: what would it feel like to live through the apocalypse?
Enter ByoLogyc, a fictional corporation with a pseudo-fictional product line that may or may not be pushing the world to the brink of biological Armageddon. The company has hosted a series of progressively ominous events throughout the year, and on the eve of its final gathering – dubbed ByoLogyc: Retreat – attendees can book their front-row ticket to the end of the world.
And yes, we mean that (somewhat) literally. Despite some so-good-it-must-be-real promotional material, ByoLogyc is in actuality the public face of Zed.TO, the umbrella title for a year-long exercise in multimedia storytelling. Retreat follows in the footsteps of a Fringe show (ByoLogyc) and a Nuit Blanche exhibit (ByoLogyc: Patient Zero).
So what should you expect if you head to the Brick Works? To be honest, I don’t know. That’s part of the charm, and the organizers aren’t about to give away any secrets so close to show time. What I can tell you after taking in ByoLogyc and Patient Zero is that Retreat, like its predecessors, is a theatrical production that draws heavily on gaming, technology, ARGs, and social media.
That’s why you shouldn’t dismiss ByoLogyc even if you’re not a ‘theatre person.’ If anything, you should want to know more. The organizers are using the cultural shorthand of the zombie apocalypse to explore the impact of technological and social change in our society, and in the process, they’ve pioneered some wonderful new approaches to interactive entertainment.
Zed.TO is one of the first groups to recognize that new technology can enhance older forms of communication. In the case of ByoLogyc, that means a seamless integration of live performance with smartphones, tablets, and Twitter. At any given point, patrons can be presented with protests, placebos, free drinks, viral outbreaks, and text messages from anonymous hackers. If you feel like playing along, you might receive genuine (and increasingly paranoid) text messages on your personal mobile device throughout the duration of the show.
It’s a relatively simple idea, but it works because ByoLogyc takes objects that we regard as ‘safe’ – objects like smartphones that are normally distinct from performance – and unexpectedly drags them into the experience. The resulting uncertainty makes it nearly impossible to fully distinguish fact from fiction. Trying to piece everything together consistently demands your attention, and that’s what makes ByoLogyc so immersive. The entire show happens around you rather than in front of you, so you’re as much a part of it as anyone in the cast.
And yes, there is a cast. This is, after all, still theatre. The actors in Zed.TO portray different members of the ByoLogyc executive team and mingle with guests throughout the event. The cast hasn’t memorized a script so much as they’ve internalized key talking points like candidates on the campaign trail. You can talk to them and you’re welcome to try and trip them up. Just know that it’s not going to be terribly easy. Most of the actors have improv backgrounds and the narrative is flexible enough to account for any unruly civilians.
It’s also not as if ByoLogyc is a monolithic enterprise. Your perspective changes depending on your choice of transportation (car, shuttle, or TTC) and then fractures even further after your arrival, so no two survivors will ever have an identical experience. Tickets are currently available for evacuees, private security soldiers, anarchist rebels, and members of the ByoLogyc board of directors, and the perks for the board are likely better than they are for the evacuees.
As for the rest, you don’t need to know the whole story, but you should brush up on the basics and go in expecting something different. The Fringe show was structured as a corporate meet-and-greet a local bar, while Patient Zero was staged as a public health clinic at a sterile laboratory inside a church. Retreat is the next logical extension of the story, and is by far the most ambitious undertaking yet. Zed.TO and ByoLogyc co-founder Trevor Haldenby recently pitched Retreat as “the 28 days before 28 Days Later,” which should obviously make for an unusually harrowing evening.
We’ll be running the rest of that interview in the next few days, but in the meantime, you can find out more about Zed.TO here or watch videos that have been produced during the course of the project.
I am obligated to remind you that you’ll be at Gamercamp on Saturday (and you will be at Gamercamp, right?), but that should give you just enough time for an apocalypse on Friday. If you need further convincing, Zed.TO is even offering Dork Shelf readers a special $10 discount on any ticket for ByoLogyc: Retreat. Just head to the ticket purchase page and enter the coupon code BYODORK to redeem the offer.
ByoLogyc: Retreat will run at 6:30pm and 9:30pm on Friday, Nov. 2 and Saturday, Nov. 3 at the Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto. It’s an old, muddy quarry and the show takes place outside in apocalyptic conditions, so patrons are advised to dress accordingly. (In other words, don’t dress like you’re headed to the theatre.)