subDevision: A Veritable Buffet of Theatrical Performance

If you (somehow) haven’t heard of subDevision yet, you’re going to want to look it up. A veritable buffet of live performance played in unconventional spaces, subDevision is a three day theatrical affair now in its third year running. The idea is that the location inspires the artists, so over the past two years audiences have gotten to explore the insides of St. Joseph’s Eastern United Church and Arts Court in order to watch the numerous short stories drawn out of the space’s walls.

The producers/organizers and artists have seriously hit their stride this year at the Enriched Bread Artists Studios emphasizing and embracing not only an informal and party-like atmosphere, but the multitude of visual artwork housed within. In any case, having thrice now experienced this theatre exposé, here is my advice on how you can best optimize your subDevision experience.

  1. Be Prepared.

Preparing yourself for this night out is key. You’re going to want to eat first: the event itself, if you want to see everything, runs approximately 3 hours long and you’re moving around often. The location (951 Gladstone) is a short trek past Gladstone and Preston, though not super ideal if you’re thinking of grabbing something quick in between shows. I can’t quite remember if there are snacks available for purchase at the bar, but if so it’s probably standard fare (i.e. chips and chocolate bars). All this aside, I suggest eating a solid dinner and maybe bringing a granola bar or two (or invest in the bar snacks), you’ll likely find time in between shows to scarf it down if necessary.

Make sure you bring a small bag or wear something with pockets. You’ll be accumulating some souvenirs along the way, which can become quite burdensome if you’re trying to balance a drink, a cell-phone (for keeping time), a wallet, and your road-map/program all in your hands. You don’t want anything too big though as you’ll be heading into some intimate spaces.

Take money out if you’re planning on hitting the bar: it’s cash only and there’s no ATM on site.

  1. Go for 7-ish.

The event starts at 7 p.m., but most of the shows don’t start until 7:30 and run every 10-20 minutes after that (though some of them are always ongoing). Don’t stress if you’re running late. Show up around 7 so you can familiarize yourself with the space which will become important when you will, at some point, need to run from one show to catch another. Grab a drink and read the program. Survey your surroundings.

  1. Bring friends, but don’t be afraid to venture off alone.

SubDevision is all about being social and interaction, but it also sets a nice focus on the individual experience. Bring some friends to socialize with in between shows, but don’t feel like you have to watch all the shows together as a group. Go off on your own path: there are a few shows that send you on a singular journey with just an iPod and a pair of headphones or  those that only seat a limited number of people at a time.

  1. Talk to people, especially people you don’t know.

This event is similar to that of a larger scale festival, like the Fringe for example, in that it has a central hub (the bar, usually) where the artist and audience member come together in a casual environment and are able to socialize openly. Don’t be afraid to approach one of the artists you saw in a show (though, maybe, make sure they’re not prepping for and/or doing their show at that moment) and ask them about what you saw or tell them what you thought! The creative atmosphere allows for this sort of informal discourse to take place in a very non-threatening way.

Talk to the volunteers! If you’re ever unsure of anything, like where to go or when the next show is happening, just ask anyone with a volunteer badge and they are happy to help. They are extremely useful when trying to plan out a lineup of things to see, or modifying said lineup if you accidentally miss a show.

Furthermore, there are a couple pieces that ask you to pass on your token (or your ticket) to the next audience member encouraging you to tell someone else about what you saw. And if you’re hoping to catch all 12 shows, then THUNK! Theatre’s The Lost & Find will require you to create your own lost and found story by telling it to (or finding it out from) someone you probably won’t know. This is made even better when the next step is followed.

  1. Be open and let loose.

The companies at subDevision are looking to create unusual theatrical experiences that a lot of the time incorporates some sort of audience participation. Be open to it. The very idea of the event is to challenge the traditional fourth wall between artist and audience member. What happens when the spectator becomes a participant in the act of creation? You will become a jury member (The Department of Collective Trauma), have your tarot cards read (Readings), play hopscotch (Runaway), and participate in a “royal” coup (King of the Road). Remember it’s a safe environment and the more genuine you are the more genuine the piece will feel. Apart from that, have fun! Whether you’re checking out all the art on the wall, busting some moves on the dance floor, or finding the performances themselves there’s always something to do.

As for my own thoughts on the shows, I was overall very impressed by the high caliber of creativity being housed in this multi-faceted venue. My favourite out of the 9 shows I saw was oh dear oh dear performed by Attila Clemann, Kristina Watt, and a third female performer who is, for some reason, not credited in the program (edit: it would be co-creator Jodi Essery). The acting and the manipulation of both sound and lighting in such a tight space is masterful. Watt proving (as usual) that you don’t need large gestures, or even words, to make an impact: a simple fluttering of the eyelashes; or a slight turning down at the corners of one’s mouth will do. Clemann and the unnamed performer Essery act as silent puppeteers to some seemingly common objects, namely a purse, as the pre-recorded narrative tells a tale of the loss of a woman’s most prized possession and the journey it takes without her. The purse is indeed perhaps a metaphor for something else, though what that might be I’ll leave up to you.

There is such a good turn-out at this year’s subDevision it’s hard to have just one favourite. Shout outs also have to go out to Paper: Interviews with the Forgotten, Readings, and The Lost & Find all of which I enjoyed just as well. If you’re looking for a non-traditional theatre experience or just looking for something new and exciting, then tonight is your last chance to catch all 12 shows. $20 all-you-can-see theatre, 7pm Enriched Bread Artists Studios (951 Gladstone), you don’t want to miss it.

Event info can be found here.


Written by Brie McFarlane

Theatre critic and live performance junkie, Brie is dedicated to covering the Ottawa theatre scene and showcasing the local artists and their work. In founding the New Ottawa Critics she hopes to find/start new conversations between artists, critics, and audiences. Currently Brie is undertaking a Masters of Arts degree in Theatre at the University of Ottawa. She is also a big fan of all things social media. Follow her on Twitter as herself or the New Ottawa Critics account.