Q&A: UNDERCOVER with Rebecca Northan

This month on Vertigo Voices, we join UNDERCOVER co-creator and Spontaneous Theatre artist Rebecca Northan to talk about what it's like to work with audience members of all kinds for her unique blend of interactive work.

How do you approach a work like UNDERCOVER, with its unique audience volunteer interaction?

The one thing that we can never predict, is how a person might be affected by being thrust under bright lights, in front of 400 patrons. The most jovial person in the lobby might well freeze under those conditions. We ask our audiences to have compassion for this non-performer as the production unfolds.We are the professionals, and we take very seriously our primary task of caring for this non-performer and say "yes" to anything, and everything that they do, or don't do, while with us on stage. Our internal rule is, "Whatever they do is 'right'", and we will shift the play around them in support of their choices. It is our aim to celebrate the "average person".

You engage with a lot of strangers. Do you ever feel shy?

Oh yes! Each of the cast members has to overcome a certain amount of social anxiety just before we head out to do the mingle in the lobby, but it has gotten easier over the years. Part of the trick is reading the body language of the people in the lobby, and respecting when someone clearly doesn't want to be approached for fear of being chosen.

How many people solve the case?

Roughly 35% of our Rookies have solved it correctly. The first volunteer to nail it 100% was a 15 year old girl during a student matinee! She caught every single clue. It was like being on stage with Nancy Drew! We consulted with a Homicide Detective during the creation of UNDERCOVER, and he shared that the solve-rate for the Police is about 40% (he also got it wrong when we put him through the show, but oh boy, his interrogation techniques were terrifying! We all wanted to confess!)

Photo by Citrus Photography | Rebecca Northan and an audience volunteer in UNDERCOVER

Photo by Citrus Photography | Rebecca Northan and an audience volunteer in UNDERCOVER

Spontaneous Theatre has also produced shows such as BLIND DATE and LEGEND HAS IT.What takeaways are you incorporating into UNDERCOVER? How is UNDERCOVER different?

Our utmost priority, which carries forward from BLIND DATE, through LEGEND HAS IT, is to take very good care of the Audience Member, make them look good, make sure they're having a good time. We were surprised to learn early on in UNDERCOVER, that it doesn't really matter if they solve the mystery correctly, or not. What matters most is HOW they go about playing with us. So - you might see a Rookie who misses clues, and gets it wrong, but theyre clearly having a good time and being themselves, and the audience as a whole likes them, and is charmed by them regardless. UNDERCOVER is a bit different, in that we don't get to know the volunteer in depth they way we do in BLIND DATE - but our theory is that every person's "inner-detective" says something about who they are, which remains fascinating.

 Rebecca Northan, BLIND DATE by Greg Tjepkema, LEGEND HAS IT image courtesy of Alberta Theatre Projects.