Ghost River Theatre kicks off its Six Senses Series with audio-only performance

When you walk in to Ghost River Theatre ’s newest show Tomorrow’s Child you’ll be guided to your seat by an usher. You’ll be glad for the help — after all you’ll be blindfolded.

Based on a 1948 Ray Bradbury story Tomorrow’s Child is the first instalment of Ghost River Theatre’s Six Senses Series designed to create theatrical experiences based on each of our senses. (For now they’re keeping mum about what precisely the sixth sense is.)

“The idea is that [audiences] refresh their sense of hearing of what’s possible with sound by taking away sight their primary means of experiencing the world” says Eric Rose who directs the show.

“My hope is is that after they go through this experience they go outside and they hear the world differently.”

The story is about two parents dealing with the birth of their child who is born into another dimension. “The very human aspect of our story is very much based in that struggle of these parents to try… to understand this child” says Rose who points out that there are strong parallels between this fantastical story set in an imagined future and the very real journeys of parents of children with mental or physical disabilities who may experience the world differently from other people.

Despite a clear narrative and the fact that Tomorrow’s Child is an all-audio theatrical production this show should not be confused with a radio play. Audiences are purposely placed in swivel chairs so that they can orient themselves to the sound in the space as they choose.

“We wanted the audience to have some agency in relationship to the way that they imagine and hear the sounds” explains Rose. “You both know that you are with a group of people in an audience however you are also absolutely alone… so that the stage in some ways ends up being in the stage of your imagination.”

Matthew Waddell the sound designer for the show says that the swivel chairs help remove the conception of back and front. In essence the walls disappear. “There is no front and back; you’re in 360-degree world where things are happening from all sides” he explains.

In a show like this the sound is everything: not just the ambience not just the dialogue but the entire experience. “I have to create all the props the detail of the props. I have to create the sound of the costumes the size of the room. I have to create the movement of people throughout space because we’re working in a three-dimensional sound environment” says Waddell.

And while all theatrical experiences are subjective to some degree by providing only sound for Tomorrow’s Child the imagined visual experience of audience members will vary widely. “We’re not all sharing the same visual experience; we’re in our heads hearing these sounds and interpreting them in our own way” says Waddell.

Rose prefers to leave what’s actually in the theatre space a mystery; there is dialogue involved in the show but he won’t reveal whether there will be any live actors in the room. “Because you don’t know what’s in the space it also helps to prime your imagination” he says. “The less [audiences] know… the more abandon they have coming into it.”

It’s a new sort of theatrical experience for audience and theatre company alike. “How do we challenge our audience to go through with the experience?” asks Rose.

“I think that’s what’s so thrilling not only for them but for us — because we’ve never done anything quite like this before either.”