If you’re going to a theatre, how likely is it that you’ll pick one that tells you neither its location nor what the show will be about?
Answer: Very likely, if you’re one of the lucky people going to see Don’t Tell Mama’s Pop Up Theatre.
Don’t Tell Mama is Montreal’s first (well, the first I’ve heard of) instalment of pop-up theatre. The audience finds out where to go a day in advance. The play’s topic and name are entirely unknown. The first two shows (May 22 and May 23) are sold out. Jen Viens brought the hit phenomenon first to Vancouver and Toronto, but is sharing the mystery here in Montreal with her collective, made up of actors associated with Straeon Studios.
Viens explains that pop-up theatre is like “guerrilla theatre.” She explains, “It is site specific theatre that shows up in a specific location and the general premise is that it is a secret. The audience members don’t know what they’re watching until the day before. They have to RSVP to attend.”
The intrigue and mystery are part of the draw. Viens was inspired to do this after hearing a show on DNTO on CBC about an underground grilled cheese shop in Toronto. “You called a number and you’d find out what sandwich was available that day and he’d show up and meet you in an alley, wearing a hoodie. It was cash only. He’d hand you a paper bag. Everyone loved it.”
Viens loved the idea too, and wanted to see how it would fly if applied to theatre. “I’m a fan of site specific stuff and people breaking boundaries in theatre. I love edgy theatre like Sleep No More and taking risks that don’t make sense,” she says. “I love putting things on where they’re not supposed to be and there’s no reason we can’t try it out with theatre. No one can say no to it. The only thing in the way is if no one comes to see it. I have nothing to lose, so why not.”
I wondered if it would be difficult to generate an audience, but Viens has had no trouble. “I’ve not done a lot of outreach,” she says. “Just social media. We’re sold out tonight and there’s only one seat left for tomorrow.” The only way to see the piece is to contact Viens (which you can do HERE for the shows taking piece on May 30 at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.). “We can fit more, but it would be very close to the actors,” she says.
Viens reveals very little about the piece itself except that it is a dark comedy. “I didn’t write it for this. It’s a published production. I can’t take credit.” Although Viens mentions site-specific theatre several times, this piece is set in an enclosed theatre space. “Perhaps in the future,” she says when I ask if it is performed in a public location.
Past pop-up theatre pieces that Viens held in Toronto and Vancouver were successful. “People like the idea of the intimate space and being close to the actors. They keep coming back and telling their friends about it. I’ve never had a production that was rejected. Mostly, we had full houses and people loved it. It wasn’t just a one off; we could do it again.”