All The World’s A Stage: Eavesdropping on Swallow-A-Bicycle Theatre at the Calgary Fringe Festival

Three friends reconnecting over coffee, a struggling writer, and a man searching for himself in an unsuspecting coffee patron: it’s just another day at the coffee shop. Or is it? Performed inside Gravity Espresso & Wine Bar, Swallow-A-Bicycle Theatre’s site-specific Eavesdrop: The Coffee Shop Show invites audiences to listen into the private conversations and innermost thoughts and desires of six characters trying to navigate through life, one sip of coffee at a time.

The audience waiting for the performance to begin.

The audience waiting for the performance to begin.

Running during Gravity’s regular operating hours, Eavesdrop blurs the line between reality and performance. Instead of speaking their own dialogue, the actors mouth along to pre-recorded dialogue which only the audience can hear using wireless headphones given out at the door. Meanwhile, Ryan Von Hagen and Brock Geiger’s soundscape immerses audiences in coffee shop ambience and ethereal sounds. The result is an intimate experience for audience members, and an entirely silent spectacle for coffee shop regulars and curious onlookers.

Written by Mark Hopkins and directed by Charles Netto, Eavesdrop is a show about characters who are unable to connect with others. It is this failure to connect that the company succeeds in replicating inside Gravity. The company contains the performance on one side of the cafe, leaving the other open to business as usual. In doing so, outsiders are only ever able to observe and guess at what is taking place just by the physical actions of the actors. While they might crossover into the performance space, they remain separated from the audience and the experience. They are, in effect. never “in-the-know.”  Like the characters, they exist only peripherally to that which they want to belong to.

Unfortunately, the drama of Eavesdrop is itself not particularly remarkable. Hopkins’s dialogue is often very wordy and, at times, takes itself too seriously. There are light-hearted moments that break up the heaviness of the script, like poking fun at the idea of coffee shops being hubs for creativity, but maybe not enough. Where Eavesdrop shines is in the storyline of the three friends. Here, there is a clear arc the characters travel as they laugh, argue, and ultimately reach a resolution. Otherwise, the storylines tend to feel flat.

Von Hagen and Geiger’s soundscape come out crisp over the headphones. The audio levels in certain parts are off, but it is nothing major or enough to detract from the oral experience. The soundscape truly does take the audience away from the coffee shop and into the headspace of the characters.

The performances by Ian McFarlane, Geneviève Paré & Jeremy Park, on the other hand, are solid. They commit their faces and bodies to match what we hear over the headphones. Not only that, but the actors are also able to maintain character while maneuvering in and around the real-time action of the coffee shop (e.g. customers grabbing sugar and cream, going to use to the washroom).

Overall though, Swallow-A-Bicycle Theatre’s Eavesdrop: The Coffee Shop Show is a unique, creative experience that should not be missed. The issues with the show do not overshadow the ingenuity of the concept. There is truly nothing like it.


Swallow-A-Bicycle Theatre’s Eavesdrop: The Coffee Shop Show runs from Aug 1-9th at the Calgary Fringe Festival.

For information about the show and how to buy tickets, visit: http://see.calgaryfringe.ca/events/456-eavesdrop-the-coffee-shop-show

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