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Review: R.A.V.E. at Outside The March

Outside the March's latest immersive experience is a wild party.

By: Jun. 16, 2024
Review: R.A.V.E. at Outside The March  Image
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What if a rave could change your life?

That’s the question posed by Outside the March’s new site-specific piece, R.A.V.E., part of the Luminato Festival, which presents from a “secret location” an interactive dance-party-cum-theatre-event that’s part bop, part therapy session, and part lecture on cultural consciousness. Presided over by The Founder (show creator DJ Me Time), the rave session promises to teach participants the dance moves and self-actualization lessons they need to reach their full potential, whereupon they will achieve a mysterious “upload” to a sort of spiritual cloud.

Like its main character, R.A.V.E. is weighed down by some overly ambitious intersectional goals; however, as a party and as an emotional experience, it earns a R.A.V.E. review.

Upon arrival at the former Downsview Airport Lands at the Bombardier office building, you’re greeted by the concierge, who is surrounded by The R.A.V.E. (Real Audio-Visual Experience) Institute’s shining crystalline sculptures and corporate motivational posters. These include, of course, a central image of The Founder, wearing all white clothes and headphones, fingers steepled together, under the shining star of a disco ball. While it might seem strange to have a rave in a cleared-out office space next to a rabbit warren of cubicles, it makes perfect sense with the show’s combination of wild gyrations and corporate satire. The well-designed posters (by Carly Fridhandler) each feature a buzzword du jour, and you’ll be treated to many more in The Founder’s inspirational speeches and corresponding dance move power poses.

To add to the vibe, everyone gets a glowing wristband that changes colour in sync at specific moments. They illuminate the posters, banker’s boxes, and slick costumes, which all feature the open-eye logo of the institute that’s reminiscent of the Illuminati.

Water is provided, but if you’re tired, hungry, or overwhelmed during the show, there are two places of refuge, one in the quiet lobby and one filled with soothing snacks, scents, and stickers (run by Held Agency and PsyLush, respectively). You can participate as much as you like, or sit and watch, but this is the type of show where you get out of it what you put in; it’s much more fun if you dance.

DJ Me Time presides over the communion, ably assisted by four agile acolytes/hype people (Chenise Mitchell, Ashley Perez, Wellesley Robertson III, and Raoul Wilke) numbered 1, 2, 3, and 5—don’t ask what happened to #4—and an AI system. The AI has been built to help control the experience, including being in charge of deciding whether we’re ready for that mysterious “upload” and informing us of each new song’s connection to Black artists, many of whom weren’t given due credit on the song’s initial release. Wearing a long translucent plastic cape, DJ Me Time is a charismatic, fluid performer, whether giving commanding motivational speeches interlaced with moments of self-doubt, taking us through the history of club music, or providing us with the occasional peek into the reasoning behind the R.A.V.E. She may not seem completely sure of how all this is going to work out, but one thing’s for certain—she knows how to throw a hell of a party.

Much like how a wild party is often remembered in disconnected flashes and moments, there are a lot of ideas and themes in R.A.V.E., and they don’t always add up. The show takes us through a number of contrasting impulses, and while the contrasts are valid and intriguing, the writing sometimes feels a little muddled, not fully sure of where it wants to stick the landing within the discussion.

There’s a nostalgia for the past world of less-digitized clubbing, but there’s also an understanding that some nostalgia comes from the rosy perception of a world that never really existed. There’s a cry of anger at the history of exploitation and erasure of Black artists’ contribution to the music scene, but also an acknowledgment that a more recent crop of Black multimillionaire artists are continuing a cycle of exploitation. There’s an exhortation to slow down but dance fast, a desire to find permanent, lasting change in the ephemeral and strange. The experience itself skirts those intriguing contrasts, functioning both as a heartwarming experience of connection, but also a dubious cult ritual.

In this contrast, audience members must face an internal war: do we continue to go along with the good time and The Founder, or back off and go against the flow when things start getting a bit weird? It’s an exercise in finding community, but also a clear lesson in how cults are formed and stay in business. The Founder’s promises are seductive, and you are having a good time, and everyone is still dancing, after all—you want her to succeed, even if you’re not totally on board with this whole “upload” thing. It’s clear that something sinister is happening early on, and this push and pull of self-actualization in the midst of smiling conformity could be explored more throughout instead of us merely waiting for the other soft shoe to drop. It would be harder to do this, though, and still leave audience members with a smile on their faces and a spring in their step.

And that’s the thing—while the show is a little blunted by its desire to ultimately be a feel-good experience, ultimately, its major success is that it is a memorable, feel-good experience; in fact, even a feel-great experience. Even when faltering, DJ Me Time manages to be sympathetic and charismatic throughout, the design elements are detailed and full of fun discoveries, and the dancing feels liberating, and fun, and safe.

Even with any misgivings, you’ll find, as Gloria Estefan famously claimed, the rhythm is gonna get you.

Photo of DJ Me Time (Sarah Barrable-Tishauer) by Wade Muir




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