These Toronto artists want to save Halloween ... by sending you to Planet Fabulon

Don't let 2020 make you settle for less: this wildly innovative interactive event is so out there it could only happen virtually.

Don't let 2020 make you settle for less: an event this out there could only happen virtually

LEVEL UP runs the next last two weekends of October. (Planet Fabulon)

Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens. 

As far as we traditionally consider it, Halloween 2020 is more or less cancelled. But like most things this year, it doesn't mean we can't find ways to adapt. And who better to lead you through that pivot than a collective of Toronto artists named Planet Fabulon?

Winners of a Canada Council for Arts Digital Originals grant, Planet Fabulon is remastering and remounting their retro video game experience LEVEL UP as a special Halloween edition running over four nights that will culminate on October 31st. Zoom audiences of all ages will choose their own adventure through multiple levels of "original 8-bit animation, stellar musicians, dazzling circus performers, evil bosses, real-time challenges with real-world prizes, and much more! It's an online game, a concert, a visual art show, a piece of theatre, and a dance party all wrapped into one." 

The Planet Fabulon team explains: "People of Earth! We are relieved and excited to announce that your beloved Halloween is not cancelled. It has simply moved online ... and thrown on a sparkly spacesuit! Thanks to the Canada Council for the Arts, we will be beaming down four nights of LEVEL UP: an interactive music, dance, and visual show in the style of a retro video game where the audience determines the outcome. Each night, for just over one of your Earth hours, we invite you to join our hero on a quest to defeat three evil bosses across three different levels, each with their own musical and visual experience provided by stellar Toronto artists."

Anna Douglas as The Hero. (David Jermyn)

One such artist is Anna Douglas, an actress who plays the aforementioned hero of LEVEL UP. 

"Planet Fabulon is the brainchild of David Jermyn and Richard Rotter, two TV and film artists in the Burning Man/electronic music/sex positive/LGBTQ world," Douglas explains. "I was originally an ancillary addition via my clothing company, bYouties, and would bring a room-full of costumes to lend out to attendees for the evening along with providing glitter face painting and general encouragement to be silly. Because that's what Planet Fabulon is all about: providing a safe, positive, inclusive, sensorily-spectacular environment in which to let out your silliest, nerdiest, most fabulous self."

That mission certainly continues with LEVEL UP.

"In my understanding, the impetus for LEVEL UP was to try to capture some of the magic of Fabulon live events by being just way more extra than your typical Zoom dance party," adds Toronto artist Johnnie Walker, who plays "the Mayor" in the game. "Attendees are encouraged to come in costume, there's live music, there's interactive elements, and there's this whole old school videogame meta-narrative wherein attending the event means you are also battling your way through a series of arcade-style bosses — including yours truly."

Johnnie Walker as The Mayor. (David Jermyn)

Douglas says that LEVEL UP is aiming to relieve the stress of trying to figure out how to enjoy Halloween when sometimes just walking out your door can feel unsafe.

"So instead of creating something you 'settle' for doing on Halloween, we have decidedly created something that you want to do from home," she says. "In designing our first online events, we didn't want to just produce the same event we would have in-person but begrudgingly put it online — we wanted to create something that can only be experienced virtually. A real-time, choose-your-own-adventure video game with original animation, five bands from completely different genres playing in immediate succession, circus performers doing acts requiring multiple stories of space ... these things could only be produced together virtually."

A screen grab from the original LEVEL UP:. (Planet Fabulon)

Walker says he just hopes people have fun and "get out of their heads for a little bit."

"As we adjusted to pandemic life last spring, I was involved in a ton of different online events on almost a weekly basis," he says. "The most successful ones were able to lift me up out of the loneliness and isolation and anxiety so ubiquitous to this year and take me to a place of joy and community and laughter. They were the only places I could let myself forget about the challenges our world is facing right now, just for a little while. As the weather got warmer and infection rates went down, online events started to vanish as people became more interested in distance socializing with their friends and family outside, which totally makes sense. But as we head into colder weather and the dreaded second wave, I truly think events like LEVEL UP are going to be utterly essential for our collective mental health and well-being."

You can sign up for one, two or all four nights of LEVEL UP here


Peter Knegt (he/him) has worked for CBC Arts since 2016, writing the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada) and spearheading the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag, variety special Queer Pride Inside, and interactive projects Superqueeroes and The 2020s: The Decade Canadian Artists Stopped Saying Sorry. Collectively, these projects have won Knegt four Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also the filmmaker of numerous short films and the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.

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