Artists and choirs turn forest trail into set for magical show

Organizers give us a sneak peek of show that dissolves the boundaries between audience and performer.

Almost 200 performers will be on hand for ethereal Canada Day shows in St. John's

Jillian Keiley, left, shows off an installation in ...float..., opening this weekend at Mount Scio Farm. (Malone Mullin/CBC)

It's a walk in the woods, but in terms of artistic heft, it's no stroll.

After nine months of planning and three weeks of on-site preparation, organizers of the otherworldly performance-slash-installation ...float... are putting the final touches on one of the province's largest — and perhaps strangest — Canada Day events.

They've timed it for this weekend's Podium on the Edge festival, when choristers from across Canada descend on St. John's.

Five of those groups, including the Oakville Choir for Children & Youth, and the Ullugiagâtsuk Choir from Labrador, will be scattered along a 1.2-kilometre forest trail, their voices ringing out between the trees and fields of Mt. Scio farm.

Live music, complemented by background sound effects, aquamarine props and the chatter of actors stationed along the path, will immerse the audience in each scene, turning their reactions into a part of the installation itself.

Meanwhile, an app mimicking the sound of church bells aims to transform smartphones into instruments, allowing viewers to chime in alongside performers.

The project was funded through a $350,000 Canada Council for the Arts grant.

A spokesperson for Choral Canada said the majority of that money went to the creation of original compositions from local artists, and paid for the dozens of choir members and actors taking part in the show.

Director Jillian Keiley said she wanted to find something linking the visiting choirs, and put on "a show that could only happen here."

The common feature between geographies and cultures across the country, she found, was water: a precious and abundant resource she says we tend to take for granted.

"The piece doesn't include a lot of politics," Keiley said. "It really is a meditative piece. There's nothing that says, you know, 'protect water' or 'think about water this way.' It just says, 'think about water.'"

The show's elements, including the umbrellas, a bathtub and bright blue raincoats running throughout the trail, reflect that idea, she said.

Here's a sneak peek before Sunday's back-to-back performances.

Keiley and the team built a number of props integrated into the wooded landscape. This flooded house, she says, represents the destructive power of water. (Malone Mullin/CBC)
"We're not the first artists to find inspiration in water," Keiley said. (Malone Mullin/CBC)
A number of local actors will place themselves in water-inspired scenes, like this replica of a swimmer's locker room. (Malone Mullin/CBC)
Keiley and co-creator Shawn Kerwin adjust one of ...float...'s props. (Malone Mullin/CBC)
Keiley and composer Andrew Staniland take a tour through a field of Queen Anne's Lace. (Malone Mullin/CBC)
The back-to-back shows happen in the evening for maximal atmospheric effect, Keiley said. (Malone Mullin/CBC)