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SCRUTINY | TO Live The Journey's Simple Formula Packs A Punch

By Paula Citron on February 21, 2021

The Journey, TO Live.
Scott Silven in The Journey (Photo courtesy of TO Live)

TO Live/The Journey, created and performed by Scott Silven, directed by Allie Winton Butler, live online, Feb. 16 to 21; Mar. 16 to 28.

Scottish-born Scott Silven is an entertainment whiz kid. Just into his thirties, he has already established a worldwide reputation as a formidable illusionist, mentalist and performance artist. When the pandemic cut short his touring, Silven developed an all-new immersive interactive show that people can watch from their own homes. Streamed live, The Journey is a captivating evening of mind-boggling fun.

The premise is really inventive. Silven takes an audience of just 30 people into his supposed childhood home in Scotland, and plays mind games with us. Every illusion involves the audience in some way, and our choices drive the event. Collectively, we seem to be on a Zoom call of some sort, and we can see our thumbnails on the walls, albeit, a bit grainy. The Journey’s over-arching structure is a folk tale about a boy called Calley, and Silven uses aspects of Calley’s life to philosophize about time, memory, and connection, as he weaves the segments together. It’s all about instilling a sense of mystery, and the lynchpin is that Silven knows what the audience is going to think before we think it. This is a show, after all, about clairvoyance.

I don’t want to talk spoilers, but I hope I’ll be forgiven for describing a sequence that I was involved with, and which will give you an idea about how The Journey plays out. The audience was asked to bring a meaningful memento to the show. Silven told us to hold up the objects, and mine, a Russian lacquered box, was chosen. I, in turn, chose Emma and her charm necklace, and she, in turn, chose Lisa and her Tin Man ornament. The crowd had previously decided on a carving (bird), colour (saffron) and season (winter).

The end of this sequence, and the final tie-in, was a framed page from a supposed nature book hanging on the wall. This page described a bird that involved every one of our word choices, i.e., it was a Russian bird, of saffron colour etc. When Silven turned this picture over, all our choices were listed on the back, from lacquered box on down, so it was a two-way reveal. How did he know? And that, of course, is the question that lies at the heart of the show.

Now maybe there was someone sitting hidden in a green screen furiously writing down our choices, but Silven is operating in real-time, so I don’t know about wringers. The point is, I’m still amazed about how it all happened. Silven couldn’t possibly know I would bring a Russian lacquered box to the show. However, when you try to second guess the illusion, Silven throws traps your way by having layers, upon layers of choices within one sequence. You may think you know how one part of the trick (dare I call it that) was done, but the waters quickly muddy when many different audience choices are involved. The main shot is this – we were all there to be dazzled by Silven’s mental acumen, and he did not disappoint.

There is a preshow that features videos of Silven wandering lonely across barren moors and rugged seacoasts. This same kind of haunting quality pervades the show itself with designer Jeff Sugg infusing the studio with clouds of swirling mist and photos of dramatic landscapes, all underscored by Gareth Fry’s moody sound design that includes Jherek Bischoff’s ethereal music. The text, presumably the Calley story, is credited to Rob Drummond, who carries on the otherworldly quality with breathless, opaque language. What few props Silven needs are scattered around the small room. In other words, there is a rather amazing amount of production values for what is ostensively an intimate gathering. The one thing that is not “theatrical” is Silven himself. He comes across as a charming guy engaging in casual conversation. His manner is easy and gentle as he shepherds us through The Journey.

In the main, this is a show more about a connection between words and ideas, than showy illusions, but this relatively simple formula does pack a shock and awe punch. In short, I enjoyed myself thoroughly. The Journey is a clever choice for TO Live to offer audiences because it is an original concept for an online experience. Clearly TO Live is interested in ferreting out the strange and different in this new digital reality that passes for theatre today.

Now the February run of the show is finished, but take heart. Scott Silven’s The Journey returns in March. Details here.

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Paula Citron

Paula Citron is a Toronto-based freelance arts journalist and broadcaster who hosts her own website, paulacitron.ca. For over 25 years, she was senior dance writer for The Globe and Mail, associate editor of Opera Canada magazine, arts reviewer for Classical 96.3 FM, and dance previews contributor to Toronto Life magazine. She has been a guest lecturer for various cultural groups and universities, particularly on the role of the critic/reviewer, and has been a panellist on COC podcasts. Before assuming a full-time journalism career, Ms. Citron was a member of the drama department of the Claude Watson School for the Arts.
Paula Citron
Follow me
Follow me

Paula Citron

Paula Citron is a Toronto-based freelance arts journalist and broadcaster who hosts her own website, paulacitron.ca. For over 25 years, she was senior dance writer for The Globe and Mail, associate editor of Opera Canada magazine, arts reviewer for Classical 96.3 FM, and dance previews contributor to Toronto Life magazine. She has been a guest lecturer for various cultural groups and universities, particularly on the role of the critic/reviewer, and has been a panellist on COC podcasts. Before assuming a full-time journalism career, Ms. Citron was a member of the drama department of the Claude Watson School for the Arts.
Paula Citron
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