For the Common good

An iPod play that takes you on a magical tour through the city's centre.

Julé Malet-Veale
The Common director Dustin Harvey wants inside your head.

The Common director Dustin Harvey wants inside your head.
  • Julé Malet-Veale
  • The Common director Dustin Harvey wants inside your head.

Warning: You may feel totally self-conscious as a spray of water tickles your face, which is pressed against the metal fence surrounding the fountain in the Common. But the voice telling you to stand there is kind but firm in its instructions. Hold on though, you’re off on a fantastical ride.

The Common: An Experience For One Person In A Public Place is a site-specific play presented on an iPod that takes individuals on a journey from the North Common, up Bell Road to the Public Gardens, ending at Victoria Park. Secret Theatre director Dustin Harvey, whose previous productions include Winding Up Godot (performed with wind-up toys) and Cowboy Show (hosted in an old trailer), is known for subverting traditional theatre conventions like space, location and audience intimacy.

Harvey knew that he wanted to do a performance using an iPod, and certainly there isn’t a more polarizing piece of land in the city on which to base a site-specific story. “We’re living in a time where the Common’s role is fuelled by debate—-what is its best use?” Harvey asks rhetorically, sitting in a lawn chair by the fountain. A green flag marks the beginning of the play, where Harvey hooks up participants with an iPod, a guidebook, pencil and a pin to flash at people in case they want to talk.

The Common is written by former Coast contributor Rob Plowman. “He took the idea of myth and folklore as his inspiration,” says Harvey, with themes of “history, place and identity.” But as history is not a static concept, Plowman deftly bleeds current news and urban tales (random violence) with facts (skating at Egg Pond), locations (the Citadel) and prominent figures (Samuel Cunard). Don’t expect a straightforward narrative; sometimes the voice tells a story; occasionally you’re presented with a task, or asked to search for a personal memory. “It’s a bit of a dream,” says Harvey. “How real is it? We blur and play, just a little bit. A lot happens in your imagination.”

It is particularly surreal journey on this lovely Tuesday night, as the fields are covered in teepees and striped carnival tents for the Membertou 400 powwow, while security guards lean against fences, eyeing passersby suspiciously. Even the Bengal Lancers horses seem to be in on the action, as instructions are given to quicken your pace. It looks like you’re doing a trot. “Certain things are triggered, some aren’t,” says Harvey mysteriously. “Sometimes those serendipitous entrances seem to be on cue.” By the time you reach the end, you may feel exhilarated or subdued, or like you’re coming off a peyote high.

The Common runs from July 1 to 11, from 6.30pm to dusk. It’s free, but admission is appointment only. Email with the day you’d like to attend and a phone number. For more information, visit

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