“Be prepared to be overwhelmed” our host warns as we’re welcomed to Glitterland. For the 35th Vancouver Fringe Festival, the Geekender’s have transformed East Vancouver’s Wise Hall into a retro cabaret for Alice in Glitterland, an immersive dance and theatre experience.
While I’m familiar with the characters of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, this was my first personal invitation down a rabbit hole. Initially, I was uncertain of where to stand and where to look with so much happening around me. But before long I found myself sharing carrots with the White Rabbit, having a private audience with the Red Queen, and spending time backstage in the Caterpillar’s den.
Building levels of consent into the show is important for writer/director Fairlith Harvey. Before the show, every audience member gets to choose a mask to wear in Glitterland, and the colour indicates their level of participation.
“Red means I’m just here to watch,” explains Harvey. “You can look me in the eye maybe, but please don’t touch me or talk to me or interact with me in any way beyond that. White masks may be glittered, danced with, spoken to, taken away to a small area for a one-on-one experience, given drinks, given tea … anything could happen to you.”
Anything, that is, providing the participant is comfortable with it. A safe word is introduced at the start of each show during a brief training session. That means that, regardless of which mask people choose, there’s always an option to opt out of an interaction.
“ I really want to reverse the audience-actor contract in these shows and make the audience feel seen and loved and warm,” says Harvey.
One of the goals of the production is for audience members to be able to relate to and empathize with the characters, who are all portrayed as full, complex individuals. “We’re all mad here” is an oft-repeated phrase in Carroll’s books, and the performance builds off that sentiment by exploring what living and loving with mental illness looks like. Throughout the show, different characters deal with wisdom they weren’t ready to gain and choices they might not be ready to make.
“Alice’s adventure underground isn’t something she asked for, but it happened to her and she has to look in the mirror and decide what to make of herself afterwards,” Harvey says. “I think a lot of us—especially women, transgender and non-binary individuals—have these formative experiences growing up where we have to become an adult, very, very quickly.”
To create the experience, Harvey interviewed approximately 40 neuro-divergent individuals on how they love and want to be loved.
“Everybody I interviewed, no matter what mental illness they had been diagnosed with, all had the same thing in common, Harvey says, noting it contradicts a common belief. “They love as fiercely and as deeply as they can, even when they can’t love themselves.”
With over eight hours of material crammed into a 75 minute performance, it's impossible to experience all that Alice in Glitterland has to offer in one go. I’d advise arriving early, choosing a white mask, and bringing a friend or two, so you can all swap stories afterwards.
Showtimes and tickets can still be found here before September 14. Pre-show begins 30 minutes before a given performance, and it is STRONGLY recommended to arrive early.