Preview: ByoRetreat (The Mission Business)

Sneak peak at the latest stage in the The Mission Business’s end of the world: ByoRetreat, running November 2nd and 3rd

As we near the end of the (fake) long, slow (faux) buildup to the (fictional) end of the world – parentheses brought to you by Hurricane Sandy – it has rarely been such fun to follow along. I was lucky enough to see the Toronto Fringe show of ByoLogyc: Where You Become New, and made it in for an early BRX virus screening at Nuit Blanche this year, ducking protestors and reassuring my small son that we were still seeing a show, even if it didn’t look like it. For extra fun, I’ve been participating in the VIP (Versatile Intern Program), watching things unfold behind the scenes.

Well, behind some parts of the scene.

There are so many levels that it can be a little difficult to tell how far the experience spreads, and what one is actually intended to be able to see. ByoLogyc, on the one hand, is a fictional biotech company that has been creating and selling “enhancement” products for average people. The products have become increasingly ambitious, and in the recent weeks things have clearly started to go wrong. ByoLogyc is also the centerpiece of an Alternate Reality Game, and a suprisingly robust one – spanning multiple events, many locations and websites, video, text, and  – maybe my favorite – an online graphic novel, drawn by a Toronto artist playing an Icelandic graduate student in “New Audiences and Innovative Practices at the Iceland Academy of the Arts.” There are leaks, there’s an organized resistence, there are ongoing plot twists. It’s a lot of fun.

Who makes this fantastic (in all senses) work happen? Why, The Mission Business. Five high-school classmates, all part of the dramatic arts stream at Unionville High School, reconnected after university and began a conversation about what they felt was missing from the Toronto arts and culture scene. The five have certainly been making their mark individually as well as collectively: The Mission Business comprises social media maven Elena Mosoff, Luminato Associate Martha Haldenby, game designer David Fono, and Morro & Jasp midwife Byron Laviolette plus Trevor Haldenby, futurist and photographer as well as designated answerman. He explains that the group had read World War Z by Max Brooks and it got them thinking: what would it look like to explore what Haldenby, who responded to questions via email, called “the origin story of the zombie apocalypse. The story of how personal visions and human choices are what ultimately informs the way technologies wind up influencing the world”?

So far, how it looks is really, really cool.

And, The Mission Business assures us, there’s no need to have attended previous events to enjoy the crown jewel of the game, ByoRetreat, playing for only four shows over two days (2 & 3 November) at the Evergreen Brickworks*. According to Haldenby, the website provides “a ‘trailhead’ (as the transmedia scene likes calling it) on the website. This story-so-far exposition gives virgin audiences a high-level map of where the story started, and how it’s progressed so far. Who are the major characters? Where have they popped up, and to what end? What is all this building towards, and how can you play a part?”

Tickets are available at multiple levels, giving audience members the opportunity for a standard ticket, an Action ticket (recruit spies! escape interrogation!), a Power ticket (round up resistors! take back control!) and the Privilege ticket, a chance to sip champagne with ByoLogyc CEO Chet Getram as a board member as the world ends. Or starts to tilt in that direction, anyhow.

I asked Haldenby whether he could share a secret or two from the game’s codex, the document that contains all the character and story development and continuity notes for the whole endeavor. In reply, he wrote:

“I don’t want to spoil too much, but let’s just say that the ByoLogyc corporation is always passionate about testing and research. Even at the climax of the end of the world, you never know how much of what they’re presenting is real, and how much is a simulation designed to help them get a leg up on their competition.”

Well, that sounds worrisome. I can’t wait.




*(The Mission Business also sent along a friendly reminder that post-apocalyptic landscapes can be unpredictably uneven and exposed to the elements. Dress warmly and wear sturdy shoes.)