By Shane Birley on July 24, 2004 - 3:28pm
I have put off this review because I was afraid that what I had to say would be mean and unfair. Now it is late July and I have had time to digest what I saw. I have had time to read other reviews and have had a few chances to speak with other people whom have all seen the Storyeum performance.
Now, I am ready...
I was excited to see Storyeum. I had been waiting for a couple of weeks to find a chance to head over to Gastown and check it out. My girl and I arrived about thirty minutes early because we wanted to check out the lobby. The lobby, you see, is all part of the show. It is designed to present a history of British Columbia using historic photos. It was quite interesting and provides information about the provice. My enthusiasum to see the show was growing by the minute.
The First Elevator
The attendant near the elevator doors announced that it was time to enter. I handed my set of tickets over to the clerk, with a big goofy smile on my face, and he happily ripped them in two. I walked into the round elevator, put my arm around my bestest girl and waited for the show to begin. The elevator was dark and the lighting cast a dim wash over the crowd of about sixty people. I had a small advantage over all those waiting in the elevator as I already walked through the site during the press preview. I had a rough idea of what we would all see and I was sure that with the live performers plying their trade, the audience would be in for a treat.
The elevator doors closed and after a short presentation by the attendants, we began to descend. After a few seconds a voice started telling us how British Columbia was created and how the salmon were the most important resource to the First Nations people. It was interesting but the quality was a little on the sketchy side. As we descended, is was apparent the sound was the best part of the whole elevator ride. The visuals were like anything I saw when I spent a month cruising around Expo 86. Cheap, old, and not very well thought out. I am sure the people who created the show were awesome at what they did, but in this day and age of expensive movies and people balking at $22 ticket prices, it was a let down.
The Salmon Stream
The doors opened and we "followed fish" down a stream and then entered into a forest. But, I must make some references to the "streaming hallway". During the elevator production, we are told how important fish were to the coastal First Nations. So, it was pretty cool to see the projected fish on blue sheets of fabric that represented water. The disappointing part of this transition from the elevator was the floor. It was incredibly distracting. I couldn't help but notice the transition from carpet to unfinished, dirty concrete. Nothing had been done to the floors! I tried not to notice but walking through the hallway and then into the forest room, I could not help but stare at the floors. They were just plain, exposed concrete complete with construction debris and paint spills. I assumed that as the show came together, they would paint the floors or finish them in some way. I was feeling a little off by this point, but since we had just started and hadn't seen any of the actors yet, I could let it pass.
The forest room is next in the tour. The room is quite impressive and looks very good. With the exception of the floor, the trees are very well done and the atmosphere is very forest like. Within the forest, visitors are treated to a vision quest. It is like a search for one's identity in the world, told to the audience through the eyes of a talking tree and a very non-First Nations actor. The sound in the room was a bit distorted. It might have been because of the odd shape or the branches getting in the way, but when it came time for the presentation to indicate that a tree was talking, most of the audience just kept following the actor. The interation between the actor and the tree was not that clear and most people completely missed the connection. When it was time to move into the long house, there were whispers from the group that they had no idea what had just transpired. I mentioned to three or four that the tree had played an important role but they replied that the had no idea the tree was involved.
The Long House
The long house is a very nice set with a false fire in the middle, complete with fake smoke. A grandmother and child talk about salmon and how important it is and then they talk about a few other things. The staging is great in this room. I think this was the highlight of the presentation for me. I won't go into too many details as I think this will be one of the better parts of the entire production. I don't want to spoil it too much. Besides, here comes a European to take us away.
Back In Europe
This was a very bizarre scene. Captain Cook is supposed to be speaking with the King George. You know, the king who was mad? The set for this scene is a long hallway in a Eurpoean style. There is a vaulted ceiling and a loft like stage at one end where most of the action takes place. It is very pretty. But, the sound, the sound, the sound! The first problem was that the actor's microphone continued to cut out and no one could hear what he was saying. This was forgivable since there are times when technology just doesn't work when it is supposed to. But, the thing is, no one could really understand what was going on since King George was barely audible. His recorded audio should have been booming in the room. I mean, he is a king! He should, at least, be a main presence in the room. But, he wasn't. It was like hearing the voices in someone else's head. One could have heard this conversation between the Captain and the King through a bathroom door and it would have made more sense. Anyway, a set of doors opened again and everyone was ushered by a very enthusiastic ship hand.
The next room contains what is a very elaborate set that takes place on a ship. There is a storm at sea and rain pours from above, we meet all kinds of different characters. The rain and wind is the best thing about this part of the production. There are more projected images over the water, but these are not very effective and seem to distract. It would have been better to have actors relaying the information to the audience as it would have made more sense and the actors would have had a little more to do. Selling the idea that this ship was encountering First Nations peoples for the first time wasn't overly described and just made no sense. Again, a door opens and someone screams something about gold. My heart was beginning to sink again.
Lost In A Mine and Barkerville
After moving through a "mine shaft", the audience pours out into Barkerville. During the transition from the ship into Barkerville, there is an audio portion describing what mining is all about or something. The problem was, I missed most of it because it starts playing right as the doors opened. I was in the middle of the group of sixty, so, I imagine that those behind me missed all of the information presented "in the shaft". But, upon entering Barkerville, the bad timing was easily dismissed. The set is amazing and horribly under-used. The walls are painted nicely and, apparently, the buildings (about seven in total) each represent a real building in Barkerville. This entire part of the show features Billy Barker and different inhabitants telling their stories. They talk about gold, saving souls, drinking and how Barkerville is one of the most important historical sites in British Columbia. The performance is good but, again, the sound was not very good. It seemed like the sound was absorbed somehow. The actor's voices didn't carry very well, and because the room is quite long, some people straggling at the back of the group were confused about where the action was supposed to take place. Overall, the story of Barkerville was quite entertaining but I had to stare at the floor because it was still bare concrete. I think they should, at least, paint it grey and try to hide the construction materials. A door opens and we get to follow a projected railway line. It would have been nice if this had been part of the transition for every room. I couldn't help but notice that we didn't need little directional help at this point.
The Railway Dream
We find ourselves in a bare concrete room and a tressel decorated with lanterns and a sleeping prime minister. This is a great set and the acting is very well done. Here is told the story of John A. MacDonald's grand dream of creating a coast to coast rail system and how the railway was built by a majority of Chinese migrants. As the saying goes, there is one dead Chinese worker for each mile of track and they hammer this point home. It was a good story told here and this is one of the attraction's highlights. There are parts of this performance where there are projectors again showing parts of history on the walls. This is good, but the projectors show the presentations almost behind the audience. As the sound of the projected portion of the show came up, it was a little confusing as where one should be looking. I also would note here that there is supposed to be some kind of elevator in the middle of the tressel raising up some of the actors, but this didn't happen. It possibly wasn't ready or something but that is what I was told was supposed to happen.
The Loading Dock/Warehouse
Doors again roll open and we were presented with a warehouse and train docking platform. Boxes and bags and all kinds of crates were scattered about creating the illusion of a real working train depot. As we walked into the area, a train rolls slowly to a stop and a train conductor rings a bell announcing his arrival. There is a female depot worker who has been taking stock of boxes and bags then greets the hunky train engineer. They exchange banter about how great the railway is and random facts about British Columbia - and then, it starts. The musical number to turn anyone off musicals forever. The engineer and the depot proclaim at the top of their lungs: BC IS OPEN FOR BUSINESS! I start wondering if Gordon Campbell and the British Columbia Liberal Party are sponsors of this number. It was horrible! I took a look around the audience and one could see the looks being passed around. I almost wanted to tell them to stop because they were insulting the audience. The entire number was like a slap in the face. One can see this kind of thing on Granville Island for free and enjoy it. But, here, in the confines of Storyeum, the lyrics should have been: "Too bad you paid $110 to see this, because Storyeum is open for business!" It was painful. At some point during the musical number there is a loud explosion. The actors make reference to it, but they kept saying they had no idea what it was. So, what was the point of the explosion? Maybe it was their acting careers. Thankfully, the elevator is there to bring everyone back into reality.
The Last Elevator
The elevator doors closed and the insults continued. Now, granted, this was when the production had been open for only a few weeks and they were still putting touches here and there and polishing the show off but the quality control needed some work. I hadn't a clue what was supposed to be going on in this elevator. There were claims of how great British Columbia was but it was only a series of projectors playing some video on a white wall. It made no sense and after having been abused during a musical number that, quite frankly, needed to be rewritten and then dropped entirely, this just made it even worse.
During the ride up, the couple beside me started whispering that they wanted their money back and the husband was visibly angry. The doors opened and we found ourselves in the gift store.
We walked to the exit.
I think readers will now see why I didn't want to review this attraction. The things I had to say were very critical. But, I don't like to cover over things and I will always call it how I see it. It doesn't make me right, but it doesn't mean the show is great either. Why? It is my belief that an attraction with such potentional and with their advertising budget, they should allow for more time to prepare and produce an edu-tainment show with a little more quality in mind. I am sure there were many things going on behind the scenes that I don't know about. I also acknowledge that the actors, writers, and producers of Storyeum have been working their behinds off to make it the best show they can and I must applaude them. But, to me, it seems there were some corners that were not merely cut off, but were sliced completely.
I am sure it will get better and I know the show is certain to evolve over time. The beginning was on the questionable side, there were some golden moments in the middle, and the end of the show was just brutal. But, even with these faults, I can't say enough about how cool an idea Storyeum is. I wrote earlier that I had a chance to go through the Tunnels of Moose Jaw and I thought it was great. The tunnels are just a great entertainment value for the money and one learns about how Moose Jaw was a destination for migrant workers and a pseudo-history about Moose Jaw and the apparent Chicago connection. But, that show had been running for over a year and a half when I saw it. From that experience, I am convinced that Storyeum will, eventually, find a footing and take off as a production. I just had hoped that when it started, Storyeum would have been more ready than.
As a final note, I have spoken to people who have seen the show a couple of times and they have told me that my description of Storyeum is different from theirs. When we all compared notes, it became obvious that there had been major changes over the last six weeks or so. I will most likely go again, but I think I will wait for another year. These kinds of attractions always change and I certainly hope it will improve. The production company and the producers of the live action will work out the problems and I am sure find out what works and what doesn't.
I am also convinced that people have gone through it already and have loved every minute of it.
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