No one’s home? ‘Outheis’ on the streets of Kingston
If you saw a man with a bandaged head carrying a CD player as he dashed down Princess Street this week, don’t worry—it was no one.
By no one, I mean it was Outheis.
From Barrie, Ontario, Talk Is Free Theatre (TIFT) presents Outheis, a multi-site immersive theatre experience at the Kingston Grand Theatre. Conceived and directed by Griffin Hewitt, this show features captivating performances by Troy Adams, Taylor Garwood, Nick Boegel, and Justan Myers.
To avoid spoiling any surprises, readers who intend to see this show in the future may wish to stop reading here. Outheis is set to be presented in Barrie this September in TIFT’s 2023-24 season.
Under the premise of gathering to search for a missing person, audience members meet to receive some cryptic clues (including the Greek word “οὐδείς”, or “no one”) before splitting into three search parties. As the groups are guided through a series of interactions with strange characters in familiar places, Outheis meditates on themes of home and belonging.
To facilitate the flow of the piece, a Kick & Push staff member travels with each group, rotating the audience through three downtown locations within walking distance of the Grand. Through animal fables, history lessons, and poetic monologues, the performers at each site build a spellbinding psychological thriller, transforming a seemingly straightforward premise into something much weirder. Portable CD players take a central role in the storytelling, and I have never seen a show blend pre-recorded and live audio so flawlessly.
The acting is enthralling, the mystery elements are intriguing, and the sets are detailed and highly immersive. However, serious topics like the housing crisis, mental illness, incarceration, and military trauma seem to be used for flavour rather than substance. Outheis begins with a familiar tragic narrative—a young man returns from military service and goes off the rails—and peppers in all the scary tropes about conspiracies, mind control, and state violence. As the story builds to its conclusion, though, the show becomes increasingly abstract, closing with what I can only describe as an artsy non-ending.
This left me unsatisfied in multiple ways. As an audience member invested in the story, it feels like a lack of payoff for our long quest to recover the missing person. Going deeper, it seems like the show sets itself up to critique some truly ghastly aspects of modern life and systemic violence, but instead it opts for sensationalism and navel-gazing.
What I find especially off-putting about Outheis is how the play interacts with the public. As the audience follows a mysterious, twitching, bandaged actor along Princess and Brock, they are bound to pass members of our downtown community whose clothes are similarly dishevelled, whose idiosyncrasies may also read as odd or threatening, and for whom this is not a costume choice or an acting gig. The idea that some members of a population can pay $30 to be titillated by a story that uses the aesthetics of their vulnerable neighbours feels troubling in a way that artistic merit or aims of awareness-raising can’t justify.
Site-specific theatre can shine a light on familiar spaces and ask us to look at them in new ways. Perhaps Outheis is meant to provoke a deeper look into the lives of our unhoused and street-involved neighbours, or to break stigma by acknowledging the interiority of all humans for whom “home” is a fraught concept. Without being grounded in our city’s past and present (it’s a touring play, and the character and story details are broadly North American), Outheis doesn’t come across as truly engaging with the city it uses as its stage. When the swirling clouds of poetry and paranoia dissipate, I’m not sure Outheis does much to help Kingstonians look clearly at the place we call home.
‘Outheis’ was produced for the Kick & Push Festival from July 27 to 30, 2023. More information about the Kick & Push Festival’s ninth season can be found here.