Okay, how square am I? My very use of the word “square” probably tells you. Maybe I should say “unhip”—but that’s probably even more square. Squarer. Anyway, here’s the truth. I’ve never been to a rave. Until now.
Upintheair Theatre’s 120bpm aims in part at people like me. Set in a warehouse above a body shop, the play recreates a rave with a DJ providing the incessant 120 beats per minute of electronic music that drives the dancing. The bottoms of my feet are still buzzing.
A character called Professor (Frano Marsic) gives us first-timers a lesson on The Three Pillars of the Rave Community: House Music, Dancing, and Drugs. Another character, Foster (Kyle Jespersen), a newby from the burbs attending his first rave, gets instructions from the veteran ravers that help enlighten us, too.
But the play also speaks to an audience of twenty-somethings familiar with rave culture. They recognize themselves in the characters, laugh at things I don’t get, share with the actors a nostalgia for, like, five years ago when they were all eighteen and naïve like the characters.
What really surprised me was how dark and pessimistic the play turns out to be.
But first. You have to phone ahead and find out where to meet. There you get a map to the secret “illegal” venue (which in actuality is perfectly legal and licensed). The play begins in the lineup on the staircase where Foster tries to get in without paying: “I know the DJ!”
Initially, the rave seems a healthy alternative to mainstream society, “a haven for freaks and strangers,” where geeky kids can express themselves unselfconsciously on the dance floor. They include spinny Pixie (Sara Bynoe) in halter top and fairy wings, intense Hero (David Patrick Flemming), his ex-girlfriend Ange (Caitlin Fulton), Bob the dealer (Chris Frary), and three “death ravers” in black. Everyone is supportive of each other and there’s a lot of hugging.
There’s also a lot of drugs, mainly ecstasy, but also pot, coke, even crystal meth. It soon becomes clear that the real point of the rave for these badly messed up kids is to get utterly wasted. Drug-fuelled trance dancing for hours does nothing to fill the emptiness in their lives. It’s all just fun until somebody od’s.
The uneven script, co-written by directors Daniel Martin and David Mott, successfully exposes the failures of rave culture to live up to its own ideals but draws all the characters with a depressing sameness. The venue is cool but has terrible sight lines. Strong performances by Flemming and Jespersen anchor a pretty good ensemble.
For us squares this is a rave without risk. No one will ask you to dance. But you might be asked if you want Vick’s on your nipples.