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Jeremy Willard
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Retreat at the End of the World

A mysterious research lab and their big Halloween party

11.01.2012

Obeying the official invitation sent to me by ByoLogyc, I rendezvous with Denis Kirkham in the lobby of a posh Yorkville hotel. I know him by his ByoLogyc name badge, and he takes me into the dining room to meet the CEO of ByoLogyc, Chet Getram. Getram wears an authoritative dark suit, a reassuring smile, and sports an Australian accent. After shaking hands, I pull out my voice recorder and notepad, settle into my chair, and he asks with smooth grandiosity: “So, what do you think of our world?”

I know a fair bit about this Toronto-based biotech company that has risen to great prominence and notoriety in the last few years. I know that their recent accomplishment, ByoRenew, involves taking an initial treatment, a simple capsule, which provides a platform for later subscriptions to life-enhancing ByoLogyc products. I want to know more about the BRX virus that is starting to sweep the city, and is somehow a variant of the ByoRenew drug.

Not wanting to put Getram on his guard, I start with innocuous questions—the questions his subordinates had advised me to ask—producing answers like: “I am enhancing something my father built many years ago. He left it in a state where you either improve it and enhance it, or let it fade away,” and “People always come up to me and tell me they want to live forever, and we’re not quite there yet, but are definitely giving people a lot more years, and a lot more comfort,” and also “ByoReview is really our greatest achievement to date.”

Diners file in, the noise grows, and I worry about the quality of my recording. Getram’s personal assistant, Denis, interrupts to say the waiter has approached him to offer us a curtained-off private dining room where we will not be disturbed. Continuing the interview in the private dining room I shift my focus to the important issue: I want to know to what extent ByoLogyc is at fault for the BRX virus. I point to some of the activities of ByoLogyc that might indicate guilt: a) the Public Health and Community Wellness Clinic at Nuit Blanche, and the vaccine against BRX to be administered there; b) the establishment of ByoLogyc’s Sanitation and Containment Division SCD and c) the dismissal of VP of Quality Assurance, Olive Swift. Taken together, these factors seemed to indicate that ByoLogyc has caused something serious and is trying to cover its tracks. 

Getram dodges my questions with the suavity of a politician, blaming rumours—“when you own a company as powerful as ByoLogyc there are always going to be people trying to bring it down”—and suggesting blame for BRX virus on the actions of anti-ByoLogyc terrorist group EXE—“we are reacting to these people who don’t take safety as seriously as we do, and have given us more work to do with ByoRenew.” More info on ByoRenew here.

As I push some of—and then, I think, all of—Getram’s buttons he treats me to more and more heavy sighs, and a few of his stern stares that hit my face like stinging slaps. I switch to lighter topics, such as what appeal ByoLogyic might have to Fab readers. Getram replies: “If I had a pill that would stop homophobia or bullying I’d love to throw that at you, but I would like to think that if we’re able to alleviate stress, people will be more comfortable in their own skin, and won’t have to look to belittling others to feel better.”

Following another interruption by PA Denis, Getram gets up to leave, summing up with “you can look at all sorts of situations from lots of different angles, and I feel like you’re choosing to go down the path that these people are manufacturing . . . it’ll probably sell more papers if you go that way, but I’m here to tell you that the truth is relatively boring. We’re successful, we have fantastic products, people love us, and we’re going to be around for a long time making people happy.” With that he leaves, and I sit back and think that I have not made a friend here—I may have actually made a powerful enemy.

Well, not actually. The above account of my interview with ByoLogyc CEO Chet Getram did take place in just the way described, but ByoLogyc is not a real company. There is no BRX disease, and Getram is a character played by actor Andrew Moyes. This may take some explaining.
 

Is this real?


 
            Several years ago, five young friends decided to try to sort out a way to make their day job something that also satisfied them creatively. They formed an arts collective called “The Mission Business”, which then initiated a project called “Zed TO” and Zed.to invented a fictitious and possibly nefarious biotech company called Byo Logyc. http://www.byologyc.com

The five core members of The Mission Business are Martha Haldenby, Byron Laviolette, Trevor Haldenby, Elenna Mosoff, and David Fono. Their titles change depending on whether we are talking about The Mission Business, Zed.to, or ByoLogyc, and whether we refer to their roles in the real world or their roles within the fictitious corporate world of ByoLogyc. Their backgrounds are more interesting, ranging from Laviolette’s involvement with the Dora-award-winning “Morro and Jasp” series and his PhD studies in Interactive Theatre at York University to  Trevor Haldenby’s Masters studies in Strategic Foresight and Innovation at OCAD. They are a strange and varied team, well-suited for this complex and peculiar project.

The story of ByoLogyc is the story of the rise and fall of a biotech company, and how it brings about the end of the world, but it’s not told in a conventional way. “Theatre is traditionally a ‘sit in the dark’ experience” says Byron Laviolette. The Mission Business wanted to create something with a much more ambitious question at its heart. “If we could do the most interesting thing possible for the Toronto arts scene, what would we do?” explains Trevor Haldenby. The story of ByoLogyc is not told in one sitting, one style, or one day, week or month.  The narrative began in March 2012 with a kick-off party at the Ingram Gallery on Avenue Road; the event was not only the beginning of the ByoLogyc story, but purported to be a party in celebration of ByoLogyc’s 20th Anniversary. As months went by more of the story was revealed bit by bit, online and at in-person events like NXNE, and The Fringe Festival (where they won the Performance Innovation Award). Over the course of the year people followed the story via twitter feeds of its various characters, the press releases from ByoLogyc, the various websites and the in-person events. The events themselves posed as actual events a company like ByoLogyc might have instigated, for instance, at The Fringe Festival ByoLogyc introduced ByoRenew, a “supercharger for your immune system,” as it is described by Trevor Haldenby.
 
ByoLogyc, and all that it entails, have been made to seem real. People have not just watched the story unfold, they’ve become involved in it—as interns at ByoLogyc, for instance—and they in some sense steer where the story will go. Characters from the story (actors) appear in the real world, but as their character, and people usually do not suspect them as fakes. Getram goes to real corporate events in character, with business cards, and is usually thought to be an actual CEO. When I interviewed Getram, the waiter was not informed that our interview was part of some grand interactive theatre project—he took it to be an actual interview between a newspaper and a big-shot businessman. Getram is so believably a CEO and Denis is so believably his personal assistant, that the waiter offered us the private room. As far as the hotel was concerned, we were what we seemed to be. This is something the ByoLogyc project does all the time. The story does not only break the fourth wall, it’s unclear where the fourth wall should be anymore (if anywhere). “It isn’t a world that you’re watching unfold, it’s a world you’re a part of, and you’re making decisions that contribute to how the end of the world happens or if it happens at all,” says Trevor Haldenby.
 

What makes it gay?


 
            CEO Chet Getram’s statements concerning homophobia can be trusted when taken in conjunction with the homosexuality of his assistant, Denis Kirkham, who is played by the writer and actor Shane Hollon. “I play a gay character and I’m gay in real life as well,” says Hollon. The fictitious ByoLogyc also has a product, ByoMate, which enjoys some fictitious success in the gay community. “"It's like ecstasy and Viagra combined, except without the negative consequences or after effects," says Getram.

 “ByoLogyc claims to target individual needs but in reality targets key demographics. In my imagining, ByoLogyc would have had great success selling its love drug, ByoMate, to the gay community,” says Hollon.

            Tension is building in the world of ByoLogyc. ByoRenew has, possibly through acts of the anti-ByoLogyc terrorist group EXE, somehow generated a virus called BRX. ByoLogyc seems to be mopping up this mess—with the establishment of the SCD, and the release of the early stage vaccine at Nuit Blanche—and preparing for the worst. Its upcoming ByoLogyc: Retreat is billed as “a deadly outbreak is ravaging the streets of Toronto. Mass panic is immiment. But ByoLogyc is here to help. Buy a ticket, and retreat to their exclusive safe house.” The safe house is at the Evergreen Brick Works and is probably the most significant event in the ByoLogyc story, and a great post-Halloween activity. To choose the part you want to play in the end of the world, peruse ticket types at http://zed.to/.
 
ByoLogyc: Retreat is Fri, Nov 2 and Sat, Nov 3 at Evergreen Brick Works, 550 Bayview Ave. Tickets available at zed.to 

Readers of Fab can get $20 off tickets to ByoLogyc: Retreat with a special coupon code! Just choose a showtime at www.zed.to/tickets, and enter "FAB4ZED" into the Coupon Code field on the ticket purchase page to receive your discount.

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