100% Vancouver: take long form census, add 100 first-time performers, stir, analyze. Repeat as needed.

100% Vancouver, the remarkable PUSH festival play that closes tonight, does the seemingly impossible: explore Vancouver through the eyes and voices of 100 first-time performers selected to match the city’s demographic reality as determined by the long-form census.

It’s instant, real-time civic engagement, using an accurate cross section of the community.

The premise is simpler than it sounds and is derived from similar experiments in Vienna and Berlin, spearheaded by Berlin’s Rimini Protokoll. Using five criteria from the census (gender, age, ethnicity, marital status and neighbourhood), the directors find first-time performers, each of whom will represent one percent of the roughly 646,000 Vancouver residents.

The Vancouver crew, recruited by word of mouth, family connections, business ties and even on Craigslist, ranged from four to 88 years old, had a median age of 38 and represented every neighbourhood but Shaughnessy, Oakridge and Arbutus Ridge. After two private rehearsals and a public dress rehearsal, they premiered earlier this week to a sold-out crown at Woodwards’.

Once on stage, the performers organize themselves in response to a series of questions. Who is in a same sex relationship? Who was born in Vancouver? Who smokes marijuana. Who is male and who is female? (One performer stayed firmly centre stage on that one and received a warm round of applause.)

The result is a shifting and moving kaleidoscope of our city in real time. Director Amiel Gladstone likens it to “opening the top of a Skytrain car and putting the people on stage.”

In a pre-matinee panel discussion, architect and performer David Wong told how exciting it had been to connect with 99 strangers who he now counts as friends. One, Filipino immigrant Ramon, just two months in the country, needs a job and the 100%  crowd has promised to find him one. They have their own Facebook page and hope to have a reunion in five years.

It was moving, as Gladstone said, to see a group of strangers be so “open, vulnerable, trusting and caring for each other.” He recalled the similar mood that engulfed the city a year ago during the street parties that marked the Olympic Games. (About one-third of the group declared themselves opposed to the Games.)

If the performance has a single lesson, he suggested, it’s that “we need more common goals, where we feel we can together, work on projects together, feel open, vulnerable and share.”

The performance ends with a darkened stage, each actor answering questions by holding aloft an ignited lighter overhead to answer questions about life and death. Do you feel you will have left a mark when you die? From where I sat, a clear majority said yes.