Storytelling experience immerses audience in life on the Red Planet, Sept. 13-17
This story appeared in UToday on September 13, 2017.
September 13, 2017

A trip to Mars may be closer than you think. During Beakerhead 2017, curious minds from across Calgary can visit Mars 112, a simulated experience of a Mars colony in the year 2112 and one of the 14 projects within the festival’s Snakes and Laddersprogram.

The project is the outcome of collaboration between staff and students from the University of Calgary and Calgarians. Mars 112 is the brainchild of project manager Georgina Freeman, BSc ‘09 at the University of Calgary and MSc ‘12 from McGill University. She is a research associate at the W21C, a research and innovation initiative within the O’Brien Institute for Public Health at the Cumming School of Medicine.

Mars 112 tells the story of the first human colonist on Mars, Persephone Smith-Johansson, an engineer-astronaut. Persephone, however, encounters (and creates) more than a few distractions, and the project falls 75 years behind schedule. Visitors will bear witness to Persephone’s journey, experiencing the space as though they are the first human settlers on Mars, arriving to find that the promised condo units are not yet complete.

Georgina Freeman is the guiding force behind Mars 112, a collaborative exhibit that sees UCalgary creators experiment with storytelling and design.
Georgina Freeman is the guiding force behind Mars 112, a collaborative exhibit that sees UCalgary creators experiment with storytelling and design.


Aging in place research got Freeman thinking

Freeman was initially inspired by her day job at W21C, where she conducts research focused on aging in place, which examines the ability of individuals to live in their home and community safely and independently over the course of their lives. This includes looking into the provision of care for underserved areas, including rural and remote communities. She considered what this would look like if humans began to colonize planets, creating even more drastically remote areas for health care provision.

The premise then evolved into a story of an individual’s experience in a harsh, isolated environment where much of their life is mediated by technology. This direction was informed by the work of University of Calgary Faculty of Arts master’s student Kathryn Blair, who focuses on human interactions with technology and the impact of technology on human experiences.

The effect of telemonitoring and isolation on Persephone is revealed through the space, rather than by a narrator, using techniques of environmental storytelling. For Freeman, Beakerhead creates an opportunity to play with different types of narratives.

“I really wanted to explore a different way of telling a story, and that’s when we got into environmental storytelling, which is letting the space tell the story for itself,” Freeman explains. “Can we create an immersive narrative that doesn’t have a narrator who’s walking you through from part A to B? If so, the story still stands as people explore the space, and they get a rich, fulfilling experience.”

Fostering connections between collaborators brings richness to Mars 112

In her role as project manager, Freeman sought to foster connections between the various collaborators while ensuring commitment to a shared vision. Those involved include emerging writers, videographers, makers, and musicians, as well as Loft 112, the community organization that is hosting the project.

“Everyone brought certain elements from their background and interests. Our approach was to try to fold every contribution into the story to make Mars 112 a richer space, and to make it so that everyone contributes equally,” Freeman says. “That was the most exciting thing for me.”

The collaborative approach of Mars 112 is a reflection of the environment that Beakerhead seeks to create through its Snakes and Ladders program. Each of the exhibits are united under the theme “the ups and downs of invention” and are connected to one another as visitors determine their journey through the various sites. Individual projects are therefore expanded beyond their boundaries.

Mars 112 is free for the public between 12 and 8 p.m. from Sept. 13 to 17 at Loft 112 (535 8th Ave. S.E.) in Calgary’s East Village.