Erik Rutherford's friend pulled out a laptop at a party in 2007, and everyone gathered around, shared their favourite YouTube videos, laughed and talked.
That inspired Rutherford to create an online literary magazine where writers, artists, musicians and critics interpret and contextualize YouTube videos of their choice along personal and academic lines with essays and their selected videos. The Toronto-based freelance writer named the magazine Ryeberg after his great-grandfather.
Rutherford launched Ryeberg in 2009 and highlighted it with Ryeberg Live, its first show-and-tell party in 2010.
"It was surprisingly amazing," Rutherford said with a trace of awe. "It was like the best party you've ever been to."
He'd previously watched many of the videos in private, but viewing them on a big screen with a room full of people felt like a communal experience, Rutherford said.
"It makes it feel like [Ryeberg magazine] exists because it is so intangible, there's no publication, no paper that comes out of it, it's a magazine that can only exist online because it includes videos," he added.
The fourth ever Ryeberg Live and the second in Vancouver will happen as part of the ninth annual PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, Jan. 27. It's one of the Club PuSh shows at Performance Works on Granville Island.
The first Ryeberg Live Vancouver happened at the Waldorf in March. The show included artist and author Michael Turner contemplating the cultural place of the Frisbee, award-winning author Miriam Toews considering silence, and comedian Charlie Demers riffing on survivalists while screening videos that showed massive food stashes and off-the-wall survival tips. One clip featured a man who hoarded booze-filled chocolates for bartering purposes.
The upcoming Ryeberg Live features authors Kevin Chong, Steven Galloway and Caroline Adderson, and theatre artist Maiko Bae Yamamoto.
Rutherford says English teachers are increasingly assigning their students to create videos instead of writing essays on the novels they teach, and many of these videos wind up on YouTube. Chong is poised to analyze those.
Adderson wants to help audience members feel how it might have been to see moving images for the first time.
"She starts with the legendary train coming into the station in the South of France [in 1895]," Rutherford said. "She starts with the first film that was ever screened to an audience and tries to get us to imagine how shocking and amazing it would have been for those people."
Yamamoto, co-artistic director of Theatre Replacement, will explore nostalgia.
"I realized a lot of the times when I go on YouTube, it's because I'm longing to feel something and a lot of the videos that I'm attracted to are the ones that either make me gasp or have some kind of emotional breakdown," she said.
Yamamoto said she's feeling daunted about acting as essayist and curator alongside the aforementioned acclaimed authors, but she's flattered to be involved because she's a fan of Ryeberg online.
"When you go on YouTube you have this large list of related YouTube videos, and so you sometimes get lost in this vortex of clicking, clicking onto the next thing, and it can feel really horrible if you wasted hours," she said with a laugh. "It's really nice that someone has gone and curated and [written] an essay. That's what I really like about it, is that someone's gone to the time to do that work for me so that I don't get lost in the vortex of time suckage, and I actually learn something."
The PuSh Festival runs until Feb. 3.