Friday, October 31, 2014

Sea Sick at the Theatre Centre

I'm in Toronto for a workshop on Performance, Placemaking and Cultural Policy hosted by York University's Theatre and Performance Studies Program (and organized by my fabulous colleagues Laura Levin and Marlis Schweitzer. The event is taking place at the new Theatre Centre space on Queen Street West (which I first visited in early May, very soon after it had opened). In addition to a great series of panel presentations from a range of artists, curators, arts administrators and cultural policy makers from across Canada, many of us also attended a performance of Allana Mitchell's Sea Sick, on at TC's main space through this weekend.

As Mitchell tells us at the top of the show, she is a science journalist, not an actor or playwright. But she is a born storyteller, and the tale she has to tell is so compelling and urgent that when TC's Artistic Director Franco Boni first heard it in 2012, he knew it deserved not just a wider stage but to be on an actual theatre stage. Based on Mitchell's award-winning book of the same title and, in turn, on Mitchell's years of investigative research that took her all over the world and, finally, to the very bottom of the ocean floor, Sea Sick explains what we have wrought upon the world's oceans in just 264 years and why this is the most troubling consequence of climate change.

It's not just that the oceans are rising and that they are getting warmer. It's also that they're getting more "sour," a process of acidification that is a result of changing pH levels due to CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. Mitchell explains all of this in an open and accessible manner that neither dumbs down the science nor hectors the audience. Indeed, one of the surprising things about the piece is just how much hope Mitchell is able to extract from so much despair. As she notes, in the 5 billion year history of the planet, the evolution of our species is of a comparatively short duration (a few hundred thousand years). And the history of industrialization that has led us to this point is even shorter--less than three centuries. As Laura noted in the talkback, this deeper thinking about time is necessary for a more complex understanding of the depths of the ocean's connection to our survival--both physically and metaphysically.

Sea Sick will be playing this year's PuSh Festival. Given Vancouver's Pacific Rim siting, the play deserves a very wide audience. I'm glad I could see it in advance (along with PuSh Associate Curator Joyce Rosario, who presented today at the workshop) so that I can spread the word.


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