A blend of science, art and activism

‘Sea Sick’ is a call to action for ocean awareness

Photo by Chloe Ellingson, provided by the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre

This month, the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre presents Sea Sick, written and performed by Alanna Mitchell, as part of the second annual The Bridge: A Festival of Ideas. Beginning last year, The Bridge invites audiences to explore the numerous social issues that are impacting our world today. The theme of this year’s festival is “Our Only Earth” and it aims to raise awareness about climate change through discourse and performance. The festival is being held semi-virtually, with programming typically beginning at 12 p.m. daily.

Inspired by Mitchell’s bestselling book of the same name, Sea Sick recounts her journey and desire to learn about the land, ultimately becoming invested in the pollution of the world’s oceans and the urgent issue of climate change. A blend of personal anecdotes, scientific facts and investigative journalism, there is a lot to take away from the 80-minute presentation. Patrons are invited to stay after the show for a 15-minute informal talkback with Mitchell.

The set, created by Shawn Kerwin, consists solely of a chalkboard and a high table. This simplicity belies the complex content of the piece. When Mitchell makes her entrance, the lights do not immediately dim, allowing her time to greet and connect with her audience personally. As she weaves her tale of emails, expeditions and apprehensions, the house lights gradually fade until the spotlight shines only on her.

Mitchell is an excellent storyteller and wordsmith. Her speech is conversational, authentic and easy to listen to, from describing the sensation of accidentally drinking poisonous red tide to divulging her fears about travelling thousands of leagues under the sea in the back of a tiny submersible. Rebecca Picherack’s lighting design reflects these stories — one example is by slowly darkening the space as Mitchell describes a long descent into the ocean — but these techniques could have been utilized to an even greater extent.

However, as Mitchell readily admits in her monologue, she is a journalist rather than a performer. At times, her delivery lapses into more formal, academic language. Though she tried to make the scientific aspects of the piece accessible by defining her terms and paring down explanations of chemical reactions, concepts and processes, the presentation overall felt more like a TED Talk than a theatrical performance.

If you are more interested in traditional theatre, Sea Sick might not be for you, but it is a passionate cautionary tale about humanity’s impact on the world around us, meant to provoke change and inspire reflection.

The Bridge: A Festival of Ideas and Sea Sick will both run until March 19. For a full festival schedule, ticketing information and more, please visit royalmtc.ca.