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Friday, June 14, 2024

Theatre review: Cinerama is a wholly unique Vancouver experience

Playing with perception, perspective and your patience on the tidal flats of Spanish Banks

If you’ve never felt a connection to our physical city and its place, Fight With a Stick’s Cinerama may help. As it plays with perception and perspective of our surrounding environment, it will also test your patience.

(Warning: this review may contain spoilers. Given the nature of the show, you may want to experience it for yourself).

Playing out on the tidal flats at the east end of Spanish Banks, each performance begins at low tide. Handed noise-cancelling headphones, we were invited to walk from shore to the performance area a few hundred yards away.

It is important at this point to know you will get wet. Not just from potential rain (it is Juneuary after all), but from walking through the tidal pools to access the chairs where you watch the performance.

While the walk out takes place at the tide’s lowest point, at its conclusion those same pools are swallowed whole by the incoming sea. Proper footwear is a must. For my adventure I wore water shoes and shorts, plus a rain jacket and hoodie for warmth. Many of my fellow audience members chose to go barefoot, but the rocky shore can make it tough.

After reaching the performance area and removing the headphones, we were invited to take any of the 30 or so seats placed in a line. Facing Vancouver’s downtown across Burrard Inlet, the choices are to join small groupings or, like me, a vantage point on your own.

Soon after taking our seats, Nancy Tam’s sound design begins. At first the sounds were disorienting as it was tough to determine what might be environmental and what was created. As fog horns give way to the sound of trains though, you gradually begin to orient yourself and distinguish the difference.

Far in the distance, ten tiny figures appear and move towards the audience. While some are visible from the moment we sat, others seemingly appear from nowhere. Playing with perspective, a huge part of Cinerama, it was surreal to see one pair appear to rise from the ocean depths.

As the performers drew close, we could identify the large aluminum frames they are carrying between them. Arriving at our vantage point, the actors took up positions at various points along the line of chairs. We peer through these large frames at the vista before us.

It is at this point when things get a little boring. While the frames are interesting as they focus our perspective, nothing much happens for some time.

Gradually though, the performers begin to manipulate the frames. Like the waves beginning to lap against our feet, the frames move up in down in sequence as if affected by the water’s movement. At another point the frames are tilted, as if blown by the chilly winds from the ocean. They are also moved at slight angles, changing the perspective of what we see through them. Our perception also changes, as we follow the land/ seascape through the frames.

This was the exciting part, the manipulation of perspective and perception. But these moments are fleeting and, during the performance on Saturday night at least, nothing much happened in what we witnessed through the frames.

Experiential rather than narrative, Cinerama is missing something. Obviously it is impossible to control what might appear through the frames, but the end result are large chunks of time spent focused elsewhere.

There were a thousand stories happening outside the frames: float planes coming-and-going, helicopters crisscrossing the sky, cruise ships taking passengers on unknown adventures north, and intrepid beachcombers searching for small treasures. I wanted to hear at least a couple of those stories.

Cinerama created by Steven Hill (director) and Alex Lazaridis Ferguson (philosopher of scenography and spatial dramaturg), in collaboration with Delia Brett (performer-deviser), Scott Billings (installation design), Elissa Hanson (performer-deviser), Josh Hite (performer-deviser). Natalie Purschwitz (installation design), Diego Romero (performer-deviser), Nancy Tam, Paula Viitanen (technical direction), and Malena Meneses-Skoda (stage management).  A Fight With A Stick Production at Spanish Banks West (4707 NW Marine Dr, Vancouver) until June 30. Visit for tickets and information.

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