june 2017 | Volume 156
Photo: Natalie Purschwitz
Fight With a Stick’s Cinerama is not a play. It has no characters or plot, no dialogue, no narrative. It’s an immersive, experiential hour at the beach. Maybe call it performance art. Whatever it is, it’s fascinating.
It takes place at low tide, so the start time is different every day. Start time the day I attended was 5:15 pm. I wore sandals on bare feet, jeans rolled up above my knees, a shirt and jacket. I’d advise waterproof footwear (e.g., flip flops), a bathing suit, a jacket, and if it’s a sunny day, sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat with a brim.
What follows is a more or less minute-by-minute diary of my Cinerama observations and experience.
We start near the farthest west parking lot at Spanish Banks. Each audience member is sent, one at a time, to walk across the beach, rocks and sandy tidal flats way out to a shallow sand bar at the tide line in English Bay. We’re given noise-cancelling headphones. When we arrive at the tideline, we each sit in one of about 20 wooden chairs, aligned west to east, facing west.
I sat down at 5:30 pm, squinting into bright sunlight. Is the tide going out or coming in? I’ll find out soon.
5:35: a young woman collects the headphones
5:36: a heron flies by
5:37: some of the chairs are already in the water but not mine
5:38: looking out towards Georgia Strait at a blank sky with clouds, framed by Point Grey to the south and the southwestern tip of whatever the land mass surrounding Howe Sound is called to the north; it looks almost like a screen; I feel like I’m waiting for a movie to start
5:40: I have a distinct sense the tide is coming in; notice a freighter at anchor towards the north shore
5:41: notice small wave-like oscillations in the sand bar; sounds come from a small speaker on a chair alongside me—percussion and a sound like a ship’s horn; notice seagulls flocking nearby and people (2? 4? 6? 8?) standing in the shallow water, spread out along the horizon in the near distance
5:44: a cruise ship slips by along the north shore; sounds of a steam whistle from the speaker get louder
5:45: in the far distance, straight ahead, two people hold up a frame about the size of a soccer goal
5:46: the couple to the left hold an identical frame; and the couple to the right
5:47: train whistle sound from speaker; I now see 5 frames, each held up by 2 people; my chair is starting to tip; I’m now in the water and can see, feel and hear the tide moving, coming in pretty quickly; people holding the frames are moving towards us (the frames appear larger)
5:49: notice a kayaker way off to the northwest
5:50: I feel slightly nervous as my feet are submerged; 10 people, 5 frames continue closing in on us
5:51: I consider the effect of the frames; not much effect really; feel like I want to kick a soccer ball through them
5:52: all the frames now directly adjacent to us; I’m acutely aware of the sound and motion of the tide against my feet
5:54: all 10 frame holders (I’ll call them this rather than actors because they’re not acting or—to my mind—otherwise performing) are dressed in identical loose multicolored nylon (presumably waterproof) body suits with hoods
5:55: I notice 2 people pushing bikes along the tidal flats by the beach; 3 frames are now aligned directly in front of me, about 10 meters apart—a frame within a frame within a frame; I mostly notice the 2 audience members in chairs in front of me; they appear to be inside the frames
5:57: no movement; loudest sound is the surf, with low volume ambient background sounds from the speaker
5:59: notice a strange large yellow ship near Lighthouse Point—makes me think of Joni’s “Big Yellow Taxi”
6:00: I’m submerged to my ankles and one side of my chair is sinking deeper into the sand—I feel like I might fall over into the water; looking through the frame, I see a sailboat and maybe a barge on distant horizon within the frame against the sea and sky; the two holders directly in front of me lift their frame slightly, then return it to the ground; no difference that I can detect
6:01: audience member in chairs in front of me are surrounded by water, a surreal sight; the frames are silver aluminum; more lifting and descending frames; the tide is now making small waves; it’s quite breezy out here
6:02: the chairs of the 2 people in front of me are also tipping
6:03: the waves are more definitive; my calves are getting splashed; water’s not too cold
6:05: holders tip frames forward, then backward – no effect; sun directly in my eyes but it’s beautiful out here, fantastic really
6:06: frame holders step forward, then back, then rotate slowly one way, then another—no effect
6:09: large ferry in the distance framed against low clouds and the horizon: nice!
6:10: louder steam horn sound; I have the sensation of sitting in the middle of the ocean, watching this bizarre scene; Man, we live in a beautiful place!
6:11: 3 float planes fly through the frame at once, at different distances, different directions
6:14: gorgeous cumulus clouds gathering over Howe Sound against blue sky; my feet and ankles are completely drowned now; notice a man and dog on the tidal flats near the beach
6:15: frames are tipped at different angles
6:16: wooden seat is making my ass sore; frames slide left and then right
6:17: sun bothering my eyes despite sunglasses, should have worn a baseball cap
6:20: guy’s chair directly in front of me is tipped precariously, water almost up to his ass; wave motion has receded, calmed down; water now just feels deep (maybe 8 inches); bits of seaweed float by
6:21: frames tip forward, backward (no effect); toes starting to feel cold; a woman walks alongside us out beyond the farthest frame towards the sun and the horizon—audience? actor?
6:24: holders lower their frames into the water; a little girl follows woman walking towards the sun
6:25: holders walk away north and south: we’re left sitting, frameless, water to our calves; 5 of the holders walk north towards the middle of English Bay—how far will they go?
6:26: everyone turns and walks east; the woman and girl turn around and walk back as well; it’s the end
We all help carry the chairs back to the beach, walking through water knee deep in places. My pants are soaked but I feel quietly exhilarated.
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