Here in Vancouver, as a theatre producer, one of your greatest challenges is simply finding space. We have two major theatre companies, The Vancouver Playhouse and the Arts Club, that own their own theatres, but other than that, the 100-or-so independent theatre companies in the city all are fighting for a piece of the half-dozen theatre spaces in town.
So many have started to think outside the black box. As a publicist, I have been working for a young company, Itsazoo Productions, who specializes in site-specific, promenade-style theatre, mostly in parks, but they have done two productions in parking garages as well.
This summer, I was contracted by The Only Animal, a local indie company, to do publicity for Sea of Sand: A Play on the Beach.
The Only Animal is well-known for their site-specific work here in Vancouver. Their last production, Nix: The Theatre of Snow and Ice, which took place during the Cultural Olympiad in Whistler, featured a set made of ice and snow, and the actors entering the stage via slides made of ice.
Tired of freezing their butts off, Co-Artistic Directors Eric Rhys Miller and Kendra Fanconi started dreaming of doing a play in the summer… when it was warm… at the beach. Vancouver is blessed with plentiful and beautiful beaches, so they approached the City and got permission. The play, which is inspired by the concept of memory, has been in development for several years, and has gone through a few incarnations before this final production.
Part radio-play, part film-noir mystery, Sea of Sand follows a trio of characters: a man recovering from amnesia, the wife who doesn’t want him to remember, and a woman who washes up out of the sea, a shadowy figure from their past. Memory and desire are the twin rip tides at work in this lost-and-found story. The play asks the question: what if forgetting is safer than remembering?
There are certainly unique challenges with producing a play on the beach. They have solar-powered generators to run the computers, big tents for tiring-houses, and there was a lot of experimenting with different kinds of sunscreen. Each of the actors wears a wetsuit under their “costume”, as they spend time in the water as well as on the beach.
Previous versions of the play had the actors mic’ed, but that turned out to be a logistical nightmare. So, to deal with that, Rhys Miller recorded the entire play, in the studio, like a radio play. The actors then speak their lines in sync with, and sometimes out of sync with, the playback, which is underscored by music. This makes it possible for the actors to be very far away (as they sometimes were) or even in the water without missing dialogue.
Add to that the amazing setting, and you have a very unique and highly enjoyable piece of theatre.