Scored in Silence

A Theatre Passe Muraille presentation of a Chisato Minamimura production in collaboration with VibraFusionLab.

Mark Pickthall

Joe Szekeres

A short run of a story eerily reminiscent of devastating results that could very well occur again in this lifetime.

It’s unfortunate that deaf dance artist Chisato Minamimura’s ‘Scored in Silence’ had a short performance run at Theatre Passe Muraille. I felt a shiver down my spine as there were so many eerily familiar elements between what occurred historically from 1939-1945 and the devastating horror of the Russian attacks on Ukraine and her people.

Why unfortunate?

‘Scored in Silence’ allows audiences the opportunity to experience the explosion, incredible survival, and the aftermath of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945 from a Deaf perspective. More of us should have the chance to see it. I’ve always been fascinated with the way the Deaf communicate with each other using ASL and I could watch this language communication for hours as each movement and hand gestures becomes mesmerizing for me to watch on a personal level.

This production, however, moves beyond what I could even imagine, and this is where I wished more people could see it.

‘Scored in Silence’ is not merely just an intellectual story in which we just listen and watch. Instead, according to the programme: “Minamimura thought the use of digital technology could help create a deeply impactful way of moving away from an intellectual place into a sensorial experience.” Everyone uses their senses on a spectrum, but each individual has his/her/their own unique sensorial hierarchy.

Two digital components enhance Minamimura’s artistry. The first is the Holo-Gauze which, according to the programme: “separates Minamimura from the audience allowing for projections to augment her storytelling, share footage of the survivors on August 6, 1945, or be imperceptible as needed.” My first thought was of a scrim which can be effective in a performance. I couldn’t be more wrong here.

From my seat at the back of the auditorium, the Holo-Gauze effectively made Minamimura appear almost in 3-D format where I could simply reach out just within a matter of a few feet and be able to touch her even though I was well back from the playing space. She used this enclosed playing space to her advantage continuously while sometimes allowing the projections simply to speak for themselves. What was extremely poignant on the Holo-Gauze was watching the survivors share their terrifying tales of how they coped and managed to move forward but forever changed.

The other technological piece was the Woojer Strap, which according to the programme: “audiences can elect to wear around their bodies as it is a vibratory instrument that translates sounds into a physical sensation…by prioritizing the tactile sensation that can be forgotten when watching a visual representation.”

Wow! This is quite the task to accomplish with technology.

Before the production, a test run was done for all of us in the audience. We were instructed to place the strap either around our waist or up around the bony part of our chest where we could feel the vibrations. I’m not going to call this a ‘gimmick’, but I remember from the early 70s various techniques cinemas developed to maintain audience interest: ‘Sensurround’, ‘Smell-O-Vision” – were introduced and just seemed to disappear from the scene many years ago without any fuss.

Was it perhaps film audiences wanted a good story to be told without the use of technology as part of the experience? Last November I reviewed an opening night where the virtual reality glasses were a challenge for me to understand before the performance began. I’m a big guy so when I put the strap around me with the audience test, I could feel nothing. Someone came over to help. Yes, the strap was working as I could feel the vibrations through my hand, but I was uncomfortable wearing it around my waist so I was told I could hold it in my hand if I wished, which is what I did. But please remember, the wearing of this strap is optional as it’s not needed.

Now before anyone comes down hard on me for what I just said, I get what was being done. I get the idea that the whole purpose was to experience what the Deaf would have felt with the gigantic explosion since they would never have been able to hear it. A reminder though that technology can falter as I’m sure we’ve all experienced especially with our own home computers.

The performance I attended was delayed about 5-7 minutes because the technology Minamimura wore was not synched properly via vibrations since she wouldn’t be able to hear anything herself.

Technology can falter so anything can happen.

Again, please remember this is only a quibble I have regarding the use of items we may have to wear in order to experience stories told live. Is it the way of the future moving forward? That’s for another discussion.

Final Thoughts: Dressed in what looked like a knee length free flowing white caftan looking costume, Chisato Minamimura’s fluid performance most certainly held my attention for the hour-long production. What intrigued me was knowing the fact that she couldn’t hear any of the music or sounds necessary to propel the story forward, so it was the vibrations from what she wore and the visual sounds/music that helped her in her work.

‘Scored in Silence’ left me in wanting to learn more about this unique live presentation format. As the show closes today, I hope there might be or has been an opportunity to have an audience post show discussion.

Covid protocols in effect at Theatre Passe Muraille.

Opportunity exists to move to another room to speak with someone if some moments of the production are triggers.

Show closes May 7. Contact the theatre box office or passemuraille.ca for more information.

SCORED IN SILENCE by Chisato Minamimura,

Animator: Dave Packer
Lighting and Production Designer: Jon Armstrong
Sonic Artist: Danny Bright
Sign Mime Specialist: Tetsuya Izaki
Vibrotactile Specialists: David Bobier/Jim Ruxton (VibrafusionLab)
Sign Language Mentor: Steven Webb
Writer/Mentor: Willie Elliott
Audio Describer: Rebecca Singh
Producers: Michael Kitchin/Cara Eastcott
ASL Consultant & Relaxed room Facilitator: Tamyka Bullen

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