Preview: Ocean Carving

Mermaids and sexual choices bubble up in Gein Wong’s Rhubarb show

OCEAN CARVING written and directed by Gein Wong, with Catherine Hernandez and Rehana Tejpar. Presented as part of Rhubarb at Oasis Aqualounge (231 Mutual). February 18 to 20 at 7 pm optional pre-show tour of the facility at 6:30 pm. Pwyc. 416-975-8555,

Theatre artist Gein Wong has always thought of herself as an “aquatic person.”

“I love playing in the water. If laptops were waterproof,” she laughs, “I’d be in the water all the time.”

She’s riding the wave of her interest in Ocean Carving, an off-site Rhubarb show staged at the Oasis Aqualounge, an upscale sex club on Mutual. The performance focuses on the rooftop pool, with the performers in the water and the audience sitting around the action.

“The idea came from a dinner at a queer friend’s house, where the friend’s grandmother, who lived in Communist China, casually mentioned she’d swum in the ocean to freedom in Hong Kong. I dropped my chopsticks with surprise.

“Apparently a lot of folks without wealth or connection jumped into the ocean and swam at night, looking for a place where they could live as they wanted and be themselves. That inspiring idea led to my central character, the queer but shy Jolie, who is struggling to make the choice to control her life.”

The result is Ocean Carving, in which Jolie has to decide whether to be as brave as her grandmother, who with “each stroke of her arms [carved] her hopes into the ocean.” Jolie has the help of a mermaid to make her choice, and much of their interaction takes place in the water.

“Being in water opens up so many possibilities for who you are and how you can move,” explains Wong, an interdisciplinary creator who runs the company Eventual Ashes. “There’s a freedom of movement and of being that’s not always found when you’re on dry land.

“Water’s also a game-changer in terms of staging and rehearsing a show. The laws of gravity and physics are different, and I find myself working in 3-D in terms of blocking a performance.”

Initially Wong thought about staging Ocean Carving at Buddies, but the possibility of a huge tank in the theatre’s Chamber wasn’t possible without a Robert Lepage-size budget. There’s also the fact that the several shows taking place every night of Rhubarb have to rotate quickly through the Buddies space set-up and take-down times are minimal.

“Eventually we realized we had to do the show where a body of water already existed. The Oasis with its rooftop pool was perfect. People can go there and be open about, celebrate and explore their sexuality.”

But an outdoor pool in the winter?

“The pool is heated, so the performers are fine. This is only a 20-minute excerpt from a longer piece, so the audience will sit around the edge of the pool in their coats, with hot cider and drinks. And there’s an advantage to staging this in the winter: the pool is hot, the air is cold, and the steam that rises is perfect for atmosphere and catching Joe Pagnan’s lighting.”

A hybrid of theatre and dance, the show understandably includes some water ballet. Underwater cameras project images for the audience to watch.

Wong admits that she’s been fascinated by mermaids for years, though not the Disneyfied variety.

“Ocean Carving is a chance for me to explore their other aspects. The east coast of Asia is full of matriarchal villages where the women dive into the ocean for food and pearls they’re real-life mermaids, the hunters for their communities, powerful, confident and decisive.”

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