Content warning: this review contains mention of forced sterilization and trauma.
I did not expect to spend Thursday night with a vibrator strapped to my stomach.
Nor did I expect to love it so much.
The device in question is a state-of-the-art Woojer vibrator, actually, one connected to Theatre Passe Muraille’s sound system to transmit vibrations directly into its wearer’s body. The vibrations correlate with the sounds in the surrounding space — imagine standing next to a subwoofer turned all the way up at a rock concert, and you’ve got the right idea. According to a pre-show tutorial which took place after the audience settled, the sensation approximates how the Deaf community experiences sound — through touch — and every single audience member is offered a Woojer belt, regardless of hearing ability.
Scored in Silence, the first offering in the kick-ass #beyondTO festival lineup, is a feast for the senses, a jolt to the stomach (literally, see above), a prayer for a community relegated to the edges of society. Just last month the show graced the stages of CoMotion Festival at Harbourfront Centre, and prior to its appearances in Canada it was workshopped and performed extensively across the UK. London-based performer and director Chisato Minamimura guides audiences through a forgotten history of Hiroshima — the Deaf one. Through ASL and mime, Minamimura recalls the Deaf survivors terrified of the sudden blast with no context, the powerful connections formed between survivors, the forced sterilization of the Deaf community in Japan, who, according to the government, were now doubly prone to instilling problematic genes into their offspring. Minamimura has embarked on an ambitious excavation of the Deaf history of Japan in 1945 — the research is thorough and well articulated in performance.
Scored in Silence is gorgeous in its rejection of any one single aesthetic — it’s dance, it’s animation, it’s mime, it’s spoken-word. A universe of performance styles meet in a fifty-five minute symphony of remembrance: it’s stunning work.
Minamimura, though firmly at the apex of her solo show, does not act alone: she’s joined by Dave Packer’s dreamy projected illustrations, which morph to represent planes, fields of grass, and, chillingly, the bomb itself. The illustrations are whimsical and gnarled, complicated and pure: they’re everything at once, a whole world in drawings projected upon a delicate, gossamer screen, behind which Minamimura can perform. Videos of Hiroshima survivors appear intermittently, framing Minamimura’s work with more tangible contexts and personalities.
Willie Elliot’s soothing voice narrates portions of the performance which unfurl in ASL — Scored in Silence is a visceral, total experience for a wide gamut of audience members, hearing and not. It’s certainly an intense performance: the Woojer vibrations are fascinating and potent, but nearly become overwhelming when the bomb lands in Japan. The performance defies mere description: it must be felt.
To return to Theatre Passe Muraille’s physical space post-pandemic on opening night was nothing short of joyful: the venue’s commitment to accessibility shines through every programming, hospitality, and logistic choice. I arrived early (a rare occasion) and lurked in a corner of the lobby until the show started, and in doing so, witnessed a member of the Deaf community happen upon the theatre, communicate in animated ASL with TPM staff about the show, and be welcomed inside free of charge. Someone who otherwise might have missed out on the glorious Scored in Silence got to see the work because of TPM’s accessibility measures — how wonderful to see those measures’ success up-close.
Scored in Silence is a melancholy and shimmering piece of performance, a triumphant start to the #beyondTO festival (which also offers, in lieu of a traditional paper program, a fantastic pre-show zine written by Robyn Grant-Moran). Be sure to check out this performance, and then the rest of the festival — Theatre Passe Muraille is back and better than ever.
Scored in Silence runs at Theatre Passe Muraille through May 7. #beyondTO runs through June 4. Tickets are available here.