LIFESTYLE: Get Sea Sick with Alanna Mitchell

Alanna Mitchell knows good sex.

No, not the Carrie Bradshaw version. But rather the coral-spawning sex orgy that happens in Panama once a year, an event so sexually charged that Mitchell describes the water as being electric, the whole reef vibrating with sexual energy.

This is but one of the encounters with the ocean that Mitchell describes in her one-woman show Sea Sick, based on her award-winning, best-selling book of the same name. The research for that book took three years and consisted of 13 trips to different parts of the world, where Mitchell interviewed the leading scientists studying the ocean and its mechanisms.


Created by Mitchell along with Franco Boni and Ravi Jain, both of whom direct the play, Sea Sick is an emotional journey for Mitchell and for the audience. We travel with her as she tries to understand the vast ocean system, which contains 99% of the liveable space on the planet. As she’s told by scientist Sylvia Earle, the ocean contains the switch of life. If all life on land died, the ocean would be fine; but if all life in the ocean died, life on land would be nonexistent as well. Every second breath we take comes from the ocean – or the plankton in the ocean, to be more precise.

Mitchell is the flawed but loveable character in this story, someone who never took a science course in university – “I’m a Latin major!” she exclaims – is afraid of water, and even takes to her bed for a month in despair in the course of her research.

But as she so adeptly conveys, this isn’t her story. This is our story – the story of the human species, both where we’ve been and where we’re going. It’s a story fraught with concern and anxiety, about the effects that human actions have had on the ocean and the life teeming within it since industrialization began.

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The numbers are frightening; the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has dramatically increased since 1750. And that extra carbon has seeped into the ocean, making it “warm, breathless, and sour.” In other words, the water is warming – creating “refugees from the heat,” ocean creatures that are now inhabiting waters as far north as England when they were only ever seen in the Mediterranean. Mitchell also encounters “the blob,” a layer of water in the Gulf of Mexico lacking in oxygen, and ocean acidification, which has devastating effects on creatures like coral and plankton that depend on calcium.

Surprisingly, Sea Sick is hilarious at times, such as when Mitchell describes an embarrassing encounter with a George Clooney lookalike 3,000 feet below the ocean’s surface.

And at the core, there’s hope.

“I want this story to have a happy ending,” she says. And it can. Mitchell presents a completely new way of addressing the climate change crisis than is usually portrayed by governments and environmental organizations alike. What is it? For that, you need to see the show. It’s worth it.

Performances at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West) until November 2. Tickets: $30; $25 for students/seniors/art workers

Upcoming national tour to Ottawa, Saskatoon, Regina, Calgary, and Vancouver

– Kaitlin Bardswich

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