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Courtesy Porte Parole

The Watershed showcases Experimental Lakes Area through documentary theatre

By Gurman Sahota, March 28, 2017 —

Documentaries are often seen as something exclusive to the screen. Theatre is now becoming another platform for the documentary medium to shine.

The Watershed explores the issue of the federal government defunding the Experimental Lakes Area in northwestern Ontario. However, unlike theatre’s usual realm of fiction, the piece is documentary theatre. All events taking place on stage are real events, the characters are real people and the text is verbatim from interviews that playwright Annabel Soutar conducted in 2012–13.

The play follows the Harper government and its decision to defund the Experimental Lakes vital for limnology experiments. The play was commissioned by the cultural committee of the 2015 Pan Am Games to produce a play about water when Soutar came across the topic.

“The idea that we would cut the funding to such an important research site was one that really offended scientists and they started protesting in the streets of Ottawa to save the Experimental Lakes Area,” Soutar says. “It sounds like a serious play, but we approach the issue with a lot of humour and humanity.”

Soutar’s company Porte Parole Productions exclusively performs documentary theatre. Since theatre uses many tools beyond text, like the actor’s body and various design elements, Soutar says it has the power to reflect on issues in a time where fast-paced media dominates how we consume news.

“The theatre is not trying to keep up with the same pace as the new media, but it’s trying to be an echo chamber where we can put slices of that reality and take a step back from them and maybe put them in a wider context,” Soutar says. “[I] realized the power of using theatre as an arena to reflect upon what’s going on in our world.”

Although the play was first created as a response to the Harper government, Soutar is interested in how Calgarians remember the era. Soutar is also interested in how Calgary audiences will take to the struggle of economy versus environment that the play poses.

“The play deals — in quite a big way — in not just water but with how water and oil are on a collision course in our country and how the country is dealing with that issue,” Soutar says.

Premiering at the Pan Am Games 2015, The Watershed underwent an overhaul to shift its centre of gravity from capturing the zeitgeist of the Harper years to unravelling the layers of economy versus environment.

While the piece is performed in both English and French, Soutar believes it has more presence with an anglophone audience. She says Quebec has its own social and political realm and the climate is more insular when compared to English Canada. But she emphasizes that the narrative is universal.

“It’s not just about Harper, it’s not just about right versus left — there’s some deeper issues in there — questions about democracy, capitalism, family, politics that now people are appreciating.” Soutar says.

The Watershed runs until April 1 at Theatre Junction GRAND. Tickets are available online or at the box office with student tickets for $20.

For more information, visit theatrejunction.com

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