Play chronicles a watershed period

How do you personalize and make relevant and entertaining a documentary-styled play that focuses on a watershed moment in Canadian political and environmental history?

Montreal playwright Annabel Soutar simply loaded her family into a gas-guzzling Winnebago and embarked on a road trip to the Alberta oil sands and recorded the adventure as they talked with scientists, politicians and everyday people about their views about the country’s fresh water supply.

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“It’s unique in the sense that all of the words spoken in the play are drawn from real things people said, whether that’s interviews or recordings,” said Chris Abraham, director of The Watershed, the final production on Gateway Theatre’s calendar for the 2016-17 season that runs on the Main Stage from April 6–15. “It’s a record of a period of time in our national history where the notion of evidence as something we held as sacred — public discourse in the scientific community and politics  — was under threat by the government.”

The seeds of the story grew from Soutar’s was work on a commission from the Pan-Am Games to write a play about water and her first decision was to turn the gaze on her own family and how they related to fresh water resources across the country, Abraham said.

And through her research into the subject, Soutar became increasingly involved in the fight to save a fresh water lakes research facility in northern Ontario that was losing its federal funding.

“I characterize the play as a very human and funny portrait of Canada at a watershed moment,” said Soutar. “Like everybody in the world, we are facing what scientists tell us is an environmental apocalypse. But we live in a system of consumption and growth that seems to be compete at odds with that notion. And in this play, we see human beings struggling with that collision course we’re on.”

That scenario is played out along Soutar’s westward trip she said is presented in an accessible and enjoyable way that doesn’t get bogged down.

On the contrary, Abraham said the experiences along the way help keep the play’s wheels rolling on a subject that is increasingly popular and relevant for audiences.

“I think there’s certainly an appetite on the part of the public for stories that reflect meaningfully and directly their experience of life,” Abraham said. “I think audiences are always hungry for the truth. And the theatre is always a good place to go looking for that because the truth is something that is forged in the moment during the interaction between an audience and what happens on stage.”

The Watershed runs at Gateway Theatre from April 6-15. For tickets and show times, visit online at GatewayTheatre.com.

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