Saturday 11 March 2017

The Pipeline Project entertains about Big Oil
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

From the footlights : In what was clearly a clairvoyant moment, Canadian environmentalist Naomi Klein in her 2014 book This Changes Everything made the following observation : "The environmental crisis -- if conceived sufficiently broadly -- neither trumps [sic] nor distracts from our most pressing political and economic causes : it supercharges each one of them with existential urgency."

Since then -- as ITSAZOO Productions' The Pipeline Project points out so compellingly -- North America has discovered how profound the expression Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose is. In USA that country's frosh president smugly issued an executive order to approve the Keystone pipeline that predecessor Obama during his dying days in office had just vetoed. In Canada our prime minister Trudeau-fils approved the proposed $7.4 billion Kinder-Morgan twinning project that stretches from Edmonton to Burred Inlet. Video clips of those two announcements kick off this show and literally set the stage for the balance of the play.

How it's all put together : Gateway's Studio B black box room is set in theatre-in-the-round for the play. The TPP script was derived from research reporting on the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline previously done by Vancouver Observer. VO's reports were then compiled & extracted into the eponymous book Extract

Three writer/actors conspired over three years on the TPP script : ITSZAOO's co-artistic producer Sebastien Archibald, N'lakap'amux native Kevin Loring, and Musqueam native Quelemia Sparrow. Their goal, the program notes tell us, was to write "A provocative and comedic foray into a firestorm of debate."

Under the capable and insightful direction of Chelsea Haberlin and John Cooper, the troupe delivers cleverly and crisply. Polemic is the word that best describes TPP. The writers take to heart the bumper sticker quote wrongly attributed to Gandhi : "Be the change you want to see in the world." 

Playing themselves, Loring and Sparrow form a tag-team to challenge Archibald to somehow overcome his place at the pinnacle of an imagined world pyramid. This hilarious graphic projected above the stage shows that on top are White Men. Immediately below is a stratum of "Other First World Assholes". Followed by "Everybody Else", who reside just above "Developing Nations / Dictatorships". As Archibald wryly notes : "First there was David Suzuki guilt. Then came Al Gore guilt. Now I suffer from first nations guilt!"

What the script brings to the stage : Indeed it is the Canadian native community aspect of TPP that provides much of the show's punch. Albeit themselves first immigrants to Canada starting some 10,000 years ago, the country's 633 identified aboriginal communities continue to challenge Ottawa to respect their centuries-old connection to the land, rivers, sky and oceans. "Canada doesn't exist. It's an assertion made in 1867. We still haven't signed off on it," Sparrow contends without a trace of irony. No flinch from her when goaded by Archibald about the origin of her BC driver's license, Canadian passport and Musqueam status Indian card.

A sub-set leitmotif is not explored in any depth but is an important aspect of TPP too -- particularly in light of the currrent controversy surrounding acclaimed author Joseph Boyden. It involves what is known as "blood quantum". Boyden relies on family oral history to assert Ojibwe/Nepmuc ancestry. No written record exists to support his avowel, unfortunately. Meanwhile for his part, Loring's father was a white truck driver, his mother native. Sparrow's mom is of Scottish, Irish, English roots, her dad native. (Barrack Obama is called "black" though he really is only 1/2 black : Mama Obama, using son's words, was "white as cow's milk" and originally from UK roots --it's just that his dad's Kenyan DNA gave him his skin.) 

So how to reconcile all these various forces at play here in the context of Big Oil, that is what TPP sets out to do, and does so wittily and engagingly.

Production values that add to the show :  TPP is cleverly blocked and staged and visually struck. Giant oil spurt graphics form screens north and south above the stage. On them the countless projections are shot that graphically underscore the show's scrappy and pugnacious points about how we are killing off Earth. Important notable Supreme Court decisions from the Gitskan We'Suwet'En aboriginal title ruling to the more recent oral history support in the Ts'ilqhot'in case; shots of Standing Rock Sioux opposed to Keystone in North Dakota; native presenters at National Energy Board hearings showing aerial evidence of how tar sands development have destroyed vast sections of the Athabasca Delta in Alberta. 

The actors engage audience members from moment one. Ironically, Archibald pointed to me and suggested, with a wink, that I might be a White Guy who would pay women far less than I would a man to do the same work. (Ironic indeed because in 1981 I negotiated "equal pay for work of equal value" provisions so school secretaries would get the same hourly rate as the janitors who sweep around their desks.) When not nudge-nudge, wink-winking with the audience, the actors do the same with one another to tease out further aspects of the ongoing oil imbroglio.

ITSAZOO identifies four key mission values : Immersion. Risk, Fun. Community. In part they achieve this by having the second "act" of the show become a town hall meeting headed up by an environmentalist speaker interviewed by Ms. Haberlin followed by inputs from the audience. In polemic theatre this is not just intriguing but almost necessary stuff to tailgate on the messaging of their earlier performance.

Who gonna like : We all depend on oil. No question. But as the recent Trudeau & Trump decisions display, the need for the world to transition from non-renewable hydrocarbon reliance to WWS (wind, water, solar) sources instead remains a constant challenge. Tax advantages both corporately and personally would go far here.

Little did the writers know how timely their dramatization of Extract would turn out to be in 2017. For insights into how major the consequences are in this debate, The Pipeline Project opens doors of perception. 

The show just might make you wonder whether this country's reliance on resource extraction -- coupled with its C- rating worldwide as a marketplace innovator -- mean Canada underneath its "kinder, gentler" facade is really just a cultural & capitalist dinosaur on an ineluctable slide toward extinction. Or not.

But also, importantly, to have some theatrical fun + visual and audial delight along the way.

Particulars : Written by Sebastien Archibald, Kevin Loring and Quelemia Sparrow. Produced by ITSAZOO Productions and Savage Society in association with Gateway Theatre and Neworld Theatre. Directed by Chelsea Haberlin with John Cooper.  On through March 18, Studio B, Gateway Theatre, Richmond. Run-time 120 minutes including intermission and "Talk Forward" 2nd act. Tickets and schedule information by phone at 604.270.1812 or via

Production team :  Director Chelsea Haberlin.  Associate Director John Cooper.  Set Designer Lauchlin Johnston.  Costume Designer Carmen Alatorre.  Lighting & Projection Designer Conor Moore.  Sound Designer Troy Slocum.  Dramaturg Kathleen Flaherty.  Stage Manager Lois Dawson.  Puppeteer Coach Shizuka Kai.  Technical Director Joel Grinke.

Peformers : Sebastien Archibald.  Kevin Loring.  Quelemia Sparrow.


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