Tuesday 9 January 2018

The Pipeline Project is provocative comic polemic
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)

Editor's note : Due to a busy winter schedule of new show openings, BLR will not be able to view the second mounting of The Pipeline Project that is a reprise at Firehall + Anvil Centre of its enthusiastic premiere @ Richmond's Gateway Theatre last winter. What follows in lieu is a refreshed redux of last year's review. 

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

Since then -- as ITSAZOO & Savage Society Theatre's The Pipeline Project points out so compellingly -- North America has discovered how profound the expression Plus ca change, plus c'est meme chose is. In USA that country's apprentice president smugly issued an executive order a year back to approve the Keystone pipeline. After years of waffling, Barrack Obama had vetoed it a few scant months before in his dying days in office. In Canada, P.M. Trudeau-fils approved the $7.4 billion Kinder-Morgan twinning project that stretches from Edmonton to Burrard 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 : The TPP script was derived from research reporting on the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline proposal 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." They are also the show's stars.

Writer/actors Kevin Loring, Quelemia Sparrow and Sebastien Archibald strike a serious pose in front of one of Burrard Inlet's common sights, a tanker from away awaiting off-load in Vancouver harbour.
Photo credit : David Cooper

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 attributed, wrongly, 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. The 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!"

Flanked by indigenous advocates Sparrow & Loring, Sebastien Archibald thrusts & parries their jabs and swipes at his white patriarchal privilege.  Photo credit : Firehall Theatre.

What the script brings to the stage : Indeed it is the Canadian native community focus 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 indigenous 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, her Canadian passport and her Musqueam status Indian card.

A sub-set leitmotif is not explored in any depth but is an important aspect of TPP too.  It involves what is known both academically and colloquially as "blood quantum".  E.g. 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 her 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.  Because there is no one truth here : fact is drivers of every stripe -- Ram duelly machos and Tesla owners alike -- realize their wheels need oil to run.

Production values that add to the show :  TPP is blocked and staged and is visually clever stuff. Giant oil-spurt graphics form screens north and south above the stage. On them 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. 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 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.

But also, importantly, the troupe's intent is to have some theatric tricks and jibes that poke at our prejudices with visual and audial delight.

Particulars : Written by Sebastien Archibald, Kevin Loring and Quelemia Sparrow. Produced by ITSAZOO Productions and Savage Society in association with Neworld Theatre and Firehall Arts Centre.  On through January 20th at The Firehall before moving to NeWest's Anvil Centre for three shows January 24-25. Run-time 120 minutes including intermission and "Talk Forward" 2nd act. Tickets and schedule information by phone at 604.689.0926 or via www.firehallartscentre.ca and www.anvilcentre.com.

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.  

Peformers : Sebastien Archibald.  Kevin Loring.  Quelemia Sparrow.


1 comment:

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