Q&A: Lac/Athabasca

Len Falkenstein talks about the real-life tragedy behind his play at SummerWorks Performance Festival

Presented by Theatre Free Radical
Written and directed by Len Falkenstein

Photo credit Michael Holmes-Lauder.

Inspired by the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster, Theatre New Radical's Lac/Athabasca interconnects stories of lives lived and lost on rivers and railways across Canada: a pair of nineteenth-century fur traders pursued by an unseen terror along Alberta’s Athabasca River; two scientists studying fish kills and cancer rates downstream from the oil sands; and the residents of a small town united in grief after an entirely preventable disaster. First staged to acclaim at the 2014 Vancouver Fringe Festival, the play is has landed in Toronto as part of the 2015 SummerWorks Performance Festival.

We caught up with writer/director Len Falkenstein to find out more about the show.

Theatromania: Tell us about Lac/Athabasca. What inspired this play?

LF: The immediate inspiration was the disaster in Lac-Mégantic in 2013. I was very saddened by what happened there, but also very angry that so many innocent people died in an accident that was so very preventable and that was in so many ways the combined result of greed, cutting of corners, lax enforcement of rules, and our dependence on oil. I decided to create a work that tried to understand what happened in Lac-Mégantic by considering it in the context of a bigger geographical, economic, and social picture.

Theatromania: How would you describe the production in a few sentences?

LF: It’s a play that has multiple storylines and characters that intersect and overlap. The stories happen at different places in Canada and at different times. There’s a storyline about a pair of nineteenth century fur traders working on the Athabasca River in Alberta, the story of a group of characters who work in the Alberta oilsands, which uses the same river as part of the industry, and the story of a town that is devastated by an oil train derailment as occurred in Lac-Mégantic. The river and a railline that runs from Alberta to New Brunswick links all the characters and stories into a larger narrative. I’ve had people call it a mini-epic… It is like that, and quite cinematic in style as it cuts from story to story, jumping time and place.

Theatromania: Has the production changed much since it was first staged at the 2014 Vancouver Fringe Festival?

LF: Somewhat, yes. We’ve been able to refine various elements of the production. I’ve done some revisions to the script. It’s a multimedia work that uses a lot of sound, projection, and an original score, and those have all been refined. And the actors have had a chance to spend more time with the script, so it’s stronger overall. We did it on quite a short timeline last year, so it’s been great to come back to it and spend more time with it.

Theatromania: What do you hope audiences take away from this performance?

LF: I suppose an appreciation of the way in which we’re all implicated in the machine that is the resource-based economy that Canada has been built on from our very beginnings. It’s a system that is very destructive in many ways—to the environment, often to the people who work in it, emotionally and psychologically. And in the worst cases, it kills people, I think we’re not nearly as outraged as we should be about all the harm it does, chalking it up to collateral damage that is unavoidable.

Theatromania: What’s next for Theatre Free Radical?

LF: For now, we’re continuing to work on this show. We have some more performances of it lined up for later this year and next year, and it’s going to keep growing and evolving through those months. Next year, we might be on to something new and different.

Lac/Athabasca runs from August 6 to 15, 2015 at Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace. Visit summerworks.ca for the full schedule and to buy tickets.

Show Dates: 
Thu, 2015-08-06 - Sat, 2015-08-15


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