Q&A: The Watershed

Annabel Soutar talks about her new theatre journalism project commissioned for the 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games

Presented by Crow’s Theatre and Porte Parole
Commissioned by the Arts and Culture Program of the TORONTO 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games

Written by Annabel Soutar
Directed by Chris Abraham

Ngozi Paul, Kristen Thomson, Alex Ivanovici, and Amelia Sargisson in The Watershed.

In The Watershed, Annabel Soutara Montreal documentary theatre artist—ieads her own family on a cross-Canada journey, investigating the forces that are shaping the future of our natural resources, encountering leading freshwater scientists, government officials, activists and business leaders along the way. The play is a commission for PANAMANIA, the arts and culture programme accompanying the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto, as part of "Aquaculture," a specially curated selection of art works about water.

Now on stage at the Berkeley Street Theatre, The Watershed is directed by Chris Abraham of Crow's Theatre and features a powerhouse cast, including Bruce Dinsmore, Alex Ivanovici, Tanja Jacobs, Tara Nicodemo, Ngozi Paul, Eric Peterson, Amelia Sargisson and Kristen Thomson.

Here, we chat with Soutar about her experience creating this important piece of documentary/verbatim theatre.

Theatromania: Tell us about The Watershed. What inspired this show?

AS: The Watershed is a commissioned piece for the cultural programming of the 2015 Toronto Pan Am/Para Pan Am GamesPanamania. In 2012, Chris Abraham, the director of the play, and I were approached after Panamania’s Creative Director, Don Shipley, saw a documentary play we produced together called Seeds. He asked us to create a documentary play about the future of fresh waterone of the featured themes of his programming. Overwhelmed by such a big topic, I wasn’t sure how to address it. I write stories about Canada and at the time I didn’t perceive that our country suffered from any urgent problems with regards to the supply and quality of fresh water. Boy was I wrong! I discovered pretty quickly that many dynamic conflicts were playing out across the country that pitted the preservation of our environment (including the protection of fresh water) against the needs of our resource extraction economy. The Watershed follows one such story. It also explores the way I relate to environmental and economic issues in my personal life. My children, my husband and my parents are important characters in The Watershedas such, the play is a personal as well as a political story.

Theatromania: You travelled with your family across Canada and conducted interviews with environmentalists, scientists, politicians and activists. What was the most challenging part of that process?

AS: The most challenging part of the process was just living with three kids, a dog and my husband in a small space for four-and-a-half weeks! This would have been hard enough (for someone like me who likes her privacy) if we were just on vacation, but we were also working. Every day we were getting up, finding people to interview, learning as much as we could about the particular place we had landed in, and trying to think about how the material we were gathering could become footage for a piece of theatre. We were also on a tight budget and a tight schedule. We had four-and-a-half weeks to make it from Montreal to Fort McMurray and back—quite a distance to cover in such a short time with such an ambitious research task. 

Theatromania: This is your second collaboration with Crow’s Theatre and director Chris Abraham. What have you learned from working with him so far?

AS: The most important thing I have learned from Chris is that my documentary plays benefit enormously from an extended dramaturgical development process with director, actors and designers. Filtering the real footage I collect about contemporary social issues in Canada through the hearts and minds of other stage artists gives me time to reflect on current events and to talk with my fellow stage artists - not just as professional colleagues but as citizens of our country. The dialogue we have in rehearsal about how to frame the material ends up influencing the text a lot. It also affects the actors’ performances I think. When we stage The Watershed next week for the first time, we are doing so as a group of Canadians who have thought long and hard together about the future of this country.

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

AS: I hope the audience takes away whatever they have been prepared to give while watching the play. The Watershed asks them to care about Canada and about its economic and environmental future. If the audience connects with that request, they will leave, I think, with a renewed sense of what it means to be a Canadian and a citizen of the world today.

The Watershed runs until July 19 at the Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley Street, Toronto). Visit crowstheatre.com for more information and to buy tickets.

Show Dates: 
Tue, 2015-07-07 - Sun, 2015-07-19


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