Eric Peterson (photo credit: Guntar Kravis)
Upstage and Charlebois Post Contributor Sarah Deshaies spoke with playwright Annabel Soutar about Seeds. Below is an abridged version edited by Estelle Rosen, CharPo Editor-in-Chief.
UPSTAGE: Usually I write my own intro rather than just quote the press release. But today I want to read to you an excerpt from the Festival TransAmérique (FTA) program about Seeds.
"Be thrice forewarned. One, every word spoken onstage is a verbatim quote. Two, this is more complicated than David versus Goliath. And three, one story may conceal another, much more ominous tale."
Seeds is a theatrical documentary about a 4 year court case between Saskatchewan farmers and Monsanto. On the line is Seeds playwright Annabel Soutar
UPSTAGE: Welcome. How has it changed since it was first staged in 2005?
SOUTAR: I’ve made a lot of changes to the dramatic structure of the piece. When I first wrote it, the playwright was not a character on stage. The characters all approached the audience as if they were doing an interview with the playwright who is invisible. But now that playwright is embodied on stage. So we see her conducting her investigation.
I think seeing her get more involved influences the story. Her efforts to get to the bottom of the story; who’s telling the truth; what actually happened in Percy Schmeiser’s field in 1997, helps the audience along with what is quite a complex case.
I’ve also updated some facts about genetically modified foods that have come to light since I wrote it in 2005. There’ve been more studies and more people questioning the science of genetically modified foods. I’ve allowed it to examine this science a bit more carefully. We ran the play for 3 weeks in Toronto resulting in more successful staging. So the play is more updated and more theatrical.
The difference between us and Michael Moore is we try to look at all the angles in this case.
UPSTAGE: Adding the playwright as a character makes me think of a chorus much more involved in guiding the audience along.
SOUTAR: Similar to what Michael Moore does with his documentray films he’s not just a voice narrating. You get to know him and become interested in him. The difference between us and Michael Moore is we try to look at all the angles in this case. Michael Moore is a bit of a propagandist. He has a message and drives home the message.
UPSTAGE: It becomes intensely personal for him. Is it the same for you?
SOUTAR: Yes it is. The playwright is pregnant. There’s the obvious metaphor between seed and fetus but also the question she might be consuming food not good for her.
When we did it in Toronto, the actress was also pregnant. We’ve decided to keep it in because I was pregnant too when I was researching the story.
...they rolled it out with so little question until Percy Schmeiser stood up to Monsanto.
UPSTAGE: A lot of the fears that parents have is what are you eating and what are you going to give your child once it’s born.
SOUTAR: Most Canadians didn’t know about genetically modified food supply because it was technology designed to help farmers increase their yields. Basically they went to the government, got it rubber stamped quickly with very little public consultation, then went to the farmers and sold it as good technology to manage their field.
Canadians weren’t asked even though there are stlll many countries in Europe who banned this technology because it was too much of a risk. It’s very interesting that in North America, they rolled it out with so little question until Percy Schmeiser stood up to Monsanto.
The implication is that our government is willing to do anything to help corporations make more money.
UPSTAGE: You chronicle the difference between Europe and the North American approach to genetically modifed foods.
SOUTAR: There are a few characters who bring up the fact Europeans have banned it and why have Canadians and Americans said yes. The implication is that our government is willing to do anything to help corporations make more money. That’s not a new argument but this one has very serious ramifications.
UPSTAGE: Porte Parole is known for producing these kind of activist plays. As a writer what is it like to write a story that is based on fact?
SOUTAR: It’s a huge responsibility. Fact checking carefully is essential. In Toronto, Monsanto lawyers came to see the play, Percy Schmeiser came to see the play. I’m driven to get to the bottom of things. I feel a lot of stories about real life are sensationalized by the media.
UPSTAGE: It is its own form of journalism to approach a controversial issue.
June 7, 8, 9