“Hi, my name is Eric Peterson and I’m an actor. I’ll be portraying Percy Schmeiser in this play. Many of the performers you’ll be seeing tonight will be playing many different characters. But I’ll only be playing the one. And that’s because I’m very important.”
So riffed Eric during our first table read for Seeds, a documentary theatre piece by playwright Annabel Soutar, which explores the scientific, ethical and legal implications surrounding genetically modified foods and the now famous Monsanto v. Schmeiser court case. It speaks volumes about the creative and humane way in which Annabel has constructed the piece that such ad-libs, jokes and little doses of the cast’s personality only further enhance the story that the play weaves. We’ve spent a lot of this first week as a company using the text to engage with our own knowledge, ignorance, passions and prejudices surrounding GMOs, biological inheritance and big business, as well as our own personal definitions of life.
We’re one week into rehearsals, and already I have learned more about human biology than I did in three years of high school science. Or in fact, I should say that I now know more about what we don’t know, any of us, theatre creators and scientists alike, about the basis of life. Seeds examines the idea that scientific progress leads to as many questions as it does answers. Ultimately, any theory is a construction, just as even a verbatim documentary piece of theatre is still a piece of fiction. Just as Eric did in that first read, the company has been exploring the ways in which we are changing the story, simply by virtue of telling it—genetically modifying the material, even as we bring its truth to life.
It’s been fascinating so far to be along for the ride as director Chris Abraham leads the company through Annabel’s script, vividly and playfully animating the various facts, interviews and court transcripts through the incorporation of green screen video technology, children’s toys and a seemingly endless array of inventive uses for a plastic canola plant. Not to mention Julie Fox’s immaculate set design and Richard Feren’s pulsing sound. Having our entire fabulous design team in the room creating along side the actors has already led to some real stage magic—moments where the text, actors, set, video, lighting and sound all converge, to bring the ideas that the play deals with into a stark, deep focus.
While the subject matter of the play has led to many full company debates in the rehearsal hall, about everything from legal precedent to the true definition of organic food, it’s exciting to be part of what is shaping up to be unarguably a real organic creative process.