A few years ago, I was in Montreal, directing Michael Mackenzie’s Geometry in Venice. Across the hallway in the smaller studio theatre an actor friend of mine, Alex Ivanovici was performing in a play I had heard a little bit about online – it was called Sexy Beton, which translates into English as Sexy Concrete. The title is a play on the very serious problem of infrastructure collapse facing Montreal. The piece was specifically about the 2006 Laval overpass collapse, which killed 5 people, and the subsequent legal action taken by victim’s families. It was my first experience of playwright Annabel Soutar’s work – which for the past 10 years has been exclusively documentary theatre work. The piece was a remarkably moving depiction of a search for justice and a complex investigation of personal and collective responsibility. All of Annabel’s work uses a combination of court documents, interviews and media reports. After seeing Sexy Beton, and expressing my enthusiasm to her, Annabel suggested we work together on a new version of her piece about infamous biotech giant Monsanto’s legal battle with Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser.
The piece, entitled SEEDS, not only cracks open the complex debate around the future of food, but also asks us to consider the ethics of ownership of life forms. On first read, the play flew off the page, and it was clear to me, that I wanted to work on. Not only because it was trying to grapple with the hugely important questions, but also because of her knack of turning great journalism into gripping drama. At its heart, the play is about survival; for the farmer, the activist, the artist, as well as for the world’s largest biotech company – who is not only defending the survival of its corporate profits but also, perhaps, the survival of a rapidly growing world population. This examination of many individual struggles exposes a basic and shared tendency to transgress personal, ethical and scientific boundaries to secure an uncertain future. Over the past year, I’ve had the pleasure working with Annabel alongside an astonishingly curious and talented group of artists. In a few weeks we will head off to Montreal for 5 weeks of rehearsal before returning to Toronto for the play’s premiere at the Young Centre.