The Pipeline Project tackles environmental concerns with frank, personal reflections

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The Pipeline Project | ITSAZOO Productions and Savage Society with Gateway Theatre and Neworld Theatre | Gateway Theatre | March 9 – 18, 2017

Quelemia Sparrow and Kevin Loring, both members of First Nations communities, ask Sebastian Archibald, a white man of unidentified heritage, what his culture is. At first, he thinks he has an answer, but after hearing what their sense of culture is and how they feel connected to the land — to where they live — he isn’t so sure. Moments like these made The Pipeline Project relevant and relatable.

The three actors, all playing themselves, discuss their own guilt, worries, and fears when it comes to the environment. The show moves through a broad range of topics rather quickly—seeming to assume that audiences have some prior knowledge of the events and issues mentioned. And while that is probably true for most, I think anyone with little knowledge of environmental concerns may feel lost or not see the significance of what is being talked about. From the National Energy Board Joint Review Panel, to white guilt, colonization, music festivals, recycling, salmon, and pipeline leaks, there is a lot of content packed into this relatively short piece.

The use of mash-ups of real news footage was well done, but at times there were too many voices at once that none could be distinguished. The images were displayed on two large white circular sprays at opposite corners of the square stage that had seating on all sides. A large white circle on the stage also served as a screen.

The most powerful moments were the frank, personal stories and reflections about how these three individuals are coping with their own identities and how that factors into their relationship with the environment. The First Nations perspective gave a strong basis for the protection of our land, air, and water and the show, on opening night, was bookended with a welcome and songs from two members of the Kwantlen First Nation.

For Act Two, there was a “talk forward” with a different speaker each night. On March 10th, Linda Solomon of the Vancouver Observer talked to us about the fight against pipelines and the importance of sharing stories to raise awareness about how these things affect everyone living nearby. While informative, the talk and the questions that followed lasted too long and seemed to be a bit of preaching to the choir.

Perhaps the show will draw new audiences to see a different side of the pipeline issue and not simply reinforce what so many of us already know. Either way, this is an entertaining and thoughtful piece of theatre that presents important environmental concerns in a creative way. Perhaps audience members will at least leave with a better understanding of their “asshole level” as Archibald explains that we’re all “first world assholes” who consume and use way more than our share of the world’s resources.  

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