Annabel Soutar at Trans Drama Festival

Annabel Soutar, Artistic Diretor of Porte Parole Productions will conduct a documentary workshop during the Trans Drama Festival organized by UNAM.

Dates: Oct 20-22, 2018

Festival link: http://transdrama.org/index.html

 

Porte Parole Updates

The Assembly

OFF-CINARS
Espace Go
4890, boul. Saint-Laurent
Montréal, QC

Creation Residency 2019
University of Maryland
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center
College Park, MD

Seeds

Seeds is being translated to Spanish and will be presented in Mexico in spring 2019. This is a co-production with UNAM utilizing bi-lingual Canadian and Mexican actors.

Fredy

Fredy explores the events surrounding the tragic death of Honduran-Canadian Fredy Villanueva, who was shot by a police officer in Montréal-Nord on August 9, 2008. 
Years later, are we able to put aside our fears and prejudices to speak candidly about his death?

Fredy is pressure-cooker theatre, of an intensity that recalls a much older style of non-verbatim play-writing. Globe & Mail

INFORMATION IS TREACHERY: ANNABEL SOUTAR

 

Information is Treachery
By Annabel Soutar
Playwright and Artistic Director of Les Productions Porte Parole

Twenty-five years ago, when I was a University student, I believed that facts existed and that
the truth about any given topic could be found at the end of a long, circuitous period of
research in the archives of a good library. This belief, of course, was quixotic, but it
instilled a value in me as a young academic that is essential for the constructive exchange of
information between human beings: trust.

This trust was not completely blind. When I read a non-fiction essay, or a news article, I
understood that its content reflected an author’s limited point of view. But that limitation
did not undermine my faith in a source’s legitimacy. I accepted the idea that no author is
omniscient, and tried to learn from the unique slice of truth that a writer offered up to me.
I could be discerning and even exacting about the quality and depth of a writer’s arguments,
but did not worry about how or whether an author was trying to deceive me. I took the risk
of traveling gullibly through a writer’s version of reality without fear of losing sight of my
own.

Today I find that I have become a suspicious and risk-averse reader. My discussions with
peers, friends and family about non-fiction writing increasingly revolve around the ‘agenda’
of its author instead of around the quality of its construct and premise. When I see ideas
presented as ‘facts’ in a news article, I wonder about how they have been doctored. I accept
cynicism about truth as an unspoken tenet of public discourse, and refrain from
pronouncing any idea too categorically for fear of appearing intolerant. I have become
afraid to express myself with conviction about good writing when it contains politically
sensitive content. I sense that I am no longer completely free to do so.

I was asked to write an article for this publication about the role that documentary theatre,
my chosen literary genre, can play today in informing people. I find it necessary to start with
the above preamble, because a discussion about the act of informing people cannot happen
without addressing the times in which one is attempting to do so. And today we are living in
treacherous times with regards to information sharing.

Right now I am compelled to tell you that I am a white, privileged, heterosexual woman. My
plays receive public funding. My mother tongue is English. I lean slightly left of centre
politically. I was born in Montreal - in Westmount to be more precise.

Twenty-five years ago, I would have never felt compelled to share this information with you,
my reader. It would have been considered gratuitous and irrelevant in non-fiction writing,
unless I was addressing some aspect of my identity explicitly. Today I am acutely aware that
these aspects of my identity will be considered foundational to the tone and tenor of this
article and will be highlighted to construct a political message out of my words. I feel that I
should offer them up willingly, to preempt this type of reaction. In the words of the
American historian, Timothy Snyder, I have decided to ‘obey in advance’ to the tyranny of
interpretation that now consumes the world of information sharing, and to accept the
narrow corridor of analysis that my race, socio-economic status, sexual identity, and politics
afford me. I can no longer be trusted to inform you legitimately about experiences beyond
those borders.

Which doesn’t mean that I’m not going to try. Resistance to tyranny, after all, is the order of
the day.

*********

My documentary plays seek to inform an audience by throwing the concepts of identity and
authority to the wind. They are stories built by a writer who seeks pleasure in listening to
other peoples’ stories and passing along that pleasure and those stories to an audience.
They are stories performed by actors who play characters who don’t share their identities.
They reflect my desire to examine universal truths in the theatre, as opposed to advancing a
message about specific identity politics.

When I write a documentary play, I am transparent and unapologetic about my identity as a
narrator. I remind an audience who I am so they can decide for themselves how and
whether or not to trust my recounting of the story they are experiencing. I expose them to
my biases and shortcomings as a witness to reality, so that they may become aware of their
own. I do this because I think the most important precondition for absorbing information
is to remove the stress about being able to do so perfectly. Informing oneself is a human
activity, and therefore delightfully imperfect.

Despite the imperfect nature of my authority, I strive to be a rigorous and patient
documentary narrator. I open myself up to diverse and conflicting points of view and allow
myself to become disoriented in pursuit of clarity on a given subject. I share this
disorientation with my audience so that they may forgive themselves for also becoming
bewildered by the story I am telling them. Real life is complex and contradictory; when we
share information about it, we will collectively be wiser if we accept and enjoy a degree of
chaos. The biggest killjoy and enemy of good documentary narration is control.

And yet control is ever-present in information sharing today. Journalists censor themselves
for fear of offending an over-sensitive readership. Politicians polish their speeches and press
releases to avoid violent social media squalls. Today we read about overt efforts to influence
democracy through misinformation campaigns. The only soil in which these actions could
successfully take root is one in which the nutrient of trust has completely vanished from
storytelling. This is the environment in which I am attempting, with great trepidation, to
converse candidly with an audience today.

The theatre, luckily, is a medium that has always thrived in moments of information tyranny,
because it communicates its essential meaning through subtext, not text. Subtext is available
to a live audience, and to an open-minded reader, without being precisely apparent to
cultural control agents who obsess about narrow, literal meaning. The best plays are ones
that don’t reveal their meaning explicitly, but which offer a diverse audience multiple levels
of meaning. They are plays that trust that an audience will be intelligent enough to reconcile
various meanings without seeking to pin one message on its author.

Today, as a documentary playwright, I feel that my role in informing people is to remind
them to trust their instincts and to forgive themselves for not being perfectly informed
about the world. It is to entreat them to leave Facebook and Twitter for a few hours
everyday and to make contact with a real person who has a real story to tell them about their
actual experience in the world. That story will almost certainly contain truths that will be as
legitimate as a statistic in a news article. The added bonus of the live encounter, however, is
that it will engender some trust between two real people, and that trust – built one
conversation at a time between friends, neighbours, work colleagues and eventually between
politician and citizen - is the foundation upon which we will build the conditions to be truly
well-informed.

Annabel Soutar - Information is Treachery (original English article published in Nouveau Projet (Atelier 10) - S’informer “La trahison de l’information” — fall 2017)

The Watershed - Montreal Gazette

Theatre review: Despite the topic, nothing dry about The Watershed

Jim Burke - Special to Montreal Gazette
Published on: November 11, 2016 | Last Updated: November 11, 2016 12:03 PM EST

  Daniel Brochu and Liisa Repo-Martell in The Watershed at the Centaur Theatre.   

Daniel Brochu and Liisa Repo-Martell in The Watershed at the Centaur Theatre. 

Is this a trend?

At the Segal last week, Marc Hall attended the opening night of Prom Queen: The Musical, which dramatized his defiance of a Catholic school ban on partying with his same-sex partner.

A week later at the Centaur, the family of playwright Annabel Soutar was in the audience for the part-environmental docudrama, part comedy road trip The Watershed, her daughters giggling delightedly as what-they-did-on-their-holidays unfolded on the stage.

What raises both plays above the status of theatrical selfies is that they wrestle with momentous political issues, both of which, incidentally, have just been thrown for a loop by developments across the border.  

In The Watershed, Soutar and her Montreal-based documentary-theatre company Porte Parole (in a co-production with Toronto’s Crow’s Theatre) investigate the future of Canada’s fresh water supply — in particular its imperilment by the drip-drip of neglect by the Harper government.

Soutar’s real-life actor husband, Alex Ivanovici, was to have played himself until a broken ankle put him out of action. He’s been replaced by Daniel Brochu, who brings an enjoyable mix of vulnerability, short-fuse irritability and physical comedy.

Humour, in fact, plays a crucial role in diluting the potentially hard-to-swallow muesli of facts and figures. Hysterical weather reports, ironically from climate change-denying network Fox News, are raucously delivered by Tanja Jacobs, who also gets lots of comic mileage out of playing the Soutar girls’ older friend, Hazel.

Amusingly recognizable cameos drift in and out, most notably Bruce Dinsmore’s impeccably bland Stephen Harper.

The second half shifts gear into often madcap domestic comedy as the Soutar family and their (invisible) dog pile into a rented Winnebago for an epic journey across Canada so Soutar can see for herself the Alberta oilsands and their environmental impact.

Denyse Karn’s elaborately inventive, often witty projection design, combined with Julie Fox’s shape-shifting set (Plateau apartment, Winnebago interior, sushi bar …) also add spectacular and colourful variety.

The eight-strong cast undergo split-second transformations as they portray scores of characters. In one delightful episode, Ngozi Paul switches suddenly from a pre-teen girl enjoying a bath to a bearded Chris Abraham, the director of the show, also taking a bath but agonizing over such grown-up problems as the impact of The Watershed’s controversy on his company’s funding.

Such moments of introspection are typical of a show that, on the one hand, takes an objective look at hot-button political issues, and on the other wrestles with its own creative process.

It even has its own criticism built into it. There’s a climactic debate between Soutar and her fiscally conservative father, Ian. The scene is gripping, beautifully acted and made doubly poignant by the fact Ian is played by beloved veteran Eric Peterson, and by the fact the real Ian Soutar died this year. But it also starts to feel like it’s going all over the map. At which point, Peterson’s character remarks: “We’re all over the map here.”

It’s difficult not to argue with that as an overall assessment, while acknowledging that it’s an enjoyable, often thoughtfully stimulating trip.

AT A GLANCE: The Watershed plays to Dec. 4 at Centaur Theatre, 453 St-François-Xavier St. Tickets: $51 (Thursday, Friday, Saturday evenings), $45 (Tuesday, Wednesday evenings), $39 (matinee), seniors: $43.50 (evening), $38 (matinee), under 30: $36.50, students: $28. Call 514-288-3161 or visit centaurtheatre.com

 

The Watershed - World Premiere at the PanAm Games Toronto

PORTE PAROLE AT PANAM GAMES - TORONTO

 

WORLD PREMIERE of THE WATERSHED

Part documentary, part political thriller and part road trip, this play is unlike anything you’ve seen before. Co-produced by award-winning theatre companies, Crow’s Theatre (Toronto) and Porte Parole (Montreal), The Watershed follows an artist and a country struggling to chart a sustainable course between economic growth and environmental stewardship.

WORLD PREMIERE
July 7 to 19, 2015
Berkeley Street Theatre, Toronto

For tickets, visit: www.crowstheatre.com or call 416 368 3110
Special Discount 15% off with the code: 2015PREMIERE

About The Watershed

In The Watershed, Annabel, a Montreal documentary theatre artist, leads her own family on a cross-country 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 Watershed captures Canada in a moment of acute political reflection in an increasingly polarized landscape.

The Watershed was commissioned by the TORONTO 2015 PanAm/Parapan Am Games arts and culture festival, PANAMANIA presented by CIBC as part of AQUACULTURE, a specially curated selection of art works about water.