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Posted: Thursday November 17, 2016
Read: An Excerpt from The Watershed
[The Watershed cover]

How much do we value clean water? Enough to stop our industrialized way of life from degrading it? Annabel Soutar’s latest documentary play, The Watershed, follows an artist and her family in the struggle to chart a sustainable course between economic prosperity and environmental stewardship. Largely constructed from original interviews conducted by the playwright, The Watershed brings to the stage a multiplicity of ideological perspectives and conflicting visions for Canada’s natural resources, and its characters speak the words of real Canadians from all across the political spectrum.

The Watershed is now on stage at the Centaur Theatre in Montreal and just finished a run at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto, and the reviews speak for themselves:

“It’s a sprawling affair. … The pursuit of … intriguing, disturbing and complex questions gives the play’s first act considerable dramatic propulsion. At the same time Soutar weaves in personal concerns…”—Toronto Star

“The Watershed asks us to resist our ideological impulses, start listening to one another, and have some long, hard conversations about what kind of country we want our kids to inherit.”—Globe and Mail

“Documentary theatre at a very high level … We need more political drama like this. We need more politics like this.”—National Post

“Exhaustively researched and performed with verbatim dialogue that’s been edited from dozens of hours of interviews … The Watershed is must-see theatre.”—NOW Toronto

“A deluge of … information [about political minutiae and environmental matters regarding the Experimental Lakes Area], lucidly decoded, with a droll drama about a squabbling family taking a road trip across Canada. … So absorbed was I in reading the published text of The Watershed, I inadvertently left a tap running after making myself a coffee.”—Montreal Gazette

Today on Meta-Talon, read a scene from The Watershed. And you’re in luck; we’ll go straight to the good stuff: the scene (found on pages 70–74) in which Annabel, the playwright, visits the Experimental Lakes Project itself, with one of the ELA biologists to guide her.


Scene 18

The Experimental Lakes Area research station in North Western Ontario. ANNABEL and PAUL stand in the middle of a frozen lake. PAUL carries a bag with water sampling equipment.

ANNABEL
This is the most beautiful laboratory I’ve ever seen.

PAUL
Yup.

ANNABEL
So quiet.

PAUL
Not for long, I’m afraid.

PAUL pulls the starter cord on an imaginary ice drill. Sound of the ice-drill motor blasting to life.

PAUL finishes drilling the hole.

PAUL
See how the pressure builds up under the ice?

ANNABEL
Yeah, the water just spurts up – like oil.

PAUL
So I’m just gonna ask you to hold this.

PAUL hands ANNABEL a sample container with a funnel on top and then lowers another bottle on the end of a fishing line into the hole in the ice.

PAUL
We’re just going to take water with this bottle, and then we’re gonna pour it in there.

ANNABEL
You’re not going to pour freezing water all over my hand, are you?

PAUL
Yeah. You’ll get used to it. Aw sh**! We just hit the bottom.

ANNABEL
Already?

PAUL
Yeah, it’s only, like, a metre here.

ANNABEL
But we’re so far from shore.

PAUL
Yeah, you never know with a lake. Oh God, now there’s crap all the way up the line. We’ll have to let the sediment die down.

ANNABEL
Can’t you just drill another hole?

PAUL
No. We’ll just wait.

He fills up one of his empty sample bottles with freezing lake water and offers the bottle to ANNABEL.

PAUL
Here – taste this.

ANNABEL drinks.

ANNABEL
So good. I can’t remember the last time I drank from a lake.

Lighting change to suggest time passing.

Later that day, ANNABEL and PAUL stand outside, looking out over a lake at sunset.

PAUL
This is Lake 240.

ANNABEL
Incredible.

PAUL
My kids would never believe what it looks like now. They were here last summer with me, jumping off this dock into the water. My youngest son loves bugs so he was just grabbing the leeches out of the water. (laughing) Agh! Leeches!

ANNABEL
(laughing) I have a daughter who loves slugs.

PAUL
Yeah.

ANNABEL
I spent my summers growing up by a lake in Quebec.

PAUL
Oh really? Which one?

ANNABEL
Brome Lake.

PAUL
I know Brome Lake.

ANNABEL
You do?

PAUL
Yeah, with the island in the middle of it.

ANNABEL
Yeah! Eagle Island. My family has been spending summers there for four generations. My paternal grandfather bought the property in 1941 as a summer retreat from their home in Asbestos. My grandfather worked for the mining company.

Lighting change to suggest time passing.

PAUL
This is where my family spent the summer last year when we started our silver nanoparticle experiment. It’s one of the cabins that’s reserved for scientists with kids. One of the few places Maggie and I could work and be with our kids at the
same time.

ANNABEL
That sounds amazing.

PAUL
That’s the volleyball court over there. It used to be, like, every Wednesday night was the big volleyball tournament. You know, scientists can be pretty competitive. We’d have special events every week, like a wine and cheese and everybody gets dressed up, everybody gets pretty hammered on wine. We have this variety night – that’s actually a stage over there under that snowbank – people do skits and … and play music and …

PAUL gets a bit choked up.

Lighting change to suggest time passing.

Later that evening, ANNABEL and PAUL stand in the chemistry lab looking at huge data charts on the wall.

PAUL
These are the charts that show how long they’ve been collecting data. So from the 1960s on they were looking at the question of when the ice would come off each spring. So a decade ago, the ice was melting in the middle of May. This year? They’re telling us it’s going to come off at the end of March. It’s, like, in ten years to have such a drastic change? How is that possible? But it’s only because we have a long-term record that this starts to have, like, any sort of meaning. It’s continuous records since the 1960s. This kind of data is so rare.

ANNABEL
So when we’re talking about climate change data, this is the sh**.

PAUL
Fifty years of continuous data on climate change and they want to stop now?

ANNABEL
Shows the disconnect.

PAUL
Exactly.


The Watershed was co-produced by Porte Parole (Montreal) and Crow’s Theatre (Toronto) and commissioned by the Arts and Culture program of the TORONTO 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games, also developed in part through The Collaborations, an initiative of the Canada’s National Arts Centre English Theatre. The play was published by Talonbooks in 2016 (available now for $18.95).

In Spring 2017 The Watershed tours the prairies and the West Coast (info here). Mark up your calendar!