TORONTO — When development began on "The Pipeline Project" more than three years ago, the creative team wondered whether their production would be outdated by the time it hit the stage.
"We kept thinking, 'Oh, maybe all the pipelines are going to be killed, and then our play won't be relevant anymore,'" said director Chelsea Haberlin. "But what's interesting is that it keeps being more relevant."
Vancouver-based theatre company ITSAZOO and aboriginal performance company Savage Society are behind "The Pipeline Project." The play is inspired by the book "Extract," published by the Vancouver Observer on the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline conflicts in B.C.
While the federal Liberals rejected Northern Gateway, debate rages over other projects still on the front burner on both sides of the border. Yet even with the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain expansion in Vancouver and the Dakota Access Pipeline in the U.S., making headlines, the play won't be zeroing in on any one project.
"What we're trying to do is focus on the larger issues that come into play with each specific pipeline," said Haberlin. "Indigenous land claims and the environment and all of that.... (They're) the same issues, no matter what pipeline you're looking at."
The contentious political battles over pipelines will be explored when "The Pipeline Project" debuts Thursday at the Gateway Theatre in Richmond, B.C., in a format blending stage show with open forum discussion.
The first half features writer-actors Sebastien Archibald, Kevin Loring and Quelemia Sparrow. The dialogue is drawn from a broad range of conversations while creating the show, and centres on the most heated and divisive discussions which emerged.
"The play is basically them coming together to try to write a piece together, but they can't write it until they're able to be on the same page. There's a certain amount of understanding that needs to happen between them before they can even begin," said Haberlin.
"While they're doing that, they also present their monologue about their own personal experience to help inform each other of where they're coming from."
Given the fast-changing nature of news surrounding pipelines, the second act will be devoted to topical discussions aimed at engaging the audience.
Each night, a "Talk Forward" speaker will join play creators in an open discussion offering a variety of perspectives.
Invited guests include members of the Unist'ot'en Clan of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation seeking to protect their lands from proposed pipelines, and PR specialist James Hoggan, author of "Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming." Environmental campaigners, journalists and activists are also slated to take part as guest speakers.
"Because of what's happening daily, there's no way for the play to stay immediate," said Haberlin. "It can't be as up-to-date as Facebook can be. Theatre just can't work that way unless you have a part of it that is live and improvised, which is what that second half is.
"I'm really hoping people come in informed and engaged and up-to-the-minute, and we can have a conversation that is relevant to that particular day."
Haberlin said theatres within and outside of B.C. have expressed interest in the production, but at least one prospective presenter in Alberta has voiced concerns about how the show would be received.
"Honestly, she'd be taking a bit of a risk because she'd be putting in front of her audience something that is, to a lot of them, really offensive to the way they make their living, to their way of life."
Haberlin remains hopeful the production will reach far beyond the Richmond stage.
"More than anything else I've done before, it feels like this should have a life."
"The Pipeline Project" runs until March 18.
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Lauren La Rose, The Canadian Press