Who owns life?
That was the theme of Seeds, a play staged on Jan 16th at Calgary’s Theatre Junction.
The two-act docudrama play ran from Jan 15th to 18th and starred Eric Peterson (Oscar from Corner Gas) and directed by Chris Abraham in association with Theatre Junction and the Montreal-based Porte Parole.
Based on the 1997 real life struggle between Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser and Monsato Inc., the docudrama told the story of Schmeiser’s lawsuit against Monsanto.
Schmeiser sued the company after it came after him for apparently using its genetically modified canola oil without a license.
Schmeiser, now 83 and an active advocate for farmer’s rights, has remained adamant he never obtained such seeds knowingly and that the company frequently bullied him or paid off people to cause him trouble.
Porte Parole is dedicated to using the stage to inform citizens of issues that matter to them.
Abraham recently won the Siminovitch Theatre prize, for his work as a director. He was unavailable for an interview after the show.
To create the balanced play, playwright and Porte Parole cofounder Annabel Soutar (who portrays herself in the play) looked at transcripts, interviews and videos that included not only those immediately involved, but fellow farmers of Schmeiser, academics, scientists and lawyers.
“Documentary theatre in Canada, it’s not very well known.” actress Cary Lawrence explained.
“We chose for some reason…to not actively seek out what our characters looked like or hear how they spoke.”
Lawrence added, however, that this doesn’t mean the play isn’t genuine.
“We would read the transcripts, with their pauses and ‘uhs’ [and] it was through that we managed to find our characters.”
The show plays no favorites and just shows each side of the conflict. In a way, Soutar explained in the introduction, the story is still going strong.
“Every time I think (the story) is done, more information comes along.”
While all the actors including the quiet Soutar, deliver memorable performances, Peterson steals the show, showcasing the man’s determination, stubbornness and willingness to stand up to what some may consider a bullying conglomerate.
“I’m a huge champion for Canadian culture.” Peterson explained, while adding that he is also a concerned citizen.
“I like the feeling [Seeds gives off], it has a larger motivation to it than just my meager career. It’s a splurge of my own imagination and my own creativity, so its selfish in my own way.”
Peterson, a Montreal native himself, when asked by a Montreal couple, admitted that he believes that Schmeiser did in fact steal the gene that started the whole controversy.
“I think a lot of us would kind of have the same reality.” actress Mariah Ingr, who portrayed several farmers and a weed technician whose testimony didn’t reach the court, commented.
Ingr is also good friends with Soutar and her husband Alex Ivanovici, who helped co-found Porte Parole.
“I feel really privileged to be able to have a voice in [Seeds, and] to be a part of it and be able to share it.”
Ivanovici summed up the play’s complexity of issues, characters and themes as the Q and A session drew to a close.
“We really wanted to create a play that was about canola, but was really about society and how we govern, or are governed.”
For those who missed Seeds, the show is in Vancouver from Jan 22nd to 26th, and then in Ottawa May 26th to April 12th. A French version, directed by Fanny Brit under the title Grain(s) will play in Quebec from April 15th ton 18th.
The Schmeiser vs. Monsato conflict was the main focus of a 2009 documentary film; ‘David vs. Monsato’.
The company currently keeps a page on Schmeiser on its website.