The Pipeline Project delivers the (complicated) goods

Itsazoo and Savage Society are presenting The Pipeline Project at the Gateway Theatre.

In The Pipeline Project, Kevin Loring calls his truck the Chief: “I get to say that because I’m Indian.”

Probably the best thing about The Pipeline Project is that it’s a sincere invitation to dialogue. In this age of social media, so many are so eager to establish their political bona fides—and superiority—that it’s often impossible to have a vulnerable, complicated conversation in public. It’s good to know that real, human interactions can take still take place in the theatre.

In The Pipeline Project, three writers/actors—Sebastien Archibald, Kevin Loring, and Quelemia Sparrow—explore their relationship to oil.

The history of colonialism informs that exploration. Sparrow’s dad is Musqueam, so she’s part of that nation, and Loring’s mom is N’lakap’amux from the Lytton First Nation. When Archibald introduces himself as white, there are loud boos on the soundtrack, and cries of “Racist!” And, when he adds, “I’m also male”, he gets called a misogynist pig. This framing is too good-humoured to be seriously playing the white fragility card—although Archibald does list the stages of his guilt: Catholic, David Suzuki, Al Gore, First Nations. And the guy is trying: he’s the one who rides his bike everywhere—and almost gets creamed by Loring’s gas-guzzling truck. Sparrow’s fondness for shopping at Nordstrom’s doesn’t help her carbon footprint any. Nor does the Styrofoam container she gets her sushi in. But Sparrow also speaks movingly about her relationship to the ocean, recounting a ceremony in which she and other First Nations folks spread medicine on the water in front a of a giant oil tanker. And, although Loring calls his SUV “The Chief”—“I get to say that because I’m Indian”—he also describes growing up in Lytton, learning that every season provides a different kind of food—and watching the glacier above the town disappear.

Bottom line: it’s good to acknowledge our complicity in fossil-fuel-induced climate change. It’s essential to honour First Nations’ relationship to the land—and ownership of it. And, if our intentions are good—or, I suppose, if we can be persuaded to see a profit in it—we can all be part of mitigating the effects of global warming.

Under Chelsea Haberlin’s excellent direction, The Pipeline Project is a textural feast. For this production Gateway’s Studio B is set up for theatre-in-the-round and designer Lauchlin Johnston wraps the space in black plastic, so it feels like we’re inside a giant garbage bag. He also creates two pretty, popcorn-like white trees—that are rooted in piles of white plastic trash. Those trees, which are in the corners of the space, and a large, white circle in the middle of the playing area become projection surfaces for everything from parodies of PowerPoint presentations to chaotic montages of news footage, and the stillness of light on rippling water. Troy Slocum’s sound design is part barrage and part balm. Throughout, Haberlin keeps the pace tight and the visuals in almost constant motion.

My one knock on The Pipeline Project is that I didn’t learn a lot from it: for the most part, its concerns, perspectives, and information were familiar. That said, I’m grateful that it didn’t attempt to oversimplify the situation or provide glib solutions. And the one chunk of information that was new to me hit home. I was aware of Enbridge, Inc.’s responsibility for a massive spill of toxic crude into the Kalamazoo River in 2010, but the detailed account of that spill in The Pipeline Project—including firsthand accounts and a scathing record of the company’s failure to limit the damage—is jaw-dropping. Enbridge isn’t behind the Trans Mountain Pipeline, which Trudeau’s Liberals and Christy Clark’s Liberals have both approved, but we should all keep the oil industry’s repeated failure to protect the public and the environment at the front of our minds as we find common cause in blocking Trans Mountain’s construction— which is what I plan to do.

THE PIPELINE PROJECT By Sebastien Archibald, Kevin Loring, and Quelemia Sparrow. Directed by Chelsea Haberlin with John Cooper. Produced by ITSAZOO Productions and Savage Society in association with Gateway Theatre and Neworld Theatre. In Studio B at the Gateway Theatre on Friday, March 10. Continues until March 18.

For tickets, phone 604-270-1812 or go to https://www.gatewaytheatre.com/?mc_cid=2e9c1eabad&mc_eid=ae456e743b

About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

Leave a Reply

Sign up—free!—

YEAH, THIS IS ANNOYING. But my theatre newsletter is fun!

Sign up and get curated international coverage + local reviews every Thursday!