The Pipeline Project staged reading – my impressions (July 25, The Cultch)

The pipeline, or more accurately, the pipelines. Americans are worried about Keystone XL, which may or may not be a done deal. In British Columbia, the Northern Gateway pipeline terrifies many. But although those are the two best-known ones, that’s not the full extent of it. But take a look on your own for that.

The Vancouver Observer has been reporting on the Northern Gateway Pipeline and other energy-related projects for several years. See http://www.vancouverobserver.com/special-reports. More specifically, see http://www.vancouverobserver.com/extract/, which serves as the basis for the Savage Society/Neworld Theatre/ITSAZOO play The Pipeline Project (currently in development, for a premiere in 2016).

I attended a staged reading of this play at The Cultch on July 25, followed by a fantastic salmon feast.

The play builds on verbatim excerpts from the Vancouver Observer’s Extract: The Pipeline Wars (mentioned above) to form a structure for the play, interspersed with personal anecdotes from and conversations with Sebastian Archibald (an actor and playwright who identifies as a heterosexual white guy), Kevin Loring (an Aboriginal actor and playwright born in Lytton, and a father of two), and Quelemia Sparrow (an actor and writer from a prominent Musqueam family). These identity “tags” are important in the play, so I am mentioning them even though it feels a bit weird to be that specific and limited in defining full-spectrum human beings. And a puppet appears too, in a very natural way, but I won’t give that part of the story away.

Sometimes novels are about writing a novel. Similarly, this play is somewhat meta too, as it is largely a play about developing a play. However, as this is still very much a workshopped production, I won’t get too specific about the details, as I’m sure everything is subject to change. However, I can say that I greatly enjoyed hearing about the family lives and traditions of the two First Nations actors, and why and how the pipelines have the potential to destroy a way of life thousands of years old. The production is multimedia, showing excerpts of the gorgeous Fraser Canyon, showing the struggling salmon in a very visceral way, all without sounding a continual drum of gloom and doom (which can be a hazard with some environmental productions, as that just results in complete hopelessness). Quelemia talked about thanking the water, about giving medicine to the water, about modes other than just fighting.

One of the strongest arguments for the pipelines is that train transport has the potential to be extremely dangerous, possibly more so than the pipeline. So just saying no to the pipelines may not be enough. The play explores how difficult it is to live without oil dependence, without any sense of snarky judgment (other than what the actors do to themselves).

I am interested in user interfaces to technology professionally, so it was particularly interesting to hear the excerpts from the disastrous Kalamazoo River spill (in Michigan), which happened in an Enbridge pipeline in 2010. We keep hearing the same stories over and over again, although the technology differs. Nuclear reactor accidents typically have a similar-sounding backstory, as do plane crashes, or the Titanic or the Exxon Valdez. Yes, there are always humans doing something stupid behind the scenes when these things happen, but we have to expect that. Is it fair to put the entire BC salmon fishery for decades to come in the hands of one or a few pipeline operators who might just happen to be tired, drunk, or stupid that day? This is a more general problem than for pipelines or nuclear reactors–we know, for example, that sheer luck has prevented the world from accidental nuclear war so far.

How about those who work on the pipelines, or fracking, or on the oilsands project? A strength of the play, as currently conceived, is that it does not demonize anyone, as easy as it would be to do so.

I am very excited and curious to see what happens to this play. If you support the pipelines, think about ways to ensure that we avoid a situation where the corporations (Enbridge, Kinder Morgan, etc.) get the profits, but somehow socialize the losses (the uncalculated damage that is sure to occur eventually, given the fallible nature of humans). The concept of “externalities” is what has allowed corporations to profit mightily while polluting their environs. There is nothing uncapitalistic about requiring that future externalities, which can be approximated with mathematical models, be paid for upfront by the party responsible. Of course, such a requirement would likely ensure that no such pipeline project happened.

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