In 2006, some prognosticating theatre critic from the Montreal Gazette named the six “lions of indie theatre”. I was one of them; playwright Annabel Soutar was another. Nearly all those artists have moved on from producing theatre (myself included), but Annabel has persevered and so it is that, ten years after our literal lionization, I am called upon to examine her new play, The Watershed.
It’s fortunate that The Watershed is a show I admire, but what if I didn’t? It’s easy to write a clever barb and in the past I’ll admit to writing remarks designed to be more entertaining than shrewd. These days, however, I have the philosophy that, no matter how amusing, a written critique should strive to do more than merely declare whether something is worth the price of admission.
With any show, even one I haven’t enjoyed, I try to focus on the context surrounding the work’s creation. Why was it written now? What was the creator’s intent? A farce may want only to entertain, but if a show has higher ideals, then we owe it to both the artist and ourselves to look beneath the surface.
The Watershed is a product of a very specific moment in time. Based on a 2012 environmental controversy involving the Canadian government, it premiered at a time when the Harper government had lost its popularity. Annabel is both the playwright and a character in the show. In putting her personal life in the spotlight, she takes a page from the voyeuristic experience that defines the digital age: what she puts on stage, others put in their blog. Yet Annabel also borrows from theatrical styles that are decades old. It is this unique method of presentation that I have tried to focus on in my essay; rather than simply critique my colleague, I have searched for tools that will help audiences understand her.
Artists are always criticizing each other, but we tend to avoid public platforms. Success in our world depends on good relations and it’s never good to bruise the wrong ego. Yet astute assessments are crucial, especially in an age when critiques are reduced to Top Ten List and 140 character declarations of something’s worth.