Interviewed by Sasha Singer-Wilson
Playwright and theatre producer Annabel Soutar founded the theatre company Porte Parole Productions in Montreal with Alex Ivanovici in 2000. She has acted as Artistic Director of the company ever since. Soutar’s most recent play Seeds was published in both English and French and presented across Canada in 2013-14. In 2012 she was commissioned with director Chris Abraham to write a new documentary play – The Watershed – about fresh water for the 2015 Toronto Pan American/Para Pan American Games cultural program.
I first experienced Soutar’s work in 2012 when I saw a production of Seeds at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto. It was my first encounter with documentary theatre and the form excites me greatly. It marries my love of theatre with my desire to create dialogue about current events and social and environmental issues. For this interview, we spoke on the phone, Soutar in Montreal and me in Vancouver.
Did you want to write from the time you were young?
Not at all. I never thought of myself as an “artist.” I tended to do well in subjects like math and history. I didn’t study theatre until my second year of university. And I didn’t participate as an actor, writer, or director until my late teens or early twenties.
I went to university at Princeton, in New Jersey. The one fundamental thing that they teach there, no matter what you study, is that you should learn how to write. I took history, English, and some theatre. I found that I thought differently in my theatre classes than I did in any of the others. When asked to perform a role written by a playwright from a hundred years ago, I learned more about history than I did in a history class.
I discovered the early documentary plays of Anna Deveare Smith when they premiered at the McCarter Theatre in the town of Princeton. She’s probably one of the most successful practitioners of the documentary form in North America. Her plays have not only been produced on Broadway but have had an impact on the communities where they were presented. Her plays showed me how theatre connected with my other interests, like, history, politics and journalism. They showed me that theatre wasn’t just about exploring themes from the past or entertaining an audience with a titillating drama; it actually allowed us to take a look at what was going on in our communities. Seeing her work made me realize that not only did I want to study theatre, I wanted to practice it. Not only did I want to practice it, I wanted to practice it in this way. [Read more…]