Animals. Seeds. God. People. Persons.
This was the answer by the youngest audience member to the question “What is life?” during the pre-show audience interview at Tuesday night’s performance of Seeds. So powerful and simple a reply, the lead actress began the show wiping tears from her face, saying, “That’s unfair to do to a pregnant woman!”
I had the great opportunity to soak in Seeds this week in Toronto’s Distillery District. Boasting a stellar cast of Canadian actors, the play used the devices of documentary theatre to tell the story of Percy Schmeiser, the Saskatchewan canola farmer who was sued by Monsanto for unknowingly growing round-up ready canola in his fields in the late 1990s.
In her attempt to balance the opposing viewpoints, the playwright presented 33 perspectives on the case (performed by only seven actors), taking the audience on a journey from the open fields and barns of farmers to the laboratories and courtrooms, using the interesting techniques of a green screen on the stage floor and live video recording to mimic the effect of press conference and award ceremony film footage. The audience met researchers (the likes of Dr. Ann Clark at the University of Guelph), activists (Dr. Vandana Shiva, Nadege Adam of the Council of Canadians), farmers, lawyers, nuns, newspaper publishers, and many more who shared their personal and professional opinions on the case.
The Schmeiser v. Monsanto case was precedent-setting in terms of farmers’ rights, and blew open the ideas and concerns of genetic modification to a more mainstream audience throughout and following Percy Schmeiser’s trial. Found to be growing round-up ready canola by a private investigation of his fields, Percy claimed he had never planted the stuff, and in a gruelling legal battle that ensued, Percy became the voice of smallholder farmers everywhere struggling against the corporate domination of seed and chemical companies. In 2007, Percy and his wife Louise won the Right Livelihood Award, considered by many to be the alternative Nobel Peace Prize.
It was a fascinating subject matter to document through theatrical performance, and I wonder what sort of trajectory the play might have. Will it become acclaimed enough to garner the attention of Monsanto? Will Schmeiser come to see it? Will the audience expand beyond those who already are intimately familiar with the issues of genetic modification and the case of the Schmeiser family? One can only hope that it may serve as an educational tool, and that it elicits questions and furthers understandings about the serious issue of genetic engineering in a society increasingly infatuated with technological solutions to social problems.
To read more about the case:
For information about the play: