Using theater as a tool: An interview with Annabel Soutar
Annabel Soutar, Playwright and Executive Director, Porte Parole
Porte Parole is a documentary theater company based in Montreal. For those unfamiliar with the genre, documentary theatre is a type of theatre that looks at current social issues and presents them in dramatic form. The script of a documentary play is the outcome of an investigative process aimed at shedding light on a given issue from a variety of perspectives. The script itself is usually written using verbatim excerpts from interview transcripts with respondents as well as other documents, such as newspaper clippings, government reports, court proceedings, etc. In some ways, one might say that documentary theater is at a crossroads between investigative journalism and art. For those of you interested in finding out more about this wonderful theatre company, you can have a look at their website: http://www.porteparole.org.
I came across Annabel’s work for the first time in 2003, when an acquaintance told me about a play her theater company, Porte Parole, had just produced. I had been working for a foundation at the time, whose mission was to build a centre of excellence in nursing in Montreal, and the play was about… nurses. It was in fact one of a seven-part series of plays on the Quebec health care system. I’d never heard of Porte Parole before, nor had I ever heard of documentary theater as a genre, but I was curious, and so I went. It was a mesmerizing experience. I had just spent the previous months trying to make sense of the field of nursing – what the issues were, where the challenges for development lay. I had spoken with existing and former politicians and civil servants in the Ministry of Health. I had met the Deans of Schools of Nursing, as well as the Directors of Nursing in most of Montreal’s major hospitals. I had spoken to the President of the Order of Nurses as well as members of her staff I had had conversations with nurses working in all kinds of roles, in all levels of our health care system (head nurses, hospital-based nurses, nurses in private practice, community health nurses, etc.). I had a pretty good understanding of what was going on, and I can honestly say that Annabel had pretty much nailed all the main issues in her hour-long play. I became an instant fan.