When Lynda Adams talks about canola, she’s really speaking about life in Central Alberta: the relationship between people and the land; the impact of big business on small-scale farming; the ever-changing Prairie landscape and demographics.
On Aug. 11, a New York City audience will get abstracted glimpses of the Red Deer area when Adams premieres her multi-disciplinary performance art piece, The Canola Project, there.
The symbolic work that incorporates dance, music, photography and film was accepted into NYC’s 30 Plays for 30 Years Festival. And Adams plans to videotape the Project as it’s performed live in Red Deer to simultaneously broadcast it before American viewers on the East Coast.
“The main thrust of it is investigating farm practices and how the geographical and human landscape has changed over the years,” said Adams, who’s more interested in posing big questions than providing answers with her piece.
Whether public discussion centres on the evolution of farming into big agribusiness, genetically modified crops or other issues, food production continues to be an important part of life everywhere, added Adams, a theatre studies instructor at Red Deer College.
She was teaching drama to teenagers in Vermilion one summer in the mid-1990s when Adams was struck by the idea for what was to become The Canola Project.
She recalled that she and some other instructors — giddy from too much wine drinking — went walking late in the evening and found themselves in a canola field. “We were wondering what is this? Is it mustard? Is it rape seed?”
Once the bright yellow crop was correctly identified, discussion among the group skipped to advances in biotechnology, genetically modified plants, changes in agriculture and the rural landscape, with more industrial land and urban sprawl eating into fertile farm land.
Ideas for a performance piece began germinating in Adams’ mind. In 1997, she and a theatre director friend, Vanessa Porteous, began devising a concept piece they titled RAPE/SEED: the Canola Project, but it never got off the ground.
However, Adams clung to the idea — the more so after moving to Central Alberta’s agriculture belt to teach at Red Deer College.
“When I finally got the sabbatical last year, I thought, I’m here to do this. It’s the reason I’m here. I love this area and I want to really embrace this,” said Adams. She’s since spoken about the project at the Red Deer TED-X event, conferences in Edmonton and New York, and performed a solo piece at the Red Deer museum’s Farm Show.
The Canola Project includes input from a team, including award-winning playwright Mieko Ouchi, designer Bretta Gerecke, dancer Gerry Trentham, composer Morgan McKee, filmmaker James Wilson, producer Jeff Woodward, and technical director Myles Bartlett.
Adams has interviewed farmers and city-based organic gardeners, industry people, and various Central Albertans, including recently arrived immigrants and refugees. But The Canola Project is far from being a documentary.
Video snippets on a Facebook site show performance artists dragging sheets of fabric across the earth to symbolize seeding. They wear masks and print arguments for and against various farming practices on a cellophaned depiction of a grain elevator.
Choirs have also chanted amid droning farm machinery. New and archival photographs were projected onto various surfaces, including the sides of farm buildings, and a meal of harvested crops was served to 30 people in a Red Deer parkade, as participants uttered scripted lines.
Adams said the final version of The Canola Project is yet to be seen, as any of the above scenes might be kept in or discarded before the piece makes its New York premiere.
Adams and some of her team are off for more scriptwriting sessions at the Banff Centre during a five-day residency later this month.