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"Kitimat" brings drama of Enbridge Northern Gateway plebiscite to life on stage

Photo by Aaran Patel for Pomona College
Photo by Aaran Patel for Pomona College

“Kitimat”, a play written by B.C. playwright Elaine Avila, takes the story of a northern B.C. town over 2,000 kilometres to Pomona College, an intellectual hub near Los Angeles. 

It’s a story as familiar to people in the U.S. as in Canadaa large corporation comes to a town where they want to develop or deliver resources and they promise work and money, a boom, if the citizens will let the corporation have its way.

“Kitimat” recreates the dramatic events that garnered public attention last year, culminating on April 12 when the citizens voted “no” to Enbridge’s proposal to put the oil pipeline terminus there.  The play shows the communities struggle through the story of two Portuguese Canadian sisters on opposing sides of the Northern Gateway debate.

“We are intensely connected and everybody is facing this or knows about boom and bust towns,” said Avila in a Skype interview with the Vancouver Observer.  “We are all having to think about oil and what systems we are on and how did that come to be and how can we imagine something else…for everybody.”

Video by Mychaylo Prystupa

“Kitimat” has all the elements of a great drama, including two sisters on either side of an argument and a town torn between a barrage of lobbying and advertising from a big corporation and a grassroots community response that becomes international. 

There is also an immigrant population, the Portuguese, with a history that complicates decisions regarding the future.  The drama culminates with the plebiscite, which determines the town’s future and with a relationship shift with the Haisla First Nations people, who live in nearby Kitamaat Village.

While researching environmental issues in northern B.C., Avila was drawn to Kitimat because of the oil pipeline proposal and community protests against the National Energy Board.  Also and importantly for her personally, nearly 40 per cent of Kitimat’s population is Azorean Portuguese, like her grandfather. 

With her research and story in hand, she was commissioned by The Pomona College Department of Theatre and Dance and the Mellon Elemental Arts Initiative at Pomona College to create an environmental play.    

Elaine Avira and director Janet Hayatshahi by Robin Rowland for Pomona College

A dual U.S.-Canadian citizen, Avila is currently an associate at the Playwrights Theatre Center in Vancouver, where her focus is plays about the Portuguese history and playwright in Residence at Pomona College.

Avila has been asked to write political actions plays lately, including a play to support the national march in Washington for gun control and one about how immigration impacts love relationships.  She was part of the Occupy Empty Space Festival in New York. Her political plays naturally evolved from her earlier work about women’s untold stories. 

Her deep love of natural B.C. led to her concerns about the rapid changes she sees taking place in Canada.  

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