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Panamania artists set to make a splash with water-themed creations

07/11/2015 05:00 EDT | Updated 07/10/2016 05:59 EDT
Artists are making a big splash during Panamania, the cultural festival that's part of the Pan Am/Parapan Am Games, where water is a strong thematic current running through many shows and exhibitions.

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Among these watery works of art is a new play called The Watershed, a documentary drama where all the dialogue is taken from conversations and interviews with real people.

The story delves into Canada's struggle to balance economic growth while protecting natural resources.

It's critical about how the federal government has cut research funding to scientists whose work monitors water quality and climate change, among other areas.

The production stars iconic Canadian actor Eric Peterson, best known as Oscar Leroy from TV's Corner Gas.

"You can't come to this play without leaving and thinking, 'Oh, I haven't thought about that,'" Peterson tells CBC News.

"We have no place to escape to and that's one of the values of this play."

- VIDEO | Actor Eric Peterson wades into The Watershed

Watershed was written by Annabel Soutar, the Montreal playwright who famously documented the drama between farmers and Montsanto in her 2012 play Seeds.

This time, she was commissioned by Panamania organizers to write about water.

"I would describe my approach to writing this play as showing some tough love for this country," says Soutar.

"I certainly am patriotic but it's not a blind patriotism. I want to understand what's happening in my country."

Even though the play doesn't pull any punches about how Canada, which has one-fifth of the world's fresh water, is messing up, Soutar insists it's not a piece of propaganda. 

"It's really asking Canadians what are the values that we hold dear," she says. "And how can we move forward sustainably as a country?"

Re-creating a classic

Another watery work in the festival is Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, an all-ages multimedia theatrical take on Jules Verne's classic tale that touches on today's environmental issues around water.

Co-creator Rick Miller, who also directs and stars as Captain Nemo, says "we have this sense that we are just a drop of water, that we have no connection to the fact that water is a precious resource, we feel it's infinite and yet we also feel a cynicism towards the oceans collapsing."

While his play doesn't offer solutions, he hopes by sharing stories about some of the problems, we can gain "a new level of consciousness about the fact that we are water and water is what connects us all over the world."

Climate change consciousness

Playwright and actor Ravi Jain also explores that connection in his new play Gimme Shelter.

His work looks at drought and rising sea levels caused by climate change and how Canadians like him are complicit in causing these conditions through our lifestyle.

"I've been really thinking about the privileges that I enjoy living in this country," he tells CBC. "And the cost that I don't often think about.

"That cost is incurred by a young boy who lives on the island of Tuvalu that's being swallowed by the rising sea levels."

He hopes his new work will raise consciousness about how we are living and the choices we are making as a nation. 

Among the visual arts exhibitions that dip into the theme of water, there's a giant photo show that stretches throughout Union Station, Toronto's main transit hub .

Water's Edge features 80 large prints featuring the works of six renowned photographers from Pan-American countries, including Brazil's Sebastiao Salgado and Canada's Edward Burtynsky.  

Visitors can see the exhibition along the renovated SkyWalk passageway that leads to the new Union Pearson Express train and all the way to the airport where several more photos have been installed.

Curator Andrew Davies, who runs the public art organization No. 9, was inspired by the dilemma that while we want to be as close as we can to the water, it's also the place where we can cause the most harm. 

"It's about this balance, it's about this space that's under a lot of tension," he says. "These works bring to light how we can think about that a little bit more and how we can be more careful."

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