A Theatre Critic’s Review

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Victor Lachance, CAPP Reviews

I attended the April 12 premiere screening of the “Local Green” commercial here in Kemptville. You may not have been aware of this futuristic event hosted by the Municipality, since it was only announced six days (4 business days) before the commercial presentation. It came to town so fast that there was unfortunately no time to announce it in the Times. Oddly enough, there was nevertheless enough time for the town’s Mayor to get an article about the event into the April 13 edition, unfortunately after the fact.

The event was somewhat overshadowed by a rally of residents outside the venue, lamenting the destruction of farmland and farm buildings in the making of the “Local Green” commercial. Mournful chants of “Save Don’t Pave” were heard, especially as local dignitaries like the Mayor and members of Municipal Council strolled by, but did not address, the protestors. There was no sign of the well-known and photogenic executive producers of the commercial, Steve Clark, Sylvia Jones and Lisa Thompson. Some speakers at the rally went so far as to observe the odd timing of the event, just prior to the upcoming provincial election, and well before the issue of prison policing costs has been solved, and before the farmland has been transferred by Agriculture Ontario, and even before the province has completed or disclosed (I can’t tell you which because the province refuses to release its records about) the environmental assessment and other due diligence requirements.

Undeterred, the hosts of the premiere event began by asking the audience to not discuss or ask any questions about the Kemptville prison, even though almost all of the subsequent slides talked about the proposed prison. I have to admit that this was a brilliantly executed piece of theatre, but perhaps a bit too rehearsed display of cognitive dissonance – you know, when you can hold two totally contradictory thoughts in your head at the same time. At least one audience member immediately left feeling misled once again on what constitutes a premiere viewing, in this case billed as a “public engagement session”. Which I suppose it was, but only if you are in favour of destroying heritage farmland.  It briefly looked like “Local Green” might be an innovative attempt at a new form of science fiction, but the presentation settled down into the standard fare of cheerful local fiction.  

But then the event exploded into a dramatic feature of intolerance and mistreatment of the audience. For a moment I wasn’t sure if such hostility by the director was a form of staged audience participation or simply a horrible way to treat otherwise calm and polite audience members who had post-credit questions. I myself think it would have been nice to have some audience engagement on how public knowledge of the prison’s damage to Kemptville might affect the message of the “Local Green” commercial. Otherwise, the whole exercise might come across as simply greenwashing the proposed prison. In this critic’s opinion, this overt disrespect for those whose taxes paid for the commercial was rather galling, if not offensive.

A friendly and collegial reception followed the premiere, with many good ideas and suggestions for green initiatives on presently unconfirmed and unavailable “surplus land”. Unfortunately some of the gaiety was dimmed when some of the guests noted that there would be even more green possibilities if only there was no prison. They were met with silence, possibly because the “Local Green” producers hadn’t thought of that.

It seems to me that divorcing the “Local Green” commercial from the reality of the proposed prison may be a very hard sell indeed. It seems to rely a bit too much on residents’ trust in the production team’s previous commitment to transparent and accountable communications. For example, what if those who see the commercial recall the producers’ promise to not support the proposed prison if it costs the taxpayer money? That might sour the message. That’s not the fault of the municipal staff who produced an esthetically pleasing commercial. However, it does bring into question the motivation and timing behind its development. I’ve never been a fan of greenwashing serious issues. In that respect I can’t recommend this sales advertisement to anyone. I give all those involved a nod for a brilliant attempt to deliver a first class serving of green fiction, but in the end it still left me hungry for the truth.

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