The Chemical Valley Project has the Right Reaction

It is no secret that the theatre industry was hit particularly hard during the pandemic. As the sector begins to rebuild, attracting new audiences, particularly younger ones, will be critical. Documentary theatre is a fascinating way to do that, especially for millennials and Gen Z, who look for meaning and content that speaks to them. It is so exciting to see younger artistic talent creating that kind of theatre, and the current show at the GCTC is a perfect example. While traditional audiences will approve, it also speaks to younger ones.

The Chemical Valley Project, co-created by Kevin Matthew Wong and Julia Howman, and assisted by Beze and Vanessa Gray, members of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Sarnia, Ontario, is a production that blends engaging storytelling about reconciliation and environmentalism with a multimedia presentation. Audio recordings, TV news reports, and video recordings are creatively peppered into the show, providing background and perspective.

According to PetroChem Canada, the Sarnia-Lambton area has Canada’s second largest cluster of companies in the petrochemical and refining sector and represents the largest industrial sector locally. There are roughly 57 factories surrounding 900 residents in the Aamjiwnaang First Nation. Indigenous activist siblings Vanessa and Beze Gray have been making the news over the last few years as they fight to protect their community’s health, land, air, and water.

The Chemical Valley Project is a one-person show starring the delightful Wong, who documents the work of the siblings and what they are doing to raise awareness of the environment and the conditions of their community.

Chemical Valley, as the area in Sarnia is known, occasionally pops up in the news, but this show takes you deeper into the issues, all in a 70-minute package. One of the great things about it is that it is not preachy. Wong is entirely endearing, genuine, and engaging. While the topic is serious, and none of that is diminished, there is respectful levity in the presentation, so it educates, entertains, and enlightens people of all ages simultaneously.

Wong is also a co-founder of Broadleaf Theatre. The company creates multidisciplinary performances based on local, national, and global environmental issues. Broadleaf makes little-known topics entertaining and accessible, and it will be good to see more of what this company has in store.

The Chemical Valley Project runs at the GCTC until October 2, 2022.

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Photos: Dahlia Katz