(Review on the play Downstream by Cree-playwright Kenneth T. Williams) (Also, it is true that I am the sexy beast in the picture… autographs later folks.)

Genre: 1. Engaging- Touching the heart and mind of the audience

  1. Informative- Ecological and crisis conditions

Mode: Multi-Modal: Aural, Visual, and Oral

Form: Play

Downstream by Cree-playwright Kenneth T. Williams is a play that was put on by the University of Saskatchewan drama department in collaboration with the U of S Global Institute for Water Security (GIWS) and the School of Environment and Sustainability. The purpose of the play was to foster ecological awareness about the effects of flood water on all aspects of the environment using forum theatre. The purpose of Forum theatre is to teach people how to change their world through active theatrical participation. Therefore, audience and actor interaction is a key component within this type of theatre. Consequently, this type of theatre is geared towards social responsibility and social action because it is making its audience think and then react based upon what they think is right or fair. The way in which communication is presented within this type of theatre is through dialogue, spectacle, and audience communication. Therefore, visual, oral, and aural aspects are used throughout the play making this a multi-modal medium. A major part of this play is to foster audience discussion about the topics contained within the play and get the audience to make a decision based upon the information presented. The audience’s decision was shown, in this case, by the amount of ping pong balls the audience allocated to each of the different areas that the flood water would affect. In this way, the play asked the audience to determine the fate of the characters, who were based on things such as a First Nations community, an oil field, and a fish habitat, by allowing the audience to give funding (ping pong balls) to the characters in order to protect them from flood waters. The only catch is that there was not enough funding to go around which made it apparent what the audience deemed was important and what was unimportant in their opinions. Thus, it gave the audience a better look into what their community prioritized and highlighted many of the ecological issues that are prevalent in our society today.

I believe theatre is an excellent way to address controversial topics as well as address social issues. This, is turn, fosters social responsibility in those who actively participate and are affected by theatrical performances. Within one of the interviews with Lori Bradford, wife of project manager Graham Strickert, within the review, she said that “science has its own language, but art speaks to everyone.” I felt that this beautifully encompasses the importance of connecting artistic measures to concreate topics such as science. By presenting the data collection from the researcher’s tests in play form, the results of the test can be shared with a large amount of people who are not scientists and would otherwise not understand the complex rhetoric applied within their studies. In other words, the data is presented in an unorthodox but highly effective manner that allows better communication between all members of society rather than simply the intellectually elite. This method of presentation allows a different perspective on the data collected and appeals to the eyes, ears, heart, and mind rather than simply the eyes and mind. This is the power of theatre over other methods of communication such as intellectual papers or PowerPoint presentations. The theatre leaves you with an experience that makes you want to take action by modeling what that action can be. Thus, the play is modeling a penultimate end goal for social responsibility and social action. The next step in the process is for the individual to take responsibility and perpetuate the message that the play was intending to get across. In this play, the first message was to think about how flood water affects everyone within an environment and how a simple change upstream affects everyone downstream. The second message was to do something about it much like the play Downstream is attempting to educate the viewer.

What is particularly interesting within this play is its use of audience participation to gather data. In this way, the researchers were able to gather data for future research as well as display their present findings in an interesting and engaging manner. Thus, this play had two major purposes that tie into the English Language Arts topic of social responsibility. These topics foster social responsibility through sharing knowledge and taking action. Through sharing knowledge contained within the play, the audience can begin to gather information based on activating prior knowledge as well as adapting and supplementing their knowledge as new information is presented within the play. The first step in becoming socially responsible is through research into injustices in the world. Whatever topic that is eventually chosen, it is important to first be informed before we act. By being informed, we gain better insight into the root of the problem and can the act accordingly. The second part is to actually act once we have gathered information and formed an educated opinion. Through the use of this play, or others that are similarly rooted, one can gain the knowledge and the initiative to further delve into the issues portrayed such as flood water management. Furthermore, by creating a socially responsible play within your own classroom, your students get the opportunity to learn and apply their newfound knowledge into a piece of art that can reach a great number of people. I feel as though this would be a great assignment for students to apply their learning in a practical and engaging manner that has the ability to teach them the principles of being a socially responsible human being. By creating a piece of socially responsible theatre, your students could impact the world or, at the very least, your community in a positive manner.

Within my research, I found this very interesting article about socially responsible theatre that I thought would be great further reading on the topic:


Curriculum Connections (social responsibility):

Outcome: CR A10.1

Comprehend and respond to a variety of visual, oral, print, and multimedia texts that address:

social action (agency) (e.g., Human Existence).

social responsibility (e.g., Destiny and Challenges of Life); and

identity (e.g., Foundational Stories).

– Generate significant and thought-provoking questions about what is viewed, listened to, and read.

– Discuss ways in which texts convey, challenge, or support and affirm individual and community values and behaviours.

-Generate relevant questions about texts on issues related to identity, social responsibility, and social action (agency).

Outcome: CR A10.4

Read, interpret, and draw conclusions about the ideas, information, concepts, and themes presented in a variety of literary (including poems, plays, essays, short stories, novels) and informational (including magazines, newspapers, and on-line information) texts.

-Read and interpret critically the main ideas, events, and themes of a variety of literary texts including stories, novels, scripts, poetry, and non-fiction works, and prepare, present, and defend critical responses to what is read.

-Interpret, explain, analyze, and discuss how the literary qualities and the distinctive conventions, structures, and language features of a range of texts suit the topic and purpose.

Outcome: CC A10.1

Compose and create a range of visual, multimedia, oral, and written texts that explore:

identity (e.g., Foundational Stories);

social responsibility (e.g., Destiny and Challenges of Life); and

social action (agency) (e.g., Human Existence).

– Use representing, speaking, and writing to respond to experiences or texts (e.g., a staged dramatic scene, a television episode, a significant personal event).


Jacobs, A. (2016, October 6). Socially Responsible Theatre? Retrieved from HowlRound:

Robin, M. (2014, February 7). Downstream marries water research and performance art. Retrieved from Global Institute for Water Security:


One thought on “Downstream

  1. Hi Kashtin,
    I agree, theatre is an excellent way to address controversial topics as well as address social issues. This would make it very easy to understand as well as be fully engaging to the audience.
    p.s. I love the suit you are wearing in that picture.


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