Playwrights

Ken Weitzman And Taking To The Streets

This post comes from Chantal Bilodeau’s Artists and Climate Change Blog

Rendering of set design idea for Reclamation by Rachel Hauck

Rendering of set design idea for Reclamation by Rachel Hauck

I have been on the lookout for plays that deal with climate change for quite some time. Being interested in the subject myself, I’m curious to see how other playwrights are tackling the issue. Two plays by Ken Weitzman were recently brought to my attention:

Fire in the Garden (Indiana Repertory Theatre, 2010), co-winner of the Fratti/Newman Political Play Contest, is  inspired by a true story. In 1965 Norman Morrison, a Quaker from Baltimore, drove to the Pentagon and, in protest over the U.S. policy in Vietnam, doused himself in kerosene and lit himself on fire. In his arms as he did this, was his one-year-old daughter. Morrison died within minutes, Emily (his daughter) survived. Fire in the Garden explores this act through the eyes of a new father whose son is one week away from his first birthday. As he delves into and learns more about Morrison, about his beliefs (that the human family should be valued as much as one’s own nuclear family), about historical cases of extreme self-sacrifice, about the continuing legacy of Vietnam, about Quakerism, and about the most pressing moral imperative of our day, he comes to see Morrison’s act (and fatherhood itself) in a very different light.

Reclamation (developed at the O’Neill Conference, 2012) is set in the American West in year 2020 when water shortages are forcing entire Western towns to relocate to “conservation clusters.”  On the very brink of relocation, Leland and Zach, a water manager and his nephew assistant, must strike a deal to save their town and what they call the “spirit of the West”. (You can read an article that was crucial to the creation of Reclamation here.)

I asked Ken to talk a little bit about his experience writing and presenting those plays.

 What compels you to write about climate change and environmental issues?

Climate change is the moral imperative of our time.  To me, it’s impossible to avoid as a writer.  It’s something I certainly wrestle with daily.  As I say in Fire in the Garden, I know one day my children (and grandchildren) will ask me if I knew, if I knew what was coming.  I will have to say yes.  And I can imagine the question that follows my admission will be:  “Then what did you do?”  I wonder every day what my answer is going to be, what my answer should be.

Unfortunately, and obviously, my writing plays about climate change is hopelessly inadequate.  I do believe theatre has the power to reframe a debate, to use metaphor to fundamentally change the ways in which we see things but, ultimately, it’s not action or at least rarely incites it on a level that can bring about change.  Perhaps it can be a step along the way?  That’s the question at the end of Fire in the Garden anyway.  Though I must say, this quote, from an open letter written in response to Norman Morrison’s self-immolation (the subject of Fire in the Garden) sticks with me:   “…at some point you may be required by the exigencies of your time to come down from the mountain and sacrifice yourself – or at least part of your life – because there are certain moral evils that cannot be countenanced.”   That quote has resonates for me on a number of levels.  I’m fascinated, horrified, and inspired by acts of extreme self-sacrifice.  Such acts are often what inspire me to write plays, as with Norman Morrison and Fire in the Garden.  But at the same time, writing and exploring and wrestling with such acts as Morrison’s makes me question and doubt my writing, and theatre in general, as a useful response to the pressing issues of our time.

Rodeo MoA photo of Weitzman’s son Rodeo Mo which was projected at the end of Fire in the Garden.

 What was the audience’s response to Reclamation and Fire in the Garden

I’ll discuss Fire in the Garden first.  I had people ask me, after a reading in which I performed the character, if I thought an extreme act such as self-immolation was what was necessary now?  And was I planning to commit such an act?  My answer was no, of course not.  I’m not planning to light myself on fire to raise awareness or in the hope of spurring change or action.  But I do think that kind of extreme action is indeed necessary, and on a daily basis I feel cowardly for not doing more, for not doing something extreme.  I write my plays, I call Congress, I write letters to the editor, I sign email and facebook petitions, etc., etc.  But in the end I agree with what Morrison wrote, the quote found somehow unburnt in a little notebook in his suit pocket,

“Without the inspired act, no generation resumes the search for love.”

Some audience members, after the Indiana Repertory Theatre production, said “your play, your play is the inspired act.”  They meant for me, not in general, that writing, that this play was how I would answer my children’s future “Then what did you do” question.   But all I can think in response to that is, as Hemingway said, “isn’t it pretty to think so.”  No, this play, in my heart of hearts, is meant not as an answer in itself.  It’s meant as a note to explain some future extreme act that the character plans to take to hopefully bring about real and lasting change, as Morrison’s very nearly did.

“Then what is ‘the inspired act’ that will finally make us finally address the coming catastrophe?” asked another audience member.  A good question.  And at the risk of sounding pessimistic (which I am), I’m afraid the inspired act that will finally make us address climate change will be one of mother nature’s design, not ours.   That drought, hurricanes, fresh water shortages, heat waves, disease, etc. will be what forces us to act, desperately, reactively, and out of necessity.  I think we’ve passed the point of delaying and/or truly stopping climate change with a change of behavior and lifestyle.  I think it’s now about finding and inventing ways, carbon sequestration or some other technique, to address the inevitable.  Sorry, I feel I should be more hopeful than that, but I’m not.

This is not to say, at least not completely, that citizens or artists have no role here.  I’m not advocating a total abdication of personal responsibility.  The response to Reclamation was interesting in light of this.  Reclamation deals with the current and coming fresh water shortage as perhaps the single biggest consequence of climate change.  And many people responded to the play by saying they hadn’t realized a fresh water shortage was something that was so inextricably linked to climate change.  Many, especially on the east coast, had very little knowledge of the interstate and international issues related to water rights and the dwindling Colorado River.  (This is the quote from the National Research Council, in 2007, that I put on the title page of Reclamation: “More than 25 million people in seven states – Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming – rely on the Colorado River for water and power.  The combination of limited water supplies, increasing populations, warmer temperatures, and the specter of recurrent drought point to a future in which the potential for conflict among existing and prospective new water users will prove endemic, and the basin will face increasingly costly, controversial and unavoidable trade-off choices.”)

Most audience members knew nothing of the water settlements reached in the last decade with western Indian reservations and how the reservations have had to, and continue to battle for a reasonable allocation of water (which they’ve been denied for well over a century.)  So I suppose I’m saying that consciousness-raising is one function the writer can serve as related to climate change.  Though I’d be lying if I said that was the main reason I wrote Reclamation.  I do feel a responsibility, as a writer, to wrestle with, as I say above, the moral imperatives of our time.  But, cynically, selfishly, the issues and the story of Reclamation were so rich metaphorically, with ideas about original sin, self-sacrifice, and spirituality, that I couldn’t help but write it.   My political agenda was, I will admit, secondary.

I will say, though, that the theatre offers a unique way to explore and collide with environmental issues: obliquely and metaphorically.  Personally I find such techniques and explorations to be more effective and affecting than straight-up agitation propaganda or plays that address the issues directly.   But that’s a gross generalization and I want to take it back now (or at least temper it by expressing my desire to take it back, without actually taking it back.)

What do you think is the single most important thing artists can do to address the problem of climate change?

I suppose I addressed this a bit above.  But I think my most direct answer would be to take to the streets.  Write, create art, sign facebook petitions, yes, but also take to the streets.  I’m not sure why I haven’t yet. Why we all haven’t.

Filed under: Featured Artist, Theatre

Artists and Climate Change is a blog by playwright Chantal Bilodeau that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to Chantal Bilodeau’s Artists and Climate Change Blog

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stagereads features Caridad Svich

photo: stagereads, Fishing in the Gulf of Mexico

This post comes to you from Ashden Directory

Kellie Gutman writes:

A new website, stagereads, is publishing plays by emerging playwrights, which are e-readable on mobile devices. They are available by subscription, with a 155 discount for those subscribing before 15 September.  The first featured playwright is Caridad Svich and her recent play The Way of Water.

Svich received the 2012 OBIE Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre.  The Way of Water has been traveling since 3 April, 2012, and has had readings in fifty cities in the United States as well as in the UK and beyond.  The play, written after the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill, tells the story of two fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico, who have to deal with the after effects of the spill. The introduction to the play is written by Henry Godinez, Resident Artistic Associate at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago.

He writes in his final paragraph:

Many a great play has been written about corporate negligence and devastating catastrophes, but what makes The Way of Water so compelling is the way it exposes the after effects of such sensational evens in the most real of human terms.

 

“ashdenizen blog and twitter are consistently among the best sources for information and reflection on developments in the field of arts and climate change in the UK” (2020 Network)

ashdenizen is edited by Robert Butler, and is the blog associated with the Ashden Directory, a website focusing on environment and performance.
The Ashden Directory is edited by Robert Butler and Wallace Heim, with associate editor Kellie Gutman. The Directory includes features, interviews, news, a timeline and a database of ecologically – themed productions since 1893 in the United Kingdom. Our own projects include ‘New Metaphors for Sustainability’, ‘Flowers Onstage’ and ‘Six ways to look at climate change and theatre’.

The Directory has been live since 2000.

Go to The Ashden Directory

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the arctic is melting and everyone wants a piece of it « Mo`olelo Blog

Two years ago, thanks to a grant from The James Irvine Foundation, Mo`olelo commissioned playwright Chantal Bilodeau to write a play that explores the intersection of race, class and climate change. Originally from Montreal, Ms. Bilodeau was already researching the impact of climate change on the Inuit communities of the Canadian Arctic. This commission supported that work. As she traveled to the arctic and did further research, she encountered the complexities and contradictions of climate change: ice versus maritime commerce, human rights and activism colliding with family obligations, sovereignty colliding with sustainability. The result was a new play, Sila. The title, Sila, is an Inuit word for the breath of life, the primary component of everything that exists.

Mo`olelo workshopped the first draft of this script last year; Ms. Bilodeau and Mo`olelo’s Artistic Director Seema Sueko journeyed to Montreal in January of this year to workshop the script at Playwrights Workshop Montreal with Inuit and Quebecois actors; and we will now host the third and final workshop reading of this script on May 24. We invite you to join us. For those who saw the reading in 2010, the script has gone through significant adjustments, with some characters “being fired,” and a tightening of the story.

Details

What: a reading of Sila by Chantal Bilodeau

When:   Tuesday, May 24, 2011 with 5:15 PM Potluck reception & mingle with the artistic team and 6:00 PM Reading

Where: The 10th Avenue Theatre, 930 10th Avenue, San Diego, CA 92101

Reservations: Space is limited. Email: tickets@moolelo.net or call 619-342-7395

Admission: Bring something to drink (bottle of wine, soda, whatever you fancy), food to share (cheese & crackers, hors d’oeuvre, or some other munchie), or make a $10 donation at the door.

www.moolelo.net

About the play:

The Arctic is melting and everyone wants a piece of it.

In the race to shape the future of the region, four characters – an ice scientist, an Inuit activist, an officer for the Marine Communications and Traffic Services and a polar bear – see their values challenged as their lives become intricately intertwined.

ashdenizen: wanted: a portrait of the climate scientist as a real person

In his preface to The Coast of Utopia, Tom Stoppard makes the point that writers can have real political influence. His example is Turgenev’sSportsman’s Sketches, which Stoppard writes,

“were plausibly said to have done more than anything else to turn the ‘Reforming Tsar’ Alexander 11 towards abolishing serfdom.”

But the writing has to be precise and observant. Earlier in the preface, when discussing Alexander Herzen, Stoppard writes,

“What he detested above all was the conceit that theoretical future bliss justified actual present sacrifice.”

Twentieth-century history was on Herzen’s side. It’s easy to imagine, today, that many playwrights’ resistance to climate change as a political subject comes from this idea that it deals with a “theoretical future” and that it is being used to justify “actual present sacrifice”. Playwrights like to write about real situations, flesh and blood characters, the here and now. And they like jokes.

In some ways, then, the most interesting characters to put on stage right now are climate scientists: not a climate sceptic disguised as a climate scientist (as happens in The Heretic), but the climate scientists who are simultaneously appalled and fascinated by what they are discovering.

At last year’s TippingPoint conference in Oxford, climate scientists spoke candidly and wittily about how their work had altered their lives and their world views. If caught accurately, that kind of portrait might have real political influence.

via ashdenizen: wanted: a portrait of the climate scientist as a real person.

ashdenizen: at greenland, audiences get to have their say ahead of critics

The National Theatre’s play about climate change, Greenland, had its first preview last night. The critics don’t get to see the play till 1st February, but audience members, leaving the show last night, had a chance to express their views almost immediately.

In the Lyttelton foyer, there’s a Talkaoke table, billed as a mobile talk show, where audience members take a seat, grab the microphone, and share their views on Greenland and climate change. (The pic shows a similar Talkaoke event at the Dana Centre.)

For those interested in other views still, a season of Greenland eventsincludes talks by the four Greenland playwrights, and four well-known voices on climate change, Bjorn Lomborg, Tim Flannery, Nigel Lawson and David King.

via ashdenizen: at greenland, audiences get to have their say ahead of critics.

ashdenizen: national theatre to stage documentary drama about climate change

The latest National Theatre press release says:

GREENLAND, a new play about uncertainty, confusion and the future of everything, by Moira Buffini, Matt Charman, Penelope Skinner and Jack Thorne, will open in the Lyttelton Theatre on 1 February. NT associate directors Bijan Sheibani and Ben Power are the director and dramaturg respectively; the production will be designed by Bunny Christie, with lighting by Jon Clark, video design by Finn Ross, sound and music by Dan Jones, and movement by Aline David. The cast includes Michael Gould, Isabella Laughland, Amanda Lawrence, Tunji Lucas, Lyndsey Marshal, Peter McDonald and Rhys Rusbatch.

Seeking to understand a subject of great complexity, the National Theatre has asked four of the most distinct and exciting playwrights in British theatre to collaborate on a new piece of documentary theatre. The team has spent six months interviewing key individuals from the worlds of science, politics, business and philosophy in an effort to understand our changing relationship with the planet.

GREENLAND combines the factual and the theatrical as several separate but connected narratives collide to form a provocative response to the most urgent questions of our time.

(GREENLAND, Lyttelton Theatre, previews from 25 January, press night 1 February, booking until 2 April, further dates to be announced.)

via ashdenizen: national theatre to stage documentary drama about climate change.

“Global warming is as much a cultural problem as a scientific or political one…”

Robin McKie, science journalist for The Observer, has been to see Steve Waters’ The Contingency Plan, and has noticed that that there is something significant happening across the arts:

Until now, scientists, journalists and politicians have dominated the debate about the threat of greenhouse warming. Many have fought well and brought a proper sense of urgency to the debate. However, it will be our writers, artists and playwrights who will finally delineate the crisis and explore in human terms what lies ahead. Only then can we hope to come to terms with our endangered world….Thus global warming is as much a cultural problem as a scientific or political one and deserves to be addressed through the activities of those who define our culture: our artists and writers.

These individuals will be the ones who reveal to us the kinds of lives we may lead in the near future – not just in physical, but in moral and social terms – as our planet heats up. In other words, we need an Orwell or a Huxley to help us define the terrible issues that confront us – and to judge from the recent efforts of Waters, McCarthy and McEwan we can have a fair amount of confidence that our artists and writers will deliver. Whether or not we choose to listen to them is a different matter.

“Writers and artists are getting warmer” by Robin McKie

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology

Chantal Bilodeau

Chantal Bilodeau is a playwright and translator originally from Montreal, Canada. Her plays include Pleasure & Pain (Magic Theatre; Foro La Gruta and Teatro La Capilla, Mexico City), The Motherline (Ohio University; University of Miami), Tagged (Ohio University; Alleyway Theatre), as well as several shorts that have been presented by Brass Tacks Theatre, City Theatre Company, The Met Theater, Philadelphia Dramatists, Raw Impressions, and Women’s Project. She has been a fellow in the Women’s Project Playwrights’ Lab, the Lark Playwrights Workshop and at the Dramatists Guild and has received grants from NYSCA, the Canada Council for the Arts, Stichting LIRA Fonds (The Netherlands), the Quebec Government House, Étant Donnés: The French-American Fund for the Performing Arts and Association Beaumarchais (France). Her translations include plays by Quebec playwrights Larry Tremblay and Catherine Léger, French-African playwright Koffi Kwahulé and Jean Cocteau. Current projects include the book for the musical The Quantum Fairies in collaboration with composer Lisa DeSpain and lyricist Mindi Dickstein and the translation of four more plays by Koffi Kwahulé.

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Chantal Bilodeau

Chantal Bilodeau is a playwright and translator originally from Montreal, Canada. Her plays include Pleasure & Pain (Magic Theatre; Foro La Gruta and Teatro La Capilla, Mexico City), The Motherline (Ohio University; University of Miami), Tagged (Ohio University; Alleyway Theatre), as well as several shorts that have been presented by Brass Tacks Theatre, City Theatre Company, The Met Theater, Philadelphia Dramatists, Raw Impressions, and Women’s Project. She has been a fellow in the Women’s Project Playwrights’ Lab, the Lark Playwrights Workshop and at the Dramatists Guild and has received grants from NYSCA, the Canada Council for the Arts, Stichting LIRA Fonds (The Netherlands), the Quebec Government House, Étant Donnés: The French-American Fund for the Performing Arts and Association Beaumarchais (France). Her translations include plays by Quebec playwrights Larry Tremblay and Catherine Léger, French-African playwright Koffi Kwahulé and Jean Cocteau. Current projects include the book for the musical The Quantum Fairies in collaboration with composer Lisa DeSpain and lyricist Mindi Dickstein and the translation of four more plays by Koffi Kwahulé.

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Go to the Green Theater Initiative