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The Fear was All Inside Him

by Tifini Pust

In a few weeks ago, Main Street Theatre and four local actors from Houston Texas brought to life the latest script by Caridad Svich, The Way of the WaterIn the script we are introduced to four locals living in the gulf just after the BP Oil Spill. I was familiar with the writings of Ms. Svich and had attended a writer’s workshop of hers Arizona State University in 2008. I was very much looking forward to hearing the script and was delighted to be asked to facilitate the talkback.

This script and the characters in it were especially impactful here in Houston, Texas. Working as I have for the last three years in Environmental Education, I was thrilled to see the arts taking on the struggle of creating a dialogue of unheard or untold stories. The actors were brilliantly present in the lives of Svich’s characters. Several people commented after the show that they were not prepared for the emotions of this piece. They were not prepared for the suffering.  Ms. Svich has created a beautiful comment on the juxtaposition played in the lives of those who live near and are deeply affected by the Gulf.

While listening I was pulled in to the lives of the characters, the shape and colors of their world. I felt their frustration and connection to the land. Houston is thirty five miles from the Gulf. When asked, the audience associated the term “the gulf” with “home.” I believe the imagery of the characters losing their home was not missed by this “petro/metro” bustling metropolis. We’re all closer to the Gulf then we realize.  I believe it is this connection that led to such a passionate performance and such a lively talk back. This play took place, for us, literally in our backyard and the audience was ready to talk about it!

One of our panelists, distinguished activist and local Houstonian Bryan Parras, of TEJAS, saw amazing parallels to his own personal life. Bryan has been protesting BP and working on environmental issues here in Houston for decades. He shared some of his personal reflections and acknowledged the emotional connections he had with the script. Bryan hoped that the audience would be sparked by this story to be active in our own community lives. Many people commented that they hope to see changes in our cities and new ways to support the Gulf.

In my opinion, The Way of the Water perfectly captures the struggles of most any gulf community.  The passage that resonated with me most, and with many audience members was the poetry passage just before the second act in which Jimmie discusses the dolphins and the similarities of fates between our species.  Also, Jimmie at one point mentions his father and how “the fear was all inside him.”  That line resonated with me on many levels, because I believe it is true that we, as a society, are ruled by fear. We fear the thought of a game changing decision, like ending subsidies, because we have worked for so long with subsidies in our system. Jimmie and Rosalie are afraid of the unknown, of speaking up and being heard, but our society at large will forever live in fear until we embrace new balances and efforts.  Here in Houston our entire employment foundation is monopolized by the oil and gas companies. Children living in the ship channel are fifty six times more likely to have leukemia, and yet we continue to choose jobs over health simply because we fear the thought of losing our jobs if we regulate pollution. If we hold people accountable. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, but we Houstonians continue to believe that it does, for fear of the unknown. I love the thought of Jimmie making a sign and attending a protest, but I hate that it took him getting to the point of having “nothing to lose” in order for him to take action. I hate it, but it’s the truth and Caridad Svich captures that ironic truth in a hard-hitting and “ground-truthing” way unlike any I’ve heard before.

The Way of Water by Caridad Svich was read at Main Street Theatre on April 30th, 2012, directed by Rob Kimbro.

THE WAY OF WATER at Alameda Theatre in Toronto

by Marilo Nunez, Artistic Director

When Caridad Svich asked Alameda Theatre Company to be part of the international reading scheme for her play The Way of Water, I was honoured and immediately jumped at the chance. I was interested in bringing environmental awareness to the forefront and in creating alliances with Latin American writers outside of Canada.

I delved into the research. I immediately connected to the world that Caridad had created and specifically to the four central characters, Jimmy, Rosalie, Yuki and Neva. Reading accounts of the health, ecological and environmental realities these people faced everyday made my stomach turn. I read and re-read the play and every time I did, my heart opened up to these four complex and human characters more and more. I began to feel their rage, their pain, and their frustration. We needed to inhabit these characters so that our audiences could feel the humanity of these people, feel the impact of the destruction. I was driven to bring awareness to us as Canadians about the force the environmental spill had (and is having) not only on the people who live “over there”, but on all of us. We need not look south to understand the impact the oil industry is having on the environment. The Way of Water is a political call to action.
The four actors who volunteered their time, Michelle Arvizu, Karl Ang, Andrew Moodie and Cherisa Richards, delved wholeheartedly into the play. Something magical happened as they began to read the words aloud. We were present and open to having the full force of these people come alive in the theatre and in our hearts. The power of their voices was palpable and we were all moved to tears. (And I hope to action.)
I felt, without a doubt, that Caridad had created a bleak world with a defined sense of hope. Hope for the future of the people who were (and are) directly affected by the event. And hope for the rest of us. There was a will, the will of the people and of the human spirit to create a world where we listen to one another, support and fight for each other’s right to live free of pain, distrust and anger. It was one of the best play readings that I had ever been involved in. And I thank Caridad for giving Alameda Theatre Company the chance to be able to be involved in an important international political experience.
I now want to be more involved in making people aware of the environmental concerns here in Canada. The tar sands and the pipelines that are currently destroying our natural resources, and our environment are areas that we as Canadians should be talking about more honestly. Here are some very disturbing facts (from
  • Greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands production are three times those of conventional oil and gas production [currently tar sands production emits 27 megatonnes per annum and is expected to rise to 108-126 megatonnes by 2015]. Thus, the tar sands are now poised to become Canada’s largest single emitter of greenhouse gas, compounding this country’s contribution to global warming.
  • Oil sands plants typically use two to four barrels of water to extract a barrel of oil from the tar sands, but some extraction methods can use as much as 7 barrels of water. The amount of water needed for the tar sands is seriously lowering the water levels of the Athabasca River, the Mackenzie Valley watershed and other related water sources in the region.
  • Many aboriginal groups are being left out of the process and run over in the race for development of the tar sands. First Nations in Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories have claimed that traditional lands are being destroyed for tar sands exploration and extraction, and First Nations are not being included, or properly compensated for their lost and destroyed lands and water supplies.
  • Currently, 66% of tar sands oil is being exported to the United States, while over 40% of the oil used in Canada is imported to fulfill the needs of Eastern Canada. When the Keystone pipeline is built from Alberta through to the States, the tar sands industry will become increasingly reliant on US refineries for processing and Canada will continue the tradition of providing raw resources to the United States instead of processing it (and creating more jobs) for ourselves. The tar sands industry is ensuring the energy security of the United States while ignoring the energy needs of the rest of Canada.
We need to raise awareness about what will happen if we are not informed and do not do anything to stop the destruction of crucial resources in our country, all in the name of money and greed. The most important lesson I learned throughout was: the more knowledge we have, the better equipped we will be to stop events like the BP oil spill from ever happening again.
“Power to the people”, an axiom that lives full force in this play, stands out for me. Gracias Caridad, for your courage and perseverance to tell the truth.
The Way of Water by Caridad Svich was read on April 29th, 2012 at Alameda Theatre in Toronto, Canada where Marilo Nunez is the Artistic Director. Alameda Theatre Company produces Canadian theatre with a distinct Latin American perspective. We develop the work of Canadian Latin American playwrights and create professional opportunities for our artists. We mentor the next generation of Latino artists in Canada. We also look for creative ways to interact with artists on an international level, especially if they have a connection to Latin America.


THE WAY OF WATER at Rosemary Branch Theatre, London

by Daniel Wilcox, actor

As an actor, quickly assembled readings are a way to work your instrument- making quick choices, connecting with actors you haven't been rehearsing with for long and trusting your impulses.  While reading for the role of Jimmy in The Way of Water was another opportunity to keep my engine up and running, what made this particular experience unique was not so much my  own work but more about where we were reading and for whom-- a theatre in London with a small but engaged mostly English crowd, whose experience with the BP catastrophe, let alone the backdrop of American back country and its complexities, were somewhat new.

During the break between parts I and II a cheery Englishman amusingly asked "what's a Hot Pocket?" in reference to the dialogue exchanged by the characters over the sad reality of that night's dinner.  As fellow American and actor/director Bryony Thompson and I chuckled and explained to him that it was comparable to a cornish pasty in the U.K, it wasn't until afterwards that this small exchange with a friendly and curious foreigner made me realize how important this play is.  The Hot Pocket question encompassed the importance of this experience---this was not just a play reading, this was an opportunity to give another culture some knowledge of our own and further expose the TRUTH--that big idea that is often covered like the gulf fish in the sludge of that terrible spill.  As a citizen I was blown away by the dramaturgy behind Caridads Svich's writing because as much as I knew about the BP spill, I realized how much information has been unsaid, even left out--namely the lives ruined in the creole community by the dispersant used during clean-up. This then was a chance for another part of the world to see, and I think we achieved that as people talked afterwards about how informative the facts behind the story were.

It was honor to read for Jimmy, a character who to me represents the complexity of America--its people, its politics, its cynicism, hope, corruption.  He is all of us, the good and the bad, the occupier and the dutiful soldier, the fighter, the defeated.  And that's the way it is.  No morality tale here, just the truth in all its misery and hope.  I came in to this project as an actor looking to work his stuff,  I left feeling like I had part in letting people in on the truth of a dire situation, a small victory, but a start.

The Way of Water by Caridad Svich was read at the Rosemary Branch Theatre in London on May 13th, 2012.


Reflections on THE WAY OF WATER from Berlin

by Ric Oquita

As a longtime admirer of Caridad’s work, I felt especially honored to have participated as an actor, portraying Jimmy, in the Berlin reading at the English Theatre directed by Jake Whitlen and accompanied by actors Nichola MacEvilly, Seamus Sargent and Katharina Sporrer.

It was an intense experience, given our roughly seven hours rehearsal together. We began with a conversation about the details of the oil spill, the aftermath and the current situation, to get a better understanding of its dreadful impact on the lives of the characters.

We read through the script, focusing primarily on keeping the images and humor in the text vivid. I was particularly interested in tracking when characters were taking a stand, withdrawing or vascillating from one moment to the next in regards to staying quiet or speaking out against the “Big Pigs”.

We had some time again to get on our feet and explore the physical life of the story. As a dancer, this is where I began to feel the language come alive and the ever present water and heat inform the musicality in the text. I kept the depths and impulses of the water close to me as Jimmy’s illness begins to surface and reveal itself physically.

My father was also very close to me in the process. I chose to draw on my father’s struggle with the onset of dementia as he fights to hold on to his memories, which often reveal themselves in dreams while he is awake. I see Jimmy also as a strong man fighting to hold on to his memories in a culture where amnesia is often celebrated.

40 people or so came out for the event. native German speakers for the most part who I felt were listening very intently to the story. Once the audience had gotten used to our voices and the richness of the text, their laughter came easily, especially after our intermission.

It also felt like, after intermission, we all felt the stakes burning in the room. There were moments of intense quiet, almost as if the audience was holding their collective breath, when everyone realized what was being lost. That happened for me anytime Jimmy surveyed the water and his property.

After the last moment, when Jimmy decides to protest, there was a breath and then a long, sustained applause from the audience. I'm certain actors in other readings felt the same lift in that last moment. It was joyous.

We were pleased with the reading and also felt a definite longing to live with the play longer. I wonder how the actors in other readings responded to that longing. For myself, the play went deep and my body needed a couple of days to recover from the experience. I feel that it has touched the actorvist in me, which I'd suspected had gone the way of water. It's been envigorating following postings from other participants on this blog. Thank you Caridad for your vision and for honoring, so eloquently, the people of Plaquemines Parish.

The Way of Water by Caridad Svich was read on May 13th, 2012 at the English Theatre Berlin in Germany.

For actors still working on The Way of Water, watch this video posted on LEAN's blog. Jorey Danos, a clean-up worked on Vessel of Opportunity during the BP oil spill, talks about the symptoms of his health problems and the Gulf Detox Project.

---from R. Alex Davis and Heather Helinsky, dramaturgs

L.E.A.N. is the Louisiana Environmental Action Network.

A few words on THE WAY OF WATER from Ohio State

by Francesca Spedalieri, PhD student in Theatre, Ohio State University

Dress rehearsal. A small room in Central Ohio.

Our Jimmy, Matthew Yde, charges in:
"Do you guys know what day it was yesterday?"

April 21, 2012.
The day after, two years ago.

"Memories like sieves in this country."

We borrowed Caridad's words to plead that we may not forget.
To take responsibility.
Because we can pull the breaks.
And stop. And rest. And start again.

Our thanks go to those who did not forget.
Who, every day, live what we have forgotten.
And to those who have the courage to pick up a sign and say
"Hear the people's wrath!"

The Way of Water by Caridad Svich was read at The Ohio State University on April 23rd, 2012, directed by Francesca Spedalieri, Ph.D. Student in Theatre. Cast: Jonathon Boyd, Ph.D. candidate in Theatre (Stage Directions), Alison Vasquez, MFA in Acting candidate (Rosalie), Matthew Yde, Ph.D. Theatre (Jimmy), Nicholas White, MFA in Creative Writing candiate (Yuki), Leela Singh, BA Theatre student (Neva).

THE WAY OF WATER at Bowling Green State University

by Angenette Marie Spalink, PhD student in Department of Theatre & Film at Bowling Green State University

On Friday, April 27, 2012, at 8 PM, a group of students, faculty, and Bowling Green community members gathered at Bowling Green State University’s Wolfe Center for the Arts to participate in a reading of Caridad Svich’s new play, The Way of Water. This staged reading was conducted in collaboration with Ms. Svich and NoPassport Theatre Alliance and Press’s organization of multiple readings across the world to commemorate the two-year anniversary of the BP Oil Spill.

The reading was staged on the Grand Staircase in the lobby of Wolfe Center for the Arts. The audience was located on the side of the staircase, on amphitheatre-esq concrete tiers connected to the stairs that functioned as stadium seating. The readers were seated on chairs at the bottom of the staircase facing the audience. The readers consisted of three BGSU graduate students, Quincy Thomas as Jimmy Robichaux, Heidi L. Nees as Rosalie Robichaux, and Angenette Spalink reading the stage directions and two BGSU faculty members, Scott Magelssen as Yuki Skow and Sarah Chambers as Neva Skow.
Prior to the official reading, the readers gathered several times to read through the script and discuss the themes and ecological issues it illuminated. The staged reading was publicized throughout the university and local community and about thirty-five people attended. It lasted about one hour and forty-five minutes including a brief intermission. A talkback followed the reading.
About half of the audience remained after the reading to participate in the talkback. Judging from the audience engagement and participation in the talkback, both the reading and talk back were very successful. The talkback generated fruitful discussion concerning the effects of the Oil Spill on the characters in the play, and raised interesting questions regarding the ecological implications of the spill on both a local and global level.
Regarding the characters and plot, several people I spoke with afterward articulated how moved they were by the characters and their journeys. One person told me she was on the verge of tears during the scene where Jimmy and Rosalie are forced by the bank to leave their home. Additionally, a BGSU film professor commented that the staged reading provided a nice medium for the play. She noted that the minimalism of the reading enabled the audience to really engage with the themes and emotions of the piece and not to be distracted by production or scenic elements.
Another topic we spent significant time discussing during the talkback was the role of the media in relation to such disasters as the BP Oil Spill. Readers and audience members commented on the rapid pace and frequency at which media consumers receive news stories. Once these stories are received however, they quickly disappear when new stories emerge and replace them. We discussed this pattern and its effects on the continued coverage of the Oil Spill. Many of the talkback participants agreed that for those of us who live in the Mid-West, the Oil Spills lasting effects on the gulf coast’s many eco-systems and landscape is not something that acquires mainstream news coverage in our area.
Because we had discussed some of the lasting effects of the spill during our meetings, most of the readers were familiar with the recent issues that have emerged regarding the Oil Spill. Judging from the audience’s reaction, however, when we discussed these issues, it did not seem that many of them were aware of the recent discovery of shrimp mutation, the affects of Corexit on the people and eco-systems of the coast, and the general health problems people on the gulf have been experiencing since the spill.
The discussions of media and long-term repercussions of this disaster led to a conversation about alternate ways of producing and communicating information. We considered how knowledge and awareness could be generated through art and theatre, and if performance can be utilized as a mode through which to keep people aware and informed of issues taking place in the world.
We also talked about efficacy, if theatre and performance have the ability to create change or evoke action. Specifically, we discussed how The Way of Water could effect change by taking a macroscopic issue like the BP Oil Spill and making it geographically specific to a distinct location. The playwright takes a microscopic approach to this large-scale disaster by examining its affects on the day-to-day life of specific people in a geographically distinct place. The playwright confronts an immense disaster that is overwhelming and hard to comprehend and depicts its affects on the people who inhabit a particular landscape, thus giving the audience something tangible to perceive in the midst of this incomprehensible catastrophe. It reminds the audience that this horrible catastrophe affects all of us, as there is still so little we know about the long-term damage that will result. The Oil Spill’s permanent affect on earth’s eco-systems is a sobering reminder that we are in the midst of an ecological crisis, the root of which is anthropogenic in nature. Ultimately, the audience and readers concurred that the play presented themes that evoked dialogue regarding the relationship between the earth and those who reside in it.
The Way of Water reading and talk back was not only a success in terms of generative conversation, it was the first reading/staging to occur in a found space in the Wolfe Center and the feedback regarding the event was very positive. Many people stated how much they enjoyed the event and look forward to more of the same nature. Because this event was so favorably received, I believe our department will continue to conduct and participate in staged readings. Overall, I believe this reading was a success and presented an excellent opportunity for BGSU to participate in a commemorative remembrance of those affected by the spill, the chance to engage with a contemporary playwright, and served as a way to promote dialogue within the Bowling Green community regarding the lasting impacts of recent and current ecological disasters. 
The Way of Water by Caridad Svich was read on April 27th, 2012 at Bowling Green State University on the grand staircase in the lobby of the Wolfe Center for the Arts.

Lydia Stryk on THE WAY OF WATER in Berlin

I saw the reading of The Way of Water at the English Theatre Berlin, a world away from the poisoned coastline and the particular drama of being poor in America with its foreclosures and lack of health care and of a liveable safety net for its working class and poor. I found the play to be a remarkable achievement and so did the rest of the audience judging by the extended heartfelt applause. It's a beautifully detailed and powerfully written play. The actors (English-speaking ex-pats who live and work in Berlin) and their Berlin-based American director did a fantastic job of bringing the emotional and political power of the play to life. For the mostly German audience, this play must have been a very interesting case of being transported to an entirely other world. A world in which the BP disaster, brought about by greed and disregard, literally eats away at those who make their living from the water of the play's title. I wish Caridad all the best with continuing to reach audiences the world over with this story, so important and heartbreaking and yet full of humor and tenderness and love. I am very grateful that a playwright has put the working poor on stage with the dignity and humanity that is theirs. And the play brilliantly combines issues of ecology, health and economic realities.

Lydia Stryk, playwright

The Way of Water by Caridad Svich was read at the English Theatre Berlin on May 13th, 2012, directed by Jake Whitlen in Germany. 


Ten Thoughts on THE WAY OF WATER

by Carl Lavery, Senior Lecturer in Drama, Theatre and Performance, Aberystwyth University, Wales, UK

When I think of The Way of Water, I think of the urban geographer Mike Davis' extraordinary essays in the book Dead Cities (2002), in particular the text 'Ecocide in Marlboro County'.

When I think of The Way of Water, I think of Karl Marx's notion of socio-sensuality, and the production - the metabolic production - of nature.

When I think of The Way of Water, I think of its sparse geometry, its rigorous, uncompromising angularity.

When I think of the Way of Water, I think of its linguistic rhythms and poetic beats - its politics of voice.

When I think of the Way of Water, I think of US socialism.

When I think of the Way of Water, I think of 4 young actors in Wales finding its meanings, walking its lines, tracing its shapes.

When I think of the Way of Water, I think of Lone Twin and of their fabulous ecologies of water, their clouds of interconnection.

When I think of the Way of Water, I think of my Dad who died from a lifetime of exposure to the toxic fuel tanks of Phantom fighter jets.

When I think of the Way of Water, I think of my Grandfather who died from lung cancer caused by the too easy use of asbestos in the Belfast Shipyard.

When I think of the Way of Water, I think of the great difference separating the 'assassin from the poet' (Deleuze and Guattari).

The Way of Water by Caridad Svich was read at Abertstwyth University Department of Theatre, Dance, and Film on April 22nd, 2012.


THE WAY OF WATER at University of California, Davis

by Josy Miller, PhD Candidate in Performance Studies

Caridad Svich includes two provocative clues in her introductory notes to THE WAY OF WATER that crucially guided our reading at UC Davis. While taking great care to clearly position the piece as a response to a particular historico-political event, Ms. Svich concludes her synopsis with a much broader invitation as to how we might understand the play. “It’s a play about poverty in America, rumors and truth, what is said and what gets written, and the quest for an honorable life.” The play does indeed emerge as a counter-narrative, as one of the contributors below has noted.  However, the ethical and existential quandaries posed in the piece speak far beyond the particularities of the BP oil spill. Through the rehearsal and production processes, the artistic team found our conversations continually returning to the question of how a person lives day-to-day with the knowledge that things – indeed that they - are not going to be okay.  Crucial, timely questions are at work in this piece: What are the relationships of our identities to spaces and places? How do people (and men, in particular) maintain a sense of self-worth in a capitalist society when they cannot make a living?  What is the utility of Beauty (and particularly Beauty as artistic creation) in a world that is unsurvivable?

The direction was primarily influenced by another of Ms. Svich’s notes, her framing of the piece as “poetic realism.” From the outset, her maneuvering of language between realistic and poetic attracted me as a tactic that could potentially allow a closer encounter with the profound existential problems of the play than conventional realistic dialogue.  The poetry interrupts empathic engagement and reminds the audience of the problems this single story points to, but cannot encapsulate.  Jimmy and Rosalie are evocative incarnations but Ms. Svich never allows us to get too attached to their realistic particularities.   In production, we attempted to extend the impact of these interruptions by incorporating movement alongside the poetic dialogue that gradually but visibly broke from the more realistic physical interactions that were sustained for the majority of the piece. (Actors performed the piece script-in-hand, but were fully choreographed).

Another particularly evocative question arose, as they so often do, from one of the central production challenges of the piece, the function and utility of objects. Particularly in a piece that is so environmentally concerned, how might – and how should – objects emerge from and reflect their environment?  In our production, the only scenic elements were projections of the oil slicks, abstractly gorgeous and actually horrific, and four black stools, which we inverted, turned on their sides, and stacked to become the pier, cooler, backyard chairs and so on. We found that simplicity in the staging of the play could perhaps work to uphold the play’s ethical confrontation with a culture of consumption that relies on the creation and transport of an infinite number of things.

Finally, we found the real power of this piece in its courage to move into abstraction, in both its form and its content, consistently complicating too simple answers.

The Way of Water by Caridad Svich was read on April 12th, 2012 at the University of California Davis Department of Theatre in collaboration with the EDGE Dance Festival.