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THE WAY OF WATER at Carnegie Mellon University

by Emily Anne Gibson, Dramaturgy, History, and English, CMU '14 

Last semester at Carnegie Mellon University, the dramaturgy department hosted Anne D’Zmura, who taught a course on devising eco-drama, and our professor Wendy Arons is highly involved with the subject. As students of the CMU dramaturgy program, Sara Faradji, Olivia O’Connor, and I were familiar with the concept of eco-drama even before we hosted the reading of Caridad Svich’s The Way of Water in mid-April. In her introduction to Readings in Performance and Ecology[1], our professor Wendy Arons writes: “Ecodramaturgy is theater and performance making that puts ecological reciprocity and community at the center of its theatrical and thematic intent.” The Way of Water is undoubtedly a piece that fits right into this growing theatrical niche.

What makes it successful, in our opinion, is that although it’s a story that involves facts surrounding the BP oil spill of 2010, The Way of Water is still, at its core, a play about people. As we discussed the play after the fact, Sara said she considered it to be “good eco-drama, as the factual environmental concerns are presented in a way that informs the reader about the reality of the BP oil spill while providing a compelling reason to sympathize with the human characters depicted in the play.” This is significant, because an important thing to consider when dealing with ecological issues in theatre is scope. The sheer size of the problems that came out of the Gulf oil spill is overwhelming, but by sharing stories, we share experiences and educate each other. The story of Jimmy and the other characters in The Way of Water speaks to the story of thousands of others.

In my mind, theatre is all about storytelling. There are different ways to go about it, and as Olivia pointed out, it “makes you think, how will we tell our grandchildren about this event? How will this event come to shape the history of the place, the realities of the land?” The Way of Water takes a shot at telling the human story that makes this catastrophic event tangible for us. “It connects us, as people, to events that can feel very alien,” Olivia continued. “The corporations, and even the environment…those things can feel like far-away intangibles. But the impact they have on lives and relationships: that’s something we can all understand.” Sara agreed, saying that “a play can essentially serve as an educational tool that allows one to understand a national crisis from a creative perspective that is not based on cursory discussions by talking heads on a national news network.” It brings the story, the consequences, home, and it forces each person who reads or sees the play to question how we can reconcile humanity with nature – after all, as we discover each time there is an ecological disaster, we are not separate from the world we live in.

The Way of Water by Caridad Svich was read at Carnegie Mellon University on April 16th, 2012. 

[1] Wendy Arons & Theresa J. May. Introduction to Readings in Performance and Ecology. Edited by Wendy Arons & Theresa J. May. New York:  Palgrave Macmillan 2012.