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THE WAY OF WATER at University of Scranton

by Hank Willenbrink

On Friday, April 13 the University of Scranton Theatre Program in conjunction with Dr. Yamile Silva of the Department of World Languages and Cultures and the University of Scranton’s Task Force on Sustainability produced a reading of The Way of Water directed by Dr. Hank Willenbrink in the Loyola Science Center on campus.  Forty members of the university community attended the reading which featured five students:  Casey Kelly, Claxton Rabb, Kiley Lotz, Vanessa Relvas, and Tim McCormick.

For those of us in Northeastern Pennsylvania, the reading held a special significance.  This past fall, the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee pummeled the area leaving thousands evacuated along the Susquehanna River just south of Scranton.  Though disconnected in time and space from the site of the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, this past September has been a harsh reminder of the way of water as our community continues to rebuild.  Also underscoring the reading was the continuing debate and unsteadiness in the community around fracking in the Marcellus Shale.  We are well aware of disasters here, both man-made and natural.

These concerns where present in the discussion, which followed the play.  During the open forum, a number of audience members expressed their displeasure at the handling of the Deepwater Horizon spill and recalled where they were when news broke out about the catastrophe in the Gulf.  Kiley Lotz, who read Rosalie Robichaux, shared a story about shaving her head, after hearing about the oil spill, and donating the hair to help the cleanup efforts.  Many expressed how powerless they felt in response to the size of the catastrophe and responded that the play had allowed them to reengage with those terrible days two years ago.

As a Jesuit university, the University of Scranton’s mission is dedicated to two pedagogical pillars—social justice and reflection.  Plays like The Way of Water are imperatives for us who teach at the University as they allow a broad reflection on larger social justice issues.  Questions about poverty, class, economics, and governmental assistance arouse in the discussion as well, as we all struggled with how such a disaster shows how quickly the fabric of a community can be undone by an irresponsible pilfering of natural resources by profit-driven machines.  While a number of members of the community recalled their fears and powerlessness, it was amazing to see how many had pitched in and, though they may not have shaved their head, gave generously to help the situation in the Gulf.  The play had the added benefit of being the first artistic performance in the University of Scranton’s new multi-million dollar Loyola Science Center—a space we chose to illustrate how the arts and sciences can reflect and expand upon one another in productive ways.

As I write this, new photos are showing up on the web from Greenpeace displaying the trauma of the spill on animals in the Gulf.  Amid these journalistic documents, it seems to me that the most proper way to deal with events like the BP Deepwater Horizon spill is to bring communities together to commemorate the great and, all too often, stupid things that we have done.  These moments prove instructive through the marking of an occasion as well as through the community-defining practice of artistic production.  

The Way of Water by Caridad Svich was read at the University of Scranton on April 13th, 2012, directed by Dr. Hank Willenbrink and the students of the Department of Theatre in conjunction with Dr. Yamile Silva of the Department of World Languages and Cultures and the University of Scranton's Task Force on Sustainability. See more on the university newspaper "The Aquinas".