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.