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. Tags: The Way of Water Blog Posts
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.
Tags: The Way of Water Blog Posts
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.
Tags: The Way of Water Blog Posts
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.Tags: The Way of Water Blog Posts
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.Tags: The Way of Water Blog Posts
As reported by the Associated Press on April 30th, 2012, a pipeline owned by Exxon Mobil spilled 80,000 gallons of oil in the Point Coupee Parish, Louisana. Please let THE WAY OF WATER team know if you find any follow-up articles.
Clip from the Rachel Maddow show as posted on the Gulf Leak Watch's blog.Tags: The Way of Water Blog Posts
As reported by David Hammer from the Times-Picayune, a conversation between a BP employee onboard the Deepwater Horizon and an engineer in Houston that something "wasn't right" fifty-seven minutes before the explosion, but operations continued. Read further for Times-Picayune reportage...
Tags: The Way of Water Blog Posts
My team approached the Way of Water essentially as a counter narrative. Accordingly, as we reconstructed Svich’s brutal portrayal of life in the margins, we had to deal first and foremost with why this story mattered to the now. Past suffering is not a justification for a work of art. To capture a moment of human betrayal cannot be our aim in recreating the voices of the voiceless. If we were simply to concentrate on the pain of the catastrophe, the story could not fulfill its full potential as combative truth to BP’s propaganda campaign. In fact, to emphasize the reality of the pain as opposed to the reality of the solution would be to play right into BP’s current narrative of the wound which is being remedied.In other words, one of the primary struggles my team ran up against in promoting the event was getting past the pity party. Why is this the performance you need to see? Why is this going to be more than two hours of mourning? Yes it is very a human tragedy what happened. Yes, there are people who are still suffering and need help. But what needs to be elucidated, and what Svich pours all her considerable skills into proving, is that the problem is rooted too deep to focus on the pain. If there is a cancer, we can deduce the cancer from its symptoms, and yet without properly advocating surgery, all we do is acknowledge the impending demise of the patient. My marketing designer Liz dropped a single jot of ink into the water and took a picture of it as it steadily split and insinuated itself into what was once clear. Pollution, thick and man-made turned the water a steady shade of purple as we snapped the pictures. Again and again the shutter click echoed across the still water becoming steadily infected at our hands. Was this a full circle in a sense? Re-publicizing the event? Washing infection through purity yet again? Not by a long shot. This event is happening. This event is now and any perception that the water we swim in is clean and getting cleaner is a lie. In fact the infection is getting worse. As BP oil resumes and expands its offshore drilling, moving out of the bounds of our national jurisdiction but not far enough to distill the irreparable harm that would be done were the event to be repeated, the human priorities in the system are becoming clear. This play was not a sit down. This play was a stand up. Thank you Caridad for tapping the potential of the grassroots theater, but as was the playwright’s intent, this is a seed for a larger conversation, and this grass roots network is just barely revving its wheels as a vehicle for social change. ---Jeffrey Freeman, Emerson College BA Theater Studies: Acting, Minor: Postcolonial Studies, Co-Founder/ Artistic Director of Atomic Age Theater Co. The Way of Water by Caridad Svich was read at Atomic Age Theater in collaboration with Emerson College and Emerson Peace and Social Justice on April 11th, 2012, directed by Jeffrey Freeman. Tags: The Way of Water Blog Posts
by Matthais Jung, Director/Founder of Sustainable Awareness in Houston, TX
This performance hit home with me. Why? Because the driving force for me in life these days is the common health of my fellow human and the environment we share across the globe. It eats at me! It eats at me because so many are complacent or non-acceptant to the realities we are facing in our environment. We, as a society, as a world, are in dire straits. I see folk toss styrofoam cups to the side of the road, plastic bags roll in the wind as if it were normal, all the chemicals we dump into ourselves and into the drain, how is it possible to wake up from the allusion that this is ok. I get that the awareness of how things are is sometime a more complicated road to venture, but the reality is we have little time to squander. Our environment is a direct reflection of ourselves; we treat ourselves as we treat the environment that supports us, with utter negligence. It's not ok, the world is on the brink of being lost to our miss handling. It will take the brave and the honorable to rise up; it will take a movement much greater than any time in history. Our values are at the core of this, our integrity is at stake, and the reality of our children’s rights is being tampered with. Why is it ok that Exxon Mobil executives sit at the board of cancer treatment funds, raising over a billion dollars to find a cure and focus on "care" (treatment strategies), when it is very clear that carcinogens have everything to do with it. The cure is clear to me. Stop producing "products" that fill the air with toxins, stop draining the waste into the streams and stop feeding us all this bull shit!!! I am tired of the negligence; I'm tired of watching children and neighbors finding themselves filled with cancer and pure lies. The reality is we are stronger than this, we are more powerful than this, we do have the strength to provide a world class life style and not discard the lives of our fellow human. We have the ability to rise to a higher self and offer a world with plenty. But it will take the majority to sway the pendulum. It takes conversation, protest, outrage and even forgiveness; but change must be done with vision, accountability and all hands on deck.
The Way of Water by Caridad Svich was read at the Main Street Theatre in Houston, TX on April 30th, 2012, directed by Rob Kimbro.Tags: The Way of Water Blog Posts
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, 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 hears 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.
 Wendy Arons & Theresa J. May. Introduction to Readings in Performance and Ecology. Edited by Wendy Arons & Theresa J. May. New York: Palgrave Macmillan 2012.
Tags: The Way of Water Blog Posts
by Peter A. Campbell, Associate Professor of Theatre History and Criticism
We have been lucky to have Caridad on campus a few times this year, as she was selected as a Schomburg Visiting Artist at Ramapo College in Mahwah, New Jersey, at the border of New York State and about 25 minutes drive from the George Washington Bridge. My students were already familiar with her work, as she had visited several classes and did a talk on her translation of Blood Wedding, which was performed on campus in March.
When Caridad first gave me the play, in January, I was struck by the voices and their political power. The tension in communication, the intensity of the relationships, in a time of tension and intensity. The struggles to love under the pressures of life. The universality of it.
But what happened in our reading was that the actors and the audience saw the specificity of these renderings, and especially of their place and time. And that specificity allowed them to also see the specific political and social problems that the play addresses.
Mahwah means “meeting place,” and fulfills that definition in many ways. Historically it has been a meeting place for armies in battle and in making peace; it is still a boundary line of sorts for the Ramapough Mountain Indian Nation and the states of New Jersey and New York.
But most resonant in terms of The Way of Water is that Mahwah is where the Mahwah River meets the Ramapo River, which runs through some of the most populous areas of northern New Jersey. These rivers have a history of being polluted, most famously by a Ford plant in Mahwah that produced more than 6 million cars and dumped most of its waste in the river. The Ramapo River downstream of the plant was designated a Superfund site in 1982, and continues to be polluted with lead, arsenic, and other chemicals that still seep into the groundwater and the river basin. More recently, Hurricane Irene caused several oil trucks from upstream in Sloatsburg to be dumped in the river. The entire basin, which eventually empties into New York Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean, remains highly polluted, and with every new incident of flooding there are warnings of polluted groundwater, parks, and playgrounds.
So our reading, then, in this context, had its own specificity. We live in a place where the discussion of water and its safety is second nature.
The students reading the play, and those who made up most of our audience, were quite struck by the way that the play roots out political and public activity through the everyday lives and conversations of the characters. The characters are genuine, idiosyncratic, unusual, poetic. And powerful. The actors were excited to be able to give them voice. And the response from our audience was of shock and recognition, of the currency of the play and the issues at hand. As one student audience member noted, the staged reading was a powerful tool in engaging the audience to think about the spill and its effects without being preachy or pedantic:
"It is a story about…people in helpless, life-or-death situations. The drama was realistic and believable leading me to wonder how much research Svich put into her work. Were the characters based on real stories that she had read about or seen on the news? Even though it was only a reading, the actors were still able to deliver strong performances that enhanced the serious dilemmas of the four men and women. The dialogue was naturalistic in the way that average people would talk about the spill and their problems.
Despite my enjoyment of the material, I never became so completely immersed in it that I forgot about the big picture. None of the drama enfolding in front of me would have occurred if not for a man-made disaster. Instead of performing it as a full play, the four actors simply sat on stools and read from scripts…The lack of theatricality is a constant reminder to the audience of the play’s messages. It never…allows you to forget about the spill and its effects.
I was also impressed by the knowledge I was able to obtain without realizing I was being taught. As ridiculous as that sounds, I never knew of the hazardous effects of the chemicals that were used to clean up the area and disperse the oil. A 16 year-old boy was killed in the play by these chemicals. Again, by cleverly working this point into the never-unrealistic conversations, the play was able to inform without preaching, for which I was quite grateful.”
This was a special experience for our campus and our community, one that gave us the chance to learn about those distant but not so far away. We are grateful to Caridad and No Passport for giving us the opportunity.
The Way of Water by Caridad Svich was read at Ramapo College’s Adler Theater Berrie Center for the Arts on April 10th, 2012. The cast included Christopher Kent (Jimmy), Vanessa Rappa (Rosalie), Frank Hughes III (Yuki) and Melissa Mugica (Neva). Directed by Peter A. Campbell with sound by Nick Cornwell.Tags: The Way of Water Blog Posts
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"The Way of Water"
Playwright Caridad Svich and Houston stage-director Rob Kimbro talk about Ms. Svich’s play The Way of Water, written in response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Theater companies across the country are presenting staged readings of the drama, marking the second anniversary of the nation’s worst environmental disaster in history. The local reading takes place at Main Street Theater’s Chelsea Market playhouse.
Caridad Svich and Rob Kimbro talk with St.John Flynn.Tags: The Way of Water Blog Posts
by Jesus A. Reyes, Creative Director
I love staged readings. I find them to be exciting – at least they can be. So, when Caridad Svich asked if EAST LA REP would consider participating in her “scheme” to present staged readings of her play The Way of Water, I immediately said yes!
I love staged readings because I’ve had some of the best times directing staged readings. The art of the staged reading is so particular and not any actor can pull it off. Actors in staged readings have to be extremely confident and flexible. They have to be courageous and be ready to put their ego aside. These actors have to rely on their technical skills 100% and you can always tell when an actor is not having fun during a staged reading.
The staged reading, be it in-house and private or for public consumption, is a great way to take risks, to hear new work, to hear new actors, to stretch the imagination muscle of actors, directors and audience alike. When I lived and worked in the Bay Area I was so fortunate to be on the directors’ roster for Jim Kleinmann’s company, Playground. Playground is an amazing opportunity for Bay Area playwrights to master the art of the 10-minute play but also for the actors and directors to have fun and support the text. Annie Stuart is the casting director for Playground and had an incredible sense of the actors that can pull it off and roll with the staged reading process. With a days notice, the actors and director have only an hour and a half to digest, discuss and stage a reading before a paying audience that evening. It’s exhilarating to work with the playwright in the room and the actors, all just going for it.
I admit that I was moved to work on The Way of Water because of the sense of responsibility to put the work and words out there that were inspired by the 2010 BP oil spill. To present a play that took the devastation and immediate aftermath of this event and gave life and voice to four characters affected by it. To make it work for EAST LA REP we wanted to tie-in Los Angeles and during our initial conversations of the play, we found out about high toxic levels in the nearby community of Huntington Park. So the plan was to take part of the public “toxic tours” that a local organization conducts and perform excerpts of the play to complement, to connect and to inform the tour participants. As a company we had always been pretty good at performing outdoors and site-specific and this was a great next step to that process. To work with an organization and a community in a more direct way then just offering comps or half-price admission. For the first time we would be on the front lines. Then it didn’t happen.
The opportunity fell through but we were committed to be part of this important international scheme and had to figure out how to proceed. The obvious choice was to present a traditional staged reading at our home venue. Then the idea came, to take the excerpts and film them as monologues, The Way of Water Project was born. We pulled together a diverse cast of seven, a cast that represents some of the diversity of East Los Angeles. From the get go we told the actors that they did not have to memorize their lines, some did, because they are very committed, but it was not necessary. I wanted to capture that staged reading rawness from live performances and put them on film. I absolutely love the craft in progress, as actors look at their pages and make choices. Bold choices, interesting choices, dangerous choices. They dig deep into their experience and use what they have to tell the story. It’s risky but so much more of the moment. I wanted us to capture some of that on film so we emailed the actors their sides a day or two prior to the scheduled filming and went for it. Two, three takes is all we filmed for each. We discovered that the prayer that was sung originally didn’t quite gel with the footage filmed afterwards, so we re-shot it. We discovered that one of the monologues was more effective if we split it into two. Each and every actor involved gave their time and talent to this project. The director Alejandra Cisneros along with each and every actor we asked to participate was chosen because of their strength and willingness to jump off the staged reading cliff with us.
Something that was also new to us was premiering the shorts on our group Facebook page. Because EAST LA REP is in the midst of changing its model from a theatre company to a creative center, it made sense for us to try something new, something unknown. We still get emails and posts from people telling us that they loved the video they saw and can’t wait to attend the reading. Sorry, that was the reading. Once all eight shorts premiere, a full-length version that ties all the shorts together will be featured. This full-length version will also be new for us, a new way of telling the story that is a full-length play via social media.
Last night, I was at a play and ran into one of the actors that participated. He mentioned how he wished that maybe, the actors should have been off book. He pointed to one of the actors that was completely memorized and how effective that was for him. I replied that indeed, that actor’s work, along with the one or two other actors that were memorized, was very good, and for the full-length version it will be such an interesting balance of storytelling, but, his work along with that of the actors that were not off book was just as effective. The way each actor committed to his words. The way each actor made choices. The way each actor found rhythm and language. The way each actor looked down at his script when he/she needed to and stayed in character – that was amazing – that is theatre – this is the one way to get a sense of what live theatre is like but on a screen. The Way of Water Project was not to be a film or a documentary; it was meant to be a staged reading on a small screen.
I just posted the fifth short out of eight, so we are sort of half-way to the finish line. I thank Caridad Svich for asking EAST LA REP to be part of this incredible experience. I thank her for being incredibly brave to let us take excerpts and re-arrange her play. I thank her for allowing us to take the poetry, drama and politics of her play, The Way of Water, and letting us share it online. I must also thank my cohorts at EAST LA REP for their continued support in this time of transition. Finally, I thank the creative team that made The Way of Water Project so memorable, director Alejandra Cisneros and the actors, Carla Valentine, Anthony Aguilar, Blake Kushi, Raquel Sanchez, Juan Ramirez, Lynn Haro Martinez-Arvilla and Juan E. Carrillo. Oh, and extra special thanks to all those brave ones that go mano-a-mano with the staged reading.
Jesus A. Reyes, Creative Artistic Director, EAST LA REP
The Way of Water by Caridad Svich was read at East LA Rep on April 21st, 2012 as part of its Necessary Conversations Series, directed by Alejandra Cisneros.
Tags: The Way of Water Blog Posts
by Caridad Svich
"Oh, environmental plays," a UK playwright-colleague said to me during a Winter Writers Retreat at the Lark Play Development Centre this past, mild December in NYC, "they're bloody hard to write." A few weeks later another UK playwriting colleague and I email about our ongoing twinned passions of art and activism, and go back and forth in our correspondence on the inherent risk and non-monetary value that these passions can engender in the process of art-making . It's now April 2012 and the two-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill disaster is making headlines with a plethora of lawsuits, cover-ups and a nasty and enormous health scandal affecting the US Gulf region. I'm sitting in a practice hall in NYC in workshop with my new play THE WAY OF WATER, which is, in effect, set in the heart of the devastating aftermath of BP's environmental disaster, and looks at the lives of four characters whose very lives and livelihoods are damaged by the complex fall-out of the spill and the even more complex, layered threads that link lack of health insurance, poverty, and racism in the economically strapped fishing towns along the coast of Louisiana.
We discuss with a talented quartet of NY-based actors how waves of convenient cultural "amnesia" seem to maintain what has often been described as a "culture of forgetting" in US society, wherein disasters go viral and lose their "cache" time and again to make room for the next disaster scrolled on the media waves of a computer screen. The conversation in the practice hall turns again and again, when we're not tracking emotional arcs in the script or looking at newly posted articles about new findings in the US Gulf of shrimps with no eyes surfacing in the waters, to what theatre's role can be in a thorny US theatrical landscape that is driven in both the commercial and not-for-profit sector on the vagaries of real estate and the out-moded subscription-audience model adopted forty or so years ago by the regional/resident theatre system. Again, the issue of how to address environmental damage and issues of sustainability come to the fore as we work on the depiction of four fragile lives caught in an equally fragile eco-system.
Thousands of miles away, Pat the Dog Playwrights Centre and the University of Waterloo are collaborating on a site-responsive reading of the play in a reflecting pool in the Kitchener-Waterloo City Square in Ontario, Canada, whilst at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, the University of Tasmania in Australia and Aberystwyth University in Wales, different drafts of the script are being read (accent adapted) with a mix of student and faculty actors. Blog posts from these and other venues taking part in an international reading scheme for the play come in via email to the respective laptops of a dramaturge with us in NYC in the practice hall, and another dramaturge (working remotely long distance). Most of the blog posts are written either by actors, educators or practitioners and their reflections circle again and again on how, despite the fact that BP and the anniversary of the disaster have been making headlines these last few weeks, precious little awareness has made its way into the corridors and dressing rooms of theatres at the university and not-for-profit level. In fact, most of the reflections contain a similar refrain: "How can theatre-making address environmental issues, and what kind of effective change is possible after witnessing a play?"
The word "mobilization" is used in its noun and verb form throughout many of the blog posts, and as my four actors, director and dramaturges wrestle with the finer points of script revision, clarity, and the crafting of emotionally resonant moments - the nuts and bolts of any work room devoted to new writing - the word threads its way through our practical conversation and into the chit-chat of coffee breaks and the ubiquitous habit of checking voicemail and text messages on our mobile phones. We ask ourselves, in effect, if it's even possible for theatre to be a Mobile/mobilizing force in the era of an already-waning Occupy X movement in the US. After all, this is a Presidential election-year. Stump speeches flood the primaries with sound bytes and empty rhetoric, diffusing the complicated and necessary national conversations that need occur regarding, among many other issues, health care, oil drilling, fracking, and the continued voracious plunder of oceans that do not belong to us for the sake of pocket-deep multinational corporate investments and the byzantine top-down levels of "minor" corruption and lobbying that allow convenient lies to be disseminated and variously "accepted" by a variety of multi-platform media outlets. One petition signed, a line in a script read out loud to a roomful of people - what change, real change, is possible? Is it futile to even think about? Is the age-old (seemingly) question of the validity of theatre-making's civic engagement at odds with the immensity of the big ol' world itself?
The actor playing the role of the Jimmy, a fisherman eking out a beggarly living on the Louisiana coast as he suffers from exposure to toxic solvents and a toxic environment, sits down on a folding chair in our NYC workshop, and rests his head on the work table of our practice hall. He utters the word "politics" and the catch in his voice is urgent. "What interests me in this play, in plays, is the politics," he says. Soon, our discussion turns to what we think of when we say the words "political theatre," especially in the US. Creeping into the conversation one of US theatre's "dirty words," rears its head. It is a word bandied about quite often pejoratively by administrators, marketing folks, and even within the creative personnel of our wide-ranging industry.
The word is "darkness." It is a word that tends to send shivers down some people's spines in this field, as they try to pitch plays to their constituents and disguise "darkness" in blurbs and press packets with any number of adjectives in order to obscure its visceral presence. Darkness, even in dark times, or the intimations of a jangling, upset theatrical universe where not every question is answered by the theatre-makers and/or presented in pop-friendly forms, is the dirtiest of dirty words next to the word "politics" in US theatre. Will the world presented on stage be too bleak? Will we run the risk of alienating the audience? And if we indeed want the audience to mobilize, to feel empowered to at least try to effect a measure of change within their local community, what tools can we offer them through our storytelling in order to instill the possibility without wrecking all reasonable hope altogether?
A recent New York Times article in the Arts and Leisure (Sunday 22 April) was actually devoted to the subject of darkness in plays in lieu of the Broadway revival of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, a text that is being met by a new generation of theatre-goers with a mixture of awe and mild shock at the "depressing" nature of the piece's downwardly spiraling story. Has US theatre, for good or ill, and time will be the judge of that, retreated from the portrayal, without exploitation, of the troubling nature of much of the lives of those who live in the US in order to instead "do good?" In this "doing good" is theatre's potency as a live medium of expression, as a meeting place and communal gathering of strangers, being castrated? What new lies get told in this "do-gooder-ness" and what markings on theatre's pages are left unsaid in the fear of losing an audience?
These are questions that playwrights committed to expressions of the body politic, who work in the stacked desk of US theatre's economy, contend with on a daily basis, Even in a practice hall, in a workshop, where the focus is on the text, its intentions, and how it can indeed further engage with the difficult and beautiful stuff that makes up our world. The urgency felt in the actor's voice when he utters the word "politics", as he sits on the folding chair giving heart and soul to the work for very little pay, resonates outside the practice hall and into the streets of NYC, as my collaborators and I wind down after a long day of tough, merciless and compassionate creative decision-making. The air is crisp and a sudden rain chills what has been a remarkably pleasant spring. An email comes in from colleagues in Kitchener-Waterloo, as the site-responsive reading of THE WAY OF WATER has come to an end. The temperature there had dropped immeasurably and the performed reading had to be moved mid-stream, indoors, into City Hall, of all places, where the local arts presenter offered a dedicated audience coffee to warm them up, and the play continued under the glare of fluorescent light. My collaborators in NYC alight on their separate paths, to their separate subway trains, to Brooklyn, Bushwick, and Inwood. We say our good nights and promise to gather again tomorrow for another day of work. Precious time is all we have, and our workshop will soon come to an end. I think about how one audience was figuratively mobilized in Kitchener-Waterloo because of the vagaries of an intemperate environment, and I think about how "politics" and making theatre can huddle us around all kinds of honest, fearless, and vulnerable places of darkness and light.
The Way of Water by Caridad Svich will continue to be read in the next few weeks at the following theatre companies and universities: American Stage Theatre in St. Petersburg, Florida (4/28/12), University of Alabama-Birmingham (4/28/12), Alameda Theatre Company (4/29/12), Mile Square Theatre (4/29/12), CalArts New Works Festival (4/29 and 4/30/12), Main Street Theatre (4/30/12), Rosemary Branch Theatre (5/6/12), English Theatre, Berlin (5/13/12), Firehouse Theatre Project (5/22/12) and Ensemble Studio Theatre (5/29/12).Tags: The Way of Water Blog Posts
KSFR-FM Radio Cafe interview with Mary Charlotte Domandi and The Way of Water ensemble, broadcast Wednesday, April 18. link to podcast http://www.santaferadiocafe.org/podcasts/?p=2391
Teatro Paraguas presents a staged reading of THE WAY OF WATER a new play by Caridad Svich which focuses on the lives of two Louisiana couples in the aftermath of the BP Gulf oil spill in April 2010. Over 50 readings are taking place around the country and the world in April. 8:00 pm. Free, donations welcome.
Tags: The Way of Water Blog Posts
by Aditi Brennan Kapil
I had the privilege of experiencing The Way of Water as it was being created, hearing installments nightly in our Lark Play Development Center Winter Writers Group. What struck me first about Caridad's play was the gorgeous, authentic, poetic language in which her characters lived their lives. I was already completely in love with them when I discovered that the world was rotting away their food source and their bodies. That's the gift of this play, Caridad's ability to anchor something as large and incomprehensible as environmental disaster in the humanity that both caused it and is being destroyed by it. To see us all as part of this greater organism, it's powerful, it's gorgeous, it's chilling.
Aditi Brennan Kapil is an actress, writer, and director of Bulgarian and Indian descent. She was raised in Sweden, and resides in Minneapolis, MN. She has performed extensively in the Twin Cities and around the country, her writing has been nationally produced to critical acclaim. For more of Aditi's current projects, check out her website.
Tags: The Way of Water Blog Posts
By Wendy Mortimer, Director and Associate ProfessorWhen Caridad invited us to be part of the International Reading Scheme, I immediately said, "Yes." Because it was Caridad. The way she uses language to explore and reveal the edges of human relationships, our relationship to the earth and to our ancestors resonates in ways that are universal. Add to this the possibility of offering a strong example of theatre for social change, and adding our voices to the larger global issue of the right to access of clean water... and it seemed like the perfect storm. Due to limited resources and an already overloaded production calendar, we opted for the reading to reach the university community rather than focus on outreach to the local community. The reading was simple, with actors using only the language to bring the characters and their unimaginable realities to life in the space between each other and the audience. The many actors, directors, designers, stage managers, theatre education majors that attended the reading were shocked to hear about the ramifications of the efforts of the "clean-up" and struggled to match this new knowledge with what they'd been reading in the papers. Since the reading, students have been asking about how they can be a part of NoPassport and other socially aware theatre movements. And though the reading didn't reach into the larger community, it was heartening to hear students respond so fully to the writing, articulating how the imagery, truth, and depth is the type of text they'd like to work with. To a generation of actors that tends to focus on getting cast more on giving back, this proved to be a project that planted seeds in every single young artist in the audience... of what theatre can do, what it can reveal, the action it can inspire. This reading allowed students to look with new eyes at the country they thought they knew. There are ripples now where the water was once still. And that is a great, great thing here in rural Indiana. I cannot thank NoPassport enough for this piece, their extreme generosity in opening it up to the community in the form of this reading scheme, and for the development of a company with a laudable mission statement. I look forward to future reading schemes that will undoubtedly allow us to create more interdisciplinary relationships and also reach into the local community. In regards to the actors involved, it is the strongest work I've ever seen them do. The rhythms in the text, the intricacies in the relationships both onstage and when speaking of ancestors brought out in the actors a vibrancy that held the audience for the entire length of the reading. It was thrilling to see/hear them soar - focusing only on the language (no light cues, set, sound - just the words into the space). Thank you, thank you, thank you for the opportunity to reach towards the upcoming generation of BFA students - for broadening their definition of possibility in the arts. The Way of Water by Caridad Svich, was read at Ball State University on April 23rd, 2012, directed by Wendy Mortimer. Tags: The Way of Water Blog Posts
by Vern Thiessen, Playwright
This past December, it was my great privilege to work together with a group of playwrights at the Lark New Play Development Centre's winter retreat. Within six sessions spread over a short period, each of us created a play and shared it with the others. The group was diverse and the work eclectic. One of those plays was THE WAY OF WATER. Every week (and sometimes twice) I bore witness not only to Caridad's play being created, but also to a world unveiled, to lives unravelled, to secrets unearthed, to dreams broken, to change taking hold. Watching that play being born was - and remains - a profound theatre experience for me. Perhaps because of the time lag I experienced between scenes, I became obsessed with the play and its people. I thought about them, worried for them, dreamt about them and wondered what would happen to them between readings. I am not a fan of serial television. I don't get "hooked" on shows as a rule. But Caridad's play lured and hooked me, like the fish the play's characters are so desperately trying to catch. And like the oil to those fish, I too became infected with something, not poison, but an outrage that I rarely feel in the theatre. LIke an Ibsen or Churchill play, THE WAY OF WATER asks difficult questions, not only of its characters, but of its audience. The questions still linger with me. I will never look at a stream, a river, a lake, or an ocean the same way.
Vern Thiessen is one of Canada's most produced playwrights. His plays have been seen across Canada, the United States, Asia, the United Kingdon, the Middle East, and Europe. Website: http://www.vernthiessen.comTags: The Way of Water Blog Posts
by Georgina EscobarI got an email from Caridad early this year in which she introduced me to this project and asked, ‘would the National Theater Institute be up for staging a reading?’ Sure, I thought. Not really knowing the scheduling and ends and ways of the National Theater Institute… But I read the script and loved it. Immediately, I hurried down the steps of the old Hammond Mansion at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center to the little office at the end of the hallway. “NTI”. Known for their infamous slogan “Risk. Fail. Risk Again.” My solitary days at the O’Neill consist of being on the third floor with the rest of the Literary Office team. There, surrounded by books, acting as guardians of text and words, we seldom see the inner-workings of our sister entities on campus. I felt it was necessary to create that bridge. I took the script to the Artistic Director and she assured me it was something wonderful, for a great cause, worth doing and very fitting to NTI’s aesthetic of surprising the students and the community with bold new play readings from writers-in-residence, or in this case, Caridad Svich. The National Theater Institute is a conservatory of theater in which twenty to thirty students submerge themselves in the solitary grounds of the Eugene O’Neill for thirteen weeks to study theater. They work seven days a week, a minimum of ten-hours a day refining their skills in acting, directing, playwriting, movement, voice amongst others. Because of the intense atmosphere it also breeds a sort of silent community that is palpable when you first set foot on the grounds. I believe this was probably what happened to Caridad when she first arrived, an honorary guest to her reading of “Way of Water” on Earthday weekend. You would expect a natural fuzz and buzz to follow such great combination, but this is the O’Neill. People here love the intimate. Our audiences expect rough, expect process, expect breakthroughs. That was exactly what happened on that Saturday. The actors met for the first time a few hours before lunch-time. The script had been slightly re-written after a reading at the Lark, so I was literally handing them material as they walked through the door. I was nervous. In all honesty I believed this was an NTI event. I had passed the torch, and given them my Mexican blessing—which consists of making the sign of the cross mid-air as if casting a sort of minor magic. But it is common amongst this community of artists for us to always think as collaborators. I jumped in. I wanted the reading to show the words, I wanted the actors to convey the message, I wanted the audience to be as moved as I was when I read it. I wanted the audience to walk out of there and say: I want to make a difference and I don’t know how. Then I wanted them to go out and research and get informed, and find ways to pay attention. I wanted this piece to change their world. And just like that catholic gesture cast upon them that day, the reading proved itself to be a form of minor magic itself. It cast its own charm. The actors, reading it for the first time where possessed by the immaculate crafting of the cadence and beats and rhythms and moods. The audience danced along. The intimate Dina Merril Theater (a black box that is actually a BLUE box due to its initial venture into becoming a Television/Film studio) transformed itself into the world of the play. Between acts, I stumbled outside and asked my friend and Literary Manager if he could moderate the talk-back, he does it every summer within our Conferences. ‘No’ he said, ‘You can do it.’ But I wanted to know everything! Moderate? That sounds nothing like me. I wanted to ask Caridad about her process, about character construction, about impact, about the future of this campaign, about her thoughts on how theater can change the collective consciousness on environmental awareness. I wanted to know it all. When the time to ‘moderate’ came, all the questions seemed to sum up into one: “Why Now?” and immediately I made quick eye contact with Caridad and I could have sworn that within both of us the answer was “Well. Why NOT.” She elevated the simple answer and allowed her audience into the world of her plays, reaching out to some far back and speaking of the importance of revisiting forms of writing that were present early on. She spoke of the importance of being aware of our worlds crisis’ at all times, because we are artists, because we are creators, because we are alive. This was better than a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter day for the NTI students. This is what we crave: to be told that all of us are connected and have a sense of purpose. I could feel their bodies lean in as Caridad spoke of the creation of character and her journey as a writer. Then people asked such things as ‘what’s next?’ ‘will this be presented in those affected communities’ and ‘how do you know when to let go of something you’ve written.’ The questions and conversation varied and the intimate blue-box felt suddenly like a campfire. Jorge Luis Borges states in the last line of one of his poems; “Everything happens for the first time, but in a way that is eternal. Whoever reads my words is inventing them.” That night we met up with some audience members at the local Dutch Tavern and it was evident then as it was at the theater, this piece will go on to change people, and as it happens simultaneously with colleges and communities around the world, this message and those words will happen for the first time, but in a way that is….eternal. Georgina H. Escobar, M.F.A Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, Literary Office The Way of Water by Caridad Svich was read on April 21, 2012 at the National Theater Institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center. Tags: The Way of Water Blog Posts