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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.

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".

80,000 gallons of oil spilled on April 30th, 2012

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.

Washington Post's April 30th, 2012 article.


Clip from the Rachel Maddow show as posted on the Gulf Leak Watch's blog.

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...

Meanwhile, as reported by Mark Schliefstein of the Times-Picayune, the civil trial of the BP Deepwater Horizon has been scheduled for January 14th, 2013. Read more.


THE WAY OF WATER at Emerson College

by Jeffrey Freeman, Co-Founder/Artistic Director of Atomic Age Theatre

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.

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.

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.