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Beyond the Horizon Festival at UMASS Amherst


by Megan McClain, dramaturg

On April 20, 2010, BP’s Deepwater Horizon off-shore drilling unit exploded, killing 11 people. For the next three months nearly 5 million barrels of oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico, negatively impacting plant, animal, and human life.  The full extent of the catastrophe’s aftermath is still unknown.  Though the news media’s coverage of the spill has dissipated in the ensuing years, artists and activists continue to give voice to the lasting devastation of this event.  Addressing the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and its position in a long line of environmental disasters, the Beyond the Horizon Festival presented by the UMass Amherst Theatre Department seeks to use performance to map our changing relationship to the natural world and offer models of community response to ecological crisis.   Developed by a interdisciplinary community of theatre artists, musicians, dancers, and environmentalists, the Beyond the Horizon Festival offers three original devised theatre pieces that use the power of performance to illuminate the interactions between humans and the environment. 

            The first piece, What Have We Learned, uses letters, dance, and song to explore how the BP Gulf oil spill has effected the lives of those in the Gulf and beyond.  To whom it may concern addresses how we struggle to communicate during times of crisis in a world pulsing with the din of suffering, disconnection, and corruption.  The final piece, Nightingale, imagines a post-apocalyptic society in which natural organisms are strictly controlled and shows what happens when one bird throws the whole system into shock. 

            Members of the Beyond the Horizon artistic team are also participating in a reading of Caridad Svich’s new play, The Way of Water, presented in collaboration with NoPassport Theatre alliance and press as part of a nationwide and international reading scheme.  The Way of Water interrogates the BP Gulf oil spill by exposing the continued negative effects of the disaster on the health and livelihoods of those in the region.  This network of readings across the country joins theatre artists in a larger conversation about the hidden and ignored human suffering of those exposed to contaminated water in the Gulf.

            Silent Spring author Rachel Carson once wrote, “In nature, nothing exists alone.” The same can be said of theatre.  Though theatre has been described as the site for exploring the human condition, that human condition is intrinsically linked to the conditions of all other life on this planet.  Theatre gives us a space to play out sites of connection and disconnection. It creates a place to reassess our destructive actions and celebrate the most beautiful wonders of the world around us.  Above all, it offers the chance to rediscover and announce what poet Mary Oliver calls our “place in the family of things.”

            The Beyond the Horizon Festival runs April 5-7 and April 10-14 at 8pm and April 14 at 2pm in the Curtain Theatre of the Fine Arts Center on the UMass Amherst campus.  The reading of Caridad Svich’s new play, The Way of Water, will be held at 4:30pm on April 10th at Food for Thought Books, 106 N. Pleasant St. Amherst, MA. For more information visit

Academic Theme Launched on World Water Day

Two of the participating institutions: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and UMASS Amherst have used THE WAY OF WATER to respond to their school's mandates to initiate campus-wide discussions about water.  Take a moment to check out these articles published by UNC's University Gazette and The Valley Advocate: 


"The things that are wrong with water today are pretty big, and the pressures on water are huge. But it is within the grasp of human kind to use it as a tool for good," said Jamie Bartram, professor of environmental sciences and engineering at the Gillings School of Global Public Health and director of The Water Institute at UNC.


The UMASS Theater Department has risen to the deans' challenge by creating three original works that "map and explore our changing relationship to the natural world and offer models of community response to ecological crisis."  Beyond the Horizen  is an exercise in "devised theater," explains dramaturgy grad student Megan McClain, the project's curator. The pieces were co-created by the participants---two dozen students from three of the Five Colleges---using research, found texts and their own words and ideas. This approach, says McClain, mirrors and extends the notion of interconnectedness in the campus wide theme.

We also appreciate Carnegie Mellon dramaturgy student Emily Anne Gibson initiated an article on TheatreManiaU

"All in all, this is a project I feel strongly about being involved in. I have a lot of beliefs about theater, but one of them is that it should provide a social commentary. And this most certainly does. I also think theater should create a conversation. And I believe that The Way of Water  will do just that. And I know, first hand, that theater must be communal---this reading series is a wonderful embodiment of that community, and when the play receives its world premiere, I believe that it will create a community out if its audience that can talk, argue, collaborate, and come to new understandings."

Dear Actors, Directors and The Way of Water participants:

In my conversations with Cindy Cooper, Managing Editor for On the Issues Magazine, she directed me to the research efforts of Jacqui Patterson. As you will see from her article below, women have been disproportantly affected by the BP Oil Spill. If you are playing the roles of Rosalie and Neva, we hope you find her article particularly moving.---Heather Helinsky, dramaturg

Gulf Oil Drilling Disaster: Gendered Layers of Impact 
by Jacqui Patterson

The Deepwater Horizon Oil Drilling Disaster of April 20, 2010 (the “BP Oil Spill”) is, as the news sometimes tells us, causing grave damage to the waterways and shores, marshlands and bayous of the Gulf of Mexico. Far more hidden is the devastation wrought on the women in scores of coastal communities.

My research and investigations in the Gulf region indicate that while all were affected, the women of the coast experienced differential impacts and unique issues during the disaster and in its aftermath. In this regard, the Gulf disaster fits in with the experiences of disasters worldwide, in which, across the board, women are disproportionately affected.

In the case of the Deepwater Horizon incident, women’s experiences were different from men in four main areas: 1) Care-taking and health; 2) Economic health; 3) Abuse in the home 4) Family stability.  In many ways, women were required to take on new family responsibilities in the wake of the Gulf disaster. From a gender perspective, these are many lessons to bring forward.

Challenged with Family Health and Welfare

In the aftermath of the disaster, people reported many health concerns: respiratory issues, digestive problems, skin reactions and other conditions. With these new health issues on the rise, women’s care-taking experienced a corresponding increase. As is typical in many families, women in the Gulf took on the role of caregiver when husbands, children or other family members became sick.

Furthermore, women faced risk to their own health, especially because of differential effects on reproductive health, as is frequently true in situations of environmental exposure. Veteran toxicologist Dr. William Sawyer, in his analysis of the risks resulting from toxic exposures arising from the Gulf Oil Drilling Disaster, pointed to Toluene and aromatic hydrocarbons as risks for women because they are known to cause spontaneous abortions and severe birth defects in humans and other mammals.

Mental health issues increased, and women reported having to be the pillars of stability and leadership in the family so that members could continue to function.

In addition, women became the spokespersons for families that needed to share their stories and advocate for justice. Recovery workers – most of those who were hired were male -- had to sign contracts saying that they wouldn’t “speak out” about their experiences as part of clean-up crews or other parts of the recovery, leaving the women to carry community voices.

Reliance on public assistance increased significantly in the region due to the disaster.  Women were left responsible for accessing public assistance -- whether it’s because women are viewed as being in charge of household matters, or because of gender based “pride” differentials.  As Mary McCall of Coden, Alabama, shared with me, “And then I’m trying to help fishermen without jobs. I would get in line to get groceries, but them -- being men -- they didn’t want to do that. They didn’t want to say ‘I’m going to stand in line for them to give me groceries’; I did it for (the men).”

Economic Access and Opportunities Shunted

Women’s access to economic opportunities was limited and their experiences in the workplace were compromised because of the Deepwater Horizon incident. The gender of workers in the affected region influenced the degree of economic devastation, the ability to find new work, the percentage of compensation for loss of work in the claims process and experiences in the recovery process.

Jobs that women occupied before the disaster were more vulnerable to being obliterated. Oyster shuckers, crab pickers and chambermaids who I interviewed in my investigations were predominantly women, and they lost their employment. Some boat owners were able to gain revenue from being a part of the “Vessels of Opportunity” program that utilized boats in the clean up, and hotels continued to operate even when occupancy was low. But, employees on the lower rungs of the employment ladder – especially women -- suffered the greatest impact to their earning ability.

Many of the recovery jobs involved manual labor, and women were excluded from these opportunities. At one worksite, managers reported that out of the 300 workers, only 10 were women. Women reported being trained and then not being hired when mass recruitment of crews took place. Several women reported their concerns and were only hired after the NAACP called contractors expressing concern for discriminatory hiring practices. Clearly, the Department of Labor needs to increase oversight in ensuring that contractors do not discriminate based on gender.

In addition, many women reported numerous accounts of workplace sexual harassment by both co-workers and supervisors on various clean- up operation sites.  Contractors must adopt zero-tolerance policies on sexual harassment in the workplace.

Women were also under-represented in the contracts awarded in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon Incident. An analysis of BP Supplier/Contractor Diversity data shows that a total of $181.4 million in small business contracts was awarded; women-owned businesses received only $4.9 million in contracts, less than three percent of the total.  In the future, agencies offering contracts must be intentional about outreach to women owned-businesses.

Please read Jacqui Patterson's article further by clicking on this link to On the Issues Magazine! There's more!

Play Performance to Benefit Occupy Ashland

by Andy Seles & Joanna Goff

An explosion on April 20, 2010 aboard the Deepwater Horizon, a drilling rig working on a well for BP one mile below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico led to the largest accidental oil spill in history. Residents who live along the coast, all the way from Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana to western Florida continue to suffer acute symptons attributed to ongoing exposure to toxic chemicals being released from BP's crude oil and the toxic Corexit dispersants used to sink the oil. Thousands of deaths along the Gulf Coast region have been linked to this toxic damage. This devastation is deemed by many in the health and science field as the equivalent of Agent Orange in Vietnam.

In her recent essay Towards a Visible Theatre, playwright Caridad Svich wrote, "Theatre is a public forum. Writing for the theatre and live performance thus demands engagement with the world. To write a play is a civic act, or at the very least the articulation of a desire to take part in a civic dialogue with society. Broad questions of identity and human rights enter very much into the frame of a play's vision." Her newest play, The Way of Water, will be given a free staged reading at Rogue Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Hall on Monday, April 9 at 7pm. All donations at the door will benefit OCCUPY ASHLAND. The Way of Water deals with the aftermath of the BP oil spill; the play was released to groups around the globe to commemorate the disaster by humanizing the people and their suffering. In the play, two Louisiana gulf fisherman and their wives struggle with humor and grace for survival as their health, vitality, and livelihood have been severely disrupted by the toxic environment.

Joanna Goff, a teacher/actor/director, has assembled a cast that includes Trevor Mather, Fiona Fire, Thomas Letchworth and Jazmin Roque. Letchworth, who plays the role of the fisherman Yuki, recently stated, "The arts and the artistic process offer themselves up as tremendously powerful tools for social change. Through art people gain inspiration, hone creativity and develop passion, all of which are invaluable assets to the would-be activist. Art and creativity have the ability to cut through the barriers of race, class and location in a way that no other mechanism can. In this way the pen, paintbrush and body are truly mightier than the sword."

Eddie Lee, who was originially cast as fisherman Jimmy Robichaux, writes: "So why protest and activate socially? I believe this play demonstrates our attention to the world around us, and begin extending our support to one another. The Way of Water is populated by rich characters that help tap us into our humanity, and then invites us to walk in the shoes of those who face life in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico BP oil tragedy. This art, the Art of Theatre---among the many forms of creative expression---enables the greatest movement that any one can make: to move mind and heart, so as to build the most important thing that anyone could possibly create. Community. It is time we recognize the Arts for the power and value that they really are."

Fiona Fire, who plays Rosalie, explains her involvement: "For me playing Rosalie is a joyful burden. She has shown me my own anger and sadness with fresh clarity. Sharing this story allows us to embark on a very real grieving process. Any illusions we may hold that the spill happened "over there" or "to them" are quickly dispelled in the face of such honest storytelling. The destruction of the spill is felt by all, and it is our sacred duty to tell the truth, grieve, and heal together."

Caridad Svich is a US Latina playwright, translator, lyricist and editor. She received the 2011 American Theatre Critics Association Primus Prize for her play The House of the Spirits, based on the novel by Isabelle Allende. Her works have been presented across the US and abroad at diverse venues, including Denver Center Theatre, Mixed Blood Theatre, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Repertorio Espanol, 59East59, McCarren Park Pool, 7 Stages, Salvage Vanguard Theatre, Teatro Mori (Santiago, Chile), ARTheatre (Cologne), and Edinburg Fringe Festival/UK. Svich states, "Making a play is in and of itself a fragile game that involvesthe particular relationship between and among collaborators...a tough and tender affair that demands courage, a strong sense of humor and a great deal of commitment...a writer writes becase....Writers write because...a writer Rights."

Save the date for an evening of empowering theatre. April 9 at 7pm. Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 87 4th Street. For more information contact Andy Seles at or 541-727-2677.

New from NoPassport Press:
by Elaine Avila
A collection of thought-provoking, adventurous feminist plays by playwright Elaine Avila that push at theatrical form, explore gender and identity, and human life on this planet. With an introduction by American director Ted Gregory and an afterword by Canadian director Kathleen Weiss.
ISBN: 978-0-578-10420-1
Retail price: $20.00

The Problem Continues...

"No one on the platform was injured, the company said, and there appeared to be no immediate danger to anyone on shore. But the volume of gas escaping from the well threatened to make the air poisonous and potentially explosive over a wide area around the platform, and posed a danger of significant environmental harm."

"The Gas Leak on Offshore Platform Forces Evacuation in North Sea." New York Times, 27 March 2012. Reported by Julia Werdigier and Henry Fountain.



"Total said two firefighting ships are on standby near the platform, about 150 miles east of Aberdeen, and others may be mobilised soon. Hainsworth said the company was "evaluating options" on how to put out the flare and how to stem the leak.

He said international well control experts have flown to Scotland to advise the company on the best course of action. Options include drilling a relief well and sending experts on to the Elgin to kill the leak from the platform. The company said it may take up to six months to drill an emergency relief well."

"Flare still burning on North Sea gas leak platform." The Guardian.  27 March 2012. Reported by Rubert Neate.



"Unlike the oil spilled from BP’s Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, the Total leak is primarily natural gas that dissipates in the air, especially in the usually windy conditions of the North Sea. But the gas in the well is known as sour gas because it contains toxic, flammable hydrogen sulfide as well as gas liquids that have created small surface sheens. Drilling a relief well, one possible solution, would be difficult because any rig would have to keep its distance from the gas leak. “This is another instance in which we see that the oil companies are not prepared for the worst-case scenarios,” said Frederic Hauge, president of the Bellona Foundation,a Norwegian environmental group. The uncontrolled leak takes place amid controversy over how Britain should manage its aging offshore oil and gas fields. Just a week ago, British Chancellor George Osborne proposed about $4.8 billion in tax breaks to help oil companies dismantle old platforms and drill new wells. “Gas is cheap, has much less carbon than coal and will be the largest single source of our electricity in the coming years,” he said in his budget statement on March 21. He said the energy secretary would “set out our new gas generation strategy” in the fall."

"Total gas leak forces evacuations in British North Sea." The Washington Post. 27 March 2012. Reported by Steven Mufson. 

Southern Oral History Program (re-post)

This is information for anyone interested in continuing to read up in preparation for Caridad Svich's play THE WAY OF WATER.

Click here for a link to videos created by Andy Horowitz for the Southern Oral History Program in July 2010:

Click here for more information about the Southern Oral History Program:

The Southern Oral History Program

in the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina conducted a small series of interviews to begin the work of documenting the human effects of the BP oil spill, perhaps the worst environmental disaster in American history.


About the Project

The interviews, completed while oil was still flooding into the Gulf of Mexico from the ruptured deepwater well, reveal the worry, hope, confusion, and commitment of Louisiana coastal residents during a time of deep uncertainty and peril. The interviews allowed coastal residents to put their current predicament in historical context: they described lives and livelihoods connected – often for generations – to the coast and to the water. 

The interviewees talked about their evolving understanding of government, regulation, and industry, about the coexistence of oil and fishing industries, and about the importance of work, family, and place. They compared the oil spill to earlier challenges – like hurricanes – and described how this time seemed different, more daunting, less certain, and more out of control. They expressed frustration with so much of what was happening, and at the same time, confidence in the perseverance and intelligence of local people to get through this crisis.

From the hours of interviews – which soon will be archived at the Southern Historical Collection and made available as audio and written transcripts online  – we have highlighted a few very short sections here. Sound bites run counter to the strengths and goals of oral history, though, and we encourage you to read or listen to the interviews in their entirety. These clips are meant to offer a way in.

For nearly forty years, Southern Oral History Program has been recording the recollections and reflections of southerners. Our 4,500 oral history interviews include conversations with millworkers and farmers, activists and political operators, and many others who witnessed southern history as it happened. Visit us at

The Southern Oral History Program collaborated with the Louisiana State Museum to produce these interviews.

Andy Horowitz conducted the interviews for this series. Andy first came to the Southern Oral History Program as a college intern in 2002, and later returned to direct the SOHP’s post-Katrina project, “Imagining New Orleans,” in 2006. From 2003 to 2007, he was the founding director of the New Haven Oral History Project at Yale University, where he also taught courses on oral history and urban studies. He is currently History PhD student at Yale.


"The Best Hypothesis"

We do seem to listen when it's about dolphins--which is why Caridad Svich's play WAY OF WATER takes on the human health issues.

"The best hypothesis is that it's the oil spill."---from the broadcast 23 March 2012


Stay posted as we continue this conversation all April 2012!

---Heather Helinsky, dramaturg

"Over the last few weeks, there has been renewed attention down here in the Gulf region thanks to the planned BP trial and eventual partial settlement. You may have seen GRN staff at a wide range of meetings and events such as our recent Gulf Gathering in Alabama and a protest on Poydras Street in New Orleans. You may have also read any number of articles or heard interviews quoting GRN staff in the localnational and international media. Recently the media focus has shifted from the BP trial to the RESTORE Act which was just added to the Transportation Bill by the U.S Senate. GRN continues to stay focused on all of the moving parts of this ongoing disaster and continues to fight for a healthy Gulf using all of the strengths that, thanks to supporters like you, we are able to leverage and apply. This includes our field monitoring program along the Gulf coast to ensure that the ongoing impacts of the BP disaster are documented and shared.  Below is a state by state expose on impacts that continue to occur in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, all within the last few weeks." Continue Reading, click here (by Jonathan Henderson, 9 March 2012)

What we like about this post by Jonathan Henderson of the GULF RESTORATION NETWORK is that it gives a state-by-state update on what residents are seeing on their beaches. It includes links from diligent residents from Lousiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida who bear witness to what has happened since the BP spill. 

If you are an actor or member of the artistic team preparing for the readings of The Way of Water by Caridad Svich in April, we encourage you to comment on the Gulf Restoration Network's blog. Let them know that we're listening to their reporting and moved by their efforts to keep us aware of the continued impact.

----Heather Helinsky, dramaturg

A recent panel discussion and performance at the Martin E. Segal Center was titled “Publishing Performance in the 21st Century: Ugly Duckling Presse.” The theme of the evening centered around ways of archiving performances that may defy the usual methods of preservation. “How do you notate a dance?” one of the panelists, dance critic Claudia Larocco who founded the Performance Club, asked. Another panelist, playwright Sylvan Oswald who, along with playwright Jordan Harrison, publishes Play A Journal of Plays on a poly-annual basis, proclaimed he felt oppressed by the traditional ways in which plays appeared on the page, which led him to publish a journal of his own. Literary agent Antje Oegel, who co-edits 53rd State Press, argued for the importance of engaging the audience with the text. The panelists continued a convivial debate led by Matvei Yankelevich who publishes both Ugly Duckling Presse and Emergency Index, a nascent annual artist-driven publication of performance documents (the deadline to submit tid bits of your own is Jan. 3 2012). Later in the evening three artists, Jim Findlay, Julia Jarcho and Aki Sasamoto, responded via performance to reviews they had received about earlier performances they had created.

Read the whole thing