by Guest Blogger Mark A. Durstewitz
Featured Image: The Nature of Man poster
Madmen and Dreamers is a progressive rock band who writes, records, and performs original rock operas. Our first project, The Children of Children, enjoyed a limited run at the Bleecker Street Theater in New York City following its regional tour. The band, founded by Christine Hull and me, is raising funds for the tour of its new project, a climate change rock opera called The Nature of Man, written by Mario Renes, Christine, and me.
While we were touring The Children of Children, Mario, Chris and I began to talk about the next project. The environment was the obvious choice, but which aspect of climate change should we focus on? As writers are universally cruel to their characters we started tossing around worst case scenarios.
It didn’t take long to settle on water: the lynchpin of climate change and flash point of fracking and pollution. But… how to make this huge issue accessible to the audience?
While pondering that, Chris and I were invited to a WhyHunger fundraiser in New York City. We accepted to help a good cause. At the event, we found ourselves sitting with WhyHunger’s International Coordinator, Peter Mann and Aldous Huxley’s granddaughter, Tessa. I was seated at the right of Peter next to Ms. Huxley, and Chris was seated on Peter’s left.
While Ms. Huxley and I were talking, Chris told Peter about the project. He tapped me for the when of the story. I told him we’d set it 25 or so years in the future. He shook his head and said no, these problems were already underway. He invited us to meet in his office one night.
Mario and I met with Peter and a hydrological engineer named Greg. They laid out how much trouble we were in and supported it with a stack of data.
Basically, we’ve upset the planet’s hydrological cycle. Freshwater is evaporating as we raise the air temperature, leaving little for agriculture, animals, and humans. This causes conflicts and failed states. It’s a real mess.
And a number of large corporations are taking advantage of it.
After the meeting we drove in silence, trying to take it in. The horror of the situation preempted any discussion of our story.
Being the one with some scientific training, I took the data and spread it out on the coffee table, highlighter in hand, and started to read. When Chris got up in the morning I was still there. She looked at the pile of data and asked how bad it was. I told her it was very bad and refused to comment further. I secreted the data in my office and began to ponder.
Any reasonable human being, carrying such knowledge about the survival of his species, is morally compelled to act. It would be monstrous to trash it all and party while waiting for the inevitable collapse. We all deserve a better fate than that meted out by the world’s industrial elite. This story must be told and it must be successful.
Our first attempt was released as the concept album Remembrance while we were running The Children of Children in NYC. We weren’t happy with it and we were torn between reworking it and moving on. Reworking it was a mammoth undertaking. The only way to get it right would be a series of readings with actors reading the lyrics (libretto) as characters. The reading isn’t the hard part, it’s the rewriting . . .
We talked seriously about dropping it, but . . . I have this friend with a lofty title at the United Nations and he would give me no peace. Every time we saw each other, he subjected me to an excruciatingly polite harangue about the importance of the story. He was seeing it play out on a global scale.
Then, on a certain night, I got home and Chris recounted a conversation she’d had with her acting coach. She’d brought her songs into class so they could work on the necessary emotions for each recording session. Maggie was of the same opinion as my friend at the UN. We both sighed and agreed that it was a story that desperately wanted to be told.
It’s about the last, clean freshwater aquifer in North America lying deep beneath the ground of Woodstock, NY., the farms that sit on top of it and use its water for agriculture, and the company who wants the water.
Could be happening anywhere in the world right now and, according to my friend at the UN, it is. But we added a few twists to the story (sorry, no spoilers). For starters, the woman who runs the farms (Sophia) and the man who owns the company (Geier) have history and it gets ugly quick.
When Sophia’s daughter, Demi, and her husband, Will, return from the desert west after The Great Los Angeles Fire, Sophia’s farm is a beautiful refuge from their dangerous and painful journey east. Green hills and rolling fields of crops greet them as Sophia tells them that her home is now their home.
What she doesn’t tell them however, is that Geier has his sights set on her land and the water beneath it. And he’ll stop at nothing to get it.
We are raising funds for the first leg of a college tour of The Nature of Man. Our aim is to involve the students in the production and bring in environmental groups to help get them organized and moving in defense of their future. If we leave every school with a dedicated group working on local problems, we can change our trajectory and move toward a future filled with hope.
Mark A. Durstewitz lives in both the creative and technological worlds; the digital studio is his domain. He’s played keyboards for southern and progressive rock bands and has collaborated with fellow musicians, writing keyboard parts and lyrics during studio sessions. A published novelist who has also won awards for short stories, the nexus of music and storytelling is his home. His first rock opera; The Children of Children, garnered rave reviews and world-wide radio play.
Madmen and Dreamers’ blog can be found here.
Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.
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