Theater Matters – Notes from EMOS 2009 Part II

It’s 11am where I’m from (9am here on the west coast), and I just woke up. The schedule so far this weekend for EMOS coupled with my determination to get everywhere on a bike while I’m here has added up to the biggest physical challenge I’ve undertaken since my chemo and surgery. At about six o’clock this morning I woke up with a painful cramp in my right calf. I was determined to sleep as long as my body needed. So I did.

I wanted to write more yesterday about EMOS, but my day was so full with the goings-on here, I never got a chance. I arrived at the University of Oregon yesterday morning and began a solid, nearly twelve hour marathon of stuff.

It began by sitting in a classroom, listening to theater scholars describe their work. “Theater scholars,” I thought when I heard the term spoken from behind the lectern for the first time yesterday. “Not theater artists?”

Within the several scholarly talks I listened to yesterday there were a few that stood out, and rose above the scholarly drone. Downing Cless of Tufts University spoke interestingly of how he has directed classic works to draw out their Ecological themes; Heather Barfield Cole (who told me this morning that she’s dropping the Cole from her name soon) of UT Austin described a handful of examples of successful activist theater, including the street theater of Bread & Puppet and even the work of ACT UP — her presentation was refreshingly free of the seemingly typical readerly drone of such things.

The highlight of my day, however, was unexpected: Anne Justine D’Zmura gave a presentation to an entirely too small audience on her experience of producing a work called Green Piece where she is a professor at Cal State Long Beach. Her work was one of the best examples yet of this genre of so-called EcoDrama that I have encountered. Why? It was a completely holistic approach to the problem that we (I think) hope to address when producing work on the environment, sustainability, et cetera. She not only created an original work that thematically addressed the issue of nature, ecological destruction, and social injustice (to name a few), but also took the idea of the thing to heart and made sure to use the work to educate her students (and herself) on the core issues, as well as — and here is where you know I get excited — making a concerted effort to create a piece that tread as lightly as possible on the environment by considering its use of resources carefully. Thank you, Anne. (here is a link to Anne’s study guide for Green Piece.)

Next came Rachel Rosenthal. The now 83-year old performance artist and activist was in good form, and showed excerpts from her works Gaia, Mon Amour (1983), Rachel’s Brain (1986), and L.O.W. in Gaia (1986) — all overpowering examples of her presence on the stage. She struck me as one of the most quotable speakers I’ve ever listened to. Some examples:

“Artaud saved my life.”

“I do love some people, but I love all animals.”

“I hate being old, because I want to see what happens.”

The evening ended with a staging of C. Denby Swanson’s Atomic Farmgirl, a retelling of Teri Hein’s memoir of the same name which details her experience growing up on a farm in Washington state that was repeatedly contaminated with radiation leaking from the nearby Hanford Nuclear site. It was a play in three acts, with two (did I say two?) intermissions. And I have to say this too: as someone who has dealt with cancer directly over the past two years, I was a bit unnerved that the 1st and 2nd place winners of the EMOS play festival both dealt with cancer in a very real way.

Oh, and I almost forgot: I met Theresa May yesterday too, and she was incredibly kind. For all of the nit picking I am capable of, I cannot forget (and won’t let you) that she has undertaken this festival and is obviously a friggin’ force of nature herself. She is to be congratulated for her fortitude and drive — she is asking us to think about these things as theater artists (and scholars), and that in itself is crucial to our future.

Of course, folks never fail to disappoint:

Garrett points at the strange use of the garbage can outside UO's Miller Theatre ComplexGarrett points at the strange use of the garbage can outside UO’s Miller Theatre Complex

It may be difficult to tell in the photo above, but it was surprising to see how so many people at a festival concerned with the environment and our behavior towards it could be so clueless about what to NOT throw in the trash. Behind Ian are a string of recycling options, as well as a yellow bin for compostables — all items used for eating at the festival are designed to be compostable except (I’m not clear on why this is) the forks. But, nearly everyone threw their stuff right in the trash — even the paper plates and seemingly clean napkins. As we walked away from this, Ian and I had a discussion about the need to eliminate sorting at the consumer end of recycling. It confuses, is inefficient, and generally redundant, as most municipalities sort the recycling anyway.

Go to EcoTheater

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