Spring quarter has seen an insurgence of socially and politically charged theatre pieces, and as this quarter rolls on, it does not appear to be letting up.
This Wednesday and Friday, just in time for Earth Day, Planet Earth New Play Festival will be coming to Stanford, showcasing four brand new works that center around global warming and its effects on wildlife, California, and family life. The performance on Wednesday (7:30pm, Dinkelspiel Auditorium), features two short plays, Rachel Bublitz’s Reading Babar in 2070 and Maury Zeff’s The Universe on Ice, as well as the first public reading of Erin Marie Panttaja’s full-length play, Preapocalyptica. The performance will feature a panel discussion with Julie Kennedy, Professor of Environmental Earth System Science/Senior Fellow, Woods Institute and Professor Jennifer Dionne, solar energy scientist and 2014 winner of President Obama’s Early Career Scientist Award. While the Wednesday show includes professional actors and directors, the performance on Friday (Roble Dorm Theatre, 8pm) adds a play directed by Stanford’s own Allison Gold (‘15), The Announcement by William Bivins, starring four student actors.
Three of the plays will also be presented in a Freshman IntroSem, “Science of the Impossible,” which will be open to all students to attend on April 24th.
The Planet Earth New Play Festival is the product of a collaboration between Planet Earth Arts and PlayGround, an organization that fosters the development of new plays by Bay Area playwrights. Planet Earth Arts is a collaboration in itself between Vinit Allen, Founder and Director of the Sustainable World Coalition and Michael Fried, a Bay Area theater and film producer/director and co-founder and co-chair of the Oakland Cultural Trust. In October 2014, Planet Earth Arts, partnered with Stanford Continuing Studies and the National Center for New Plays at Stanford University (yes, Stanford has this and inquiring undergrads should go seek out more information because their website has not been touched since 2007) to produce this festival of six 10-minute plays.
Theatre rarely explores the human impact on the environment, and when it does it is often in metaphor or glazed over in brisk dialogue. The Festival brings this dialogue, universal to all living organisms, to the forefront of the plot. However, how can these issues, so dependent on experience in the natural world, be done justice in such an artificial space as the industrial-chic Dinkelspiel Auditorium or Roble Dorm Theatre?
It is the artificiality that drives these points home. Because the medium of theatre promotes such a constructed environment—from the intentionality of staging, to the facades of the sets, and the illusory stage lights—the disasters of global warming become more tangible. Theatre provides an alternate reality where these chaotic and troubling futures can play out. From Arthur Miller allowing his audience into a “normal” American family in Death of a Salesman to show the decay of everyman Willy Loman to Tony Kushner’s mixing of the historical with the fictional with the fantastical in telling the story of the AIDS crisis, these stories contain believable elements that resonate with our everyday lives. Unlike a professor’s lecture or the harrowing doomsday segments on the nightly news, theatre gives an audience human situations, a place to empathetically see themselves within the narrative, in this case environmental decline. According to Michael Fried, “We are dedicated to inspiring artists and audiences to claim the issue of planetary sustainability as the most critical issue of our time.” Theatre, since the days of ancient Greek tragedy, makes the audience complicit in scrutinizing the actions within the play as a way to mirror the problems that they face in their reality. Global warming is our Greek tragedy subject, and it is a commendable undertaking for The Planet Earth New Play Festival to use the consciousness-waking powers of theatre to, hopefully, bring the Stanford community to action.
Photo credits: Zach Damman
Planet Earth New Play Festival: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Dinkelspiel Auditorium. 8 p.m. Friday. Roble Hall Theater. Tickets at http://tinyurl.com/penpf