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Changing the “dramaturgy of the land”

“When you’re marching down the levee, something amazing happens: the dramaturgy of the land changes” – Nick Slie (Mondo Bizarro, New Orleans, LA)

While the human race is capable of such magnificent acts of creation, we are equally as capable of devastating destruction.  In making life more convenient for ourselves, we have begun to systematically eliminate our precious natural resources, specifically, the Mississippi river, and the wetlands of Southern Louisiana.  The destruction occurring in these locations is due to a number of factors, from the building of dams, to oil dredging, and it seems as if we may have done permanent damage.  What we can do, however, is raise awareness, and hope that we can get enough people activated to salvage what we have yet to destroy.  Artists across America are already doing this, and I am eager to join their efforts and spread the word.

The deterioration of the Mississippi river was first brought to my attention through the documentary, Twilight of the Mississippi by my friends Walken Schweigert and Augustin Ganley.  Back in 2010, Walken and Gus, with their theatre company, the Unseen Ghost Brigade, built a raft to travel down the Mississippi, touring a performance, learning about the people, cultures, and the great Mississippi herself.

Along their journey, they came face to face with the realities of nature, narrowly escaping death on numerous occasions.  Mother nature is not a force to be reckoned with, yet today especially in America, we’ve become so removed from her and what she has to offer us, taking advantage of her resources, bleeding her dry, and not replenishing what we’ve taken for our own convenience.  This beautiful film brought this to the forefront of my consciousness.

And then I discovered something I could connect to even more directly, something from home.

Cry You One by ArtSpot Productions and Mondo Bizarro

Right now, New Orleans based theatre companies Mondo Bizarro and ArtSpot Productions have begun sharing their site-specific performance, Cry You One, which “celebrates the people and cultures of South Louisiana while turning clear eyes on the crisis of our vanishing coast.”  Along with the performance is an accompanying website that aims to “Create a platform where the wisdom of people’s stories can help educate and inspire folks to get involved in the movement to save Coastal Louisiana…”  The website is filled with videos of Louisiana residents who are directly affected by the realities of this great loss.  Nick Slie of Mondo Bizarro says (in the video below), “every year we lose 25 square miles of coast right now.  To be clear that is an area the size of Manhattan.  And that land loss is racing to a tragic conclusion which most experts say could equal the largest forced migration in US history.”

As soon as I heard about Cry You One, I called my parents and insisted they go.  Sure enough, my mom, dad, and younger brother headed a couple hours south, deep into the bayou of St. Bernard Parish.  Immediately after the performance, my brother called me and said, “It was great.  We walked down the levee for three hours while people walked around us wearing animal masks and playing the fiddle.”  Cry You One is a non-traditional, non-realistic theatrical event.  The performers and the audience process down the levee, sharing stories and song, welcoming conversation and questions in the spirit of genuine southern hospitality.

In my last blog post, I mused on the idea of theatre created for and about a specific community—and Cry You One is exactly that.  It not only brings attention to an immediate issue, but does so in a way that directly engages its audiences, using real stories to convey the message.

Projects like these remind me why art is necessary.  Storytelling is one of the most basic tools of communication we have.  We must continue using it as a tool to ENACT POSITIVE CHANGE IN THE WORLD WE LIVE IN, before we completely destroy the world.

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