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'Earth Matters on Stage': videos, blogs, photos

Here are links to the videos and blogs from Earth Matters on Stage at the University of Oregon, 21 - 31 May 2009.

The bloggers are Mike Lawler, eco-Theater; Moe Beitiks, greenmuseum.org/blog; and Ian Garrett, Centre for Sustainable Practice in the Arts.

video links

Una Chaudhuri's keynote address on 'zooësis', the representation of animals in contemporary media, culture and performance, can be watched on the Centre for Sustainable Practice in the Arts website, recorded by Ian Garrett.

blogs

emos - theater
from Moe Beitiks, greenmuseum.org/blog
Earth Matters on Stage, Sustainable practice
29 May

Many of the lectures here at EMOS are held at the very-new Hope Theater at the University of Oregon’s Miller Theatre Complex. Boom: there’s a big square fact to start the post off for you. But I’m going somewhere with it.

Right now, where the Hope would be a big black box is all full up with Set. The floor is painted in a curling desert-river pattern. Upstage is a forest of recycled wooden planks and juttings, a kind of grandpa’s-attic bamboo. In one corner is a platform with puzzle-piece innards: old bedposts, chairs and plywood fold over each other in a hefty collage.

It’s all for the stagings of the Festival’s top two prize-winning plays: Song of Extinction and Atomic Farmgirl. But what was intended to represent a Bolivian forest and an American farm has come to represent the EMOS festival itself, both literally and figuratively: the set was constructed with recycled materials.

Today’s sessions were sponsored by the Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts. Led by Ian Garrett, they included presentations by Steve Mital, University of Oregon’s Director of Sustainability, PhD candidate (and EMOS Production Manager) Damond Morris, several eco-conscious designers, and several pioneers of a Sustainable Dramaturgy program at CalArts.

At this point: it’s day seven. Everyone in the room knows each other, at least by sight. We’re calling each other out in the audience: could you talk about your experience with . . . what’s your perspective on . . . and what begins as a formal presentation becomes a group conversation quickly and easily.

Inspired by Mike Lawler, here are a few questions asked in the course of the day (some got answered, some did not):

What is a “sustainable university”?

What is the impact of a theatrical lighting system?

Where in this stream can we reduce our waste?

What are the next steps in expanding/refining sustainable pedagogy?

How do we reframe our relationship to resources?

How can we implement what we believe in the art we create?

If your curiosity is piqued, I’d encourage you to visit the CSPA’s wiki for tools and nuggets of information. As to the rest, I leave you with Morris’ Five D’s of Design for Environment:

Design for Dissasembly. Design for Recyclability. Design for Disposability. Design for Reusability. Design for Remanufacture.

See you on the other side of a recycled-wooden forest.

from Moe Beitiks, greenmuseum.org/blog
Earth Matters on Stage, Process
28 May

Moe goes to some workshops and writes them up. Here's what she has to say about labyrinths:

Later in the week came a workshop about labyrinths, led by Paul Bindel and Justin Simms. I learned that labyrinths are used most commonly not in pursuit of bullheaded monsters, or for escaping Jack Nicholson, but as meditative tools.

There are labyrinths everywhere: 60 listed in Massachusetts alone. Their curling series of lines gives visitors a form in which to get lost, to walk through while their minds drift. It’s a way to pay penance, to build serenity. It’s a task for your body that lets your brain go. Just follow the lines.

As a group we went out to a grove nearby the University of Oregon and built a labyrinth with wood gathered nearby. When it was done– spiraling sticky-sticks winding paths through the tiny trees– we each walked it. You could hear branches cracking and flutes playing and folks chatting as you wove your way around and around and around. A great task for the body, a great chance to digest all the conference info and just go, go, go.

from Moe Beitiks, greenmuseum.org/blog
Earth Matters on Stage, Rachel Rosenthal
27 May

“One of the first things people ask me, is, did I know Artaud?”

This is how Rachel Rosenthal begins her keynote. Here at EMOS, it’s perfect. Artistic Director Theresa May has just given her a fantastic introduction. She is in a room full of full-out EcoDrama nerds, folks who don’t need an explanation of the guttaral relationship between earth and body, who know her and her work, or who at the very least don’t need a speech about earth-saving. They know Artaud wrote “The Theatre and its Double,” and chuckle. She knows her audience.

Rosenthal junkies at EMOS got a major fix: a presentation which included her first performance in almost 10 years, an opportunity to buy Moira Roth’s Rosenthal anthology and have it signed by the artist, and the next morning, an analysis of her work by a panel of her former students and devoted independent scholars. Heady.

Rosenthal did not, in fact, know Artaud, but he did “save her life:” his writing gave her a logical basis to begin creating her own unique brand of performance: eco-feminist, deeply personal, and dramatically sharp. Clips shown over the weekend included L.O.W. in Gaia, in which she writes her age on her bald head in lipstick and drags bags of trash behind her on the stage, and The Others, which included 42 “non-human animal” performers.

In a presentation days later given by Deke Weaver, an interesting conversation arose. What is the line between sharpened meduim and effective message? How do you articulate an important issue without pandering, how do you push the form without driving away your audience? Rosenthal is famous for creating a body of work that is made of her own body, stories and trembling articulations. Whether or not watching Gaia rise from a pile of garbage is your idea of an endurance test, it is deeply rooted in a sobbing, grappling love for the earth. Rosenthal was saddend to learn that Artaud never saw his idea of theater realized onstage. But of her own methods, she decries: “I will not die without having seen it, because it’s MINE.”

from Moe Beitiks, greenmuseum.org/blog
Earth Matters on Stage, Blood + Bodies
26 May

emos - chadhuri shark
That’s a shark signing his chummy painting, proving once and for all that eco-art is not for the faint of heart.

It’s an image used by Una Chaudhuri in her keynote address “Animal (and) Planet: Zooesis and Ecological Extremity” at this year’s EMOS. Chaudhuri is responsible for major contributions to the written EcoDrama field, and so wields terms like “gynesis,” and “anthropological machine” expertly (even while folks like Mike Lawler and I are squinting to catch up).

It was a look at performance and animals – or performance and non-human animals, if you prefer. The bookends of the speech were a piece called 'Helena', in which artist Marco Evaristti gave the public the option of pulverizing live goldfish in blenders - and the work of Olly and Suzi, who go out into the wilderness and make collaborative paintings with animals ( not just your alley cat or field mouse).

So here I am, at a conference intended to examine the relationship between our planet and our performance art, and I have to confess that I feel silly using the term 'non-human animal'. But that’s the essence of what Una Chaudhuri is addressing: at what point do we stop looking at 'the others' as something we manipulate and use, and start acknowledging them as collaborators in our community – ecologically, and in this case, artistically?

These same themes come up again and powerfully in EMOS during a panel on Rachel Rosenthal’s work, and in the context of the artist’s own flesh and blood. There’s also much more: green theater practices, Boal, space, giraffes, rituals and rollings on the grass– I’ll be posting more frequently in the next week as the eco-nerddery swells my brain . . .

from Mike Lawler, ecoTheater
notes from EMOS 2009, part iii
24 May

Today has been a bit slow at EMOS for me. I did attend the 2pm matinee of the University of Oregon’s student production of Metamorphoses in the Robinson Theatre, however, and even though I happened to see the Tony-award winning Broadway production in 2002, I was mightily impressed with the production here. It helps, of course, when the show is lined with a cast of beautiful teens and twenty-somethings. (makes even a late thirties [nameless]theater artist and blogger feel old!)

I sat with Moe Beitiks of the Green Museum Blog for the performance, and you may or may not be happy to hear that prior to the show she convinced me why she thought ecoTheater remained valuable to the ongoing “green art” discourse. Thanks, Moe: after some thought, I’ve realized that I needed to hear that — especially in the way you put it.

Speaking of which…

It’s been nothing short of a pleasure to have met and spent time with both Ian Garrett of the CSPA and Moe. I’ve corresponded and followed their work closely over the last two or three years, and though their reputations preceed them, they have been entirely pleasant, and wonderful, articulate, honest sounding boards. Artists in America — indeed, across the globe — are lucky to have them working so tirelessly.

I’m sure I’ll have yet more to say tomorrow about my entire, albeit abbreviated, EMOS experience as I travel back to the Midwest. Until then…

from Mike Lawler, ecoTheater
notes from EMOS 2009, part ii
24 May

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.

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. What I found most interesting about Cless was his final thought: that even if we are able to draw out the environmental themes in this (very old) work, we are still 'dependent on the mechanics of the stage.'

As an example he mentioned that Aristophanes relied on a crane for his work The Birds (a work Cless has directed) when first produced. With this thought he ended his talk, and it seemed to be either an open-ended challenge for folks like me or a rebuke of the idea that it is equally important to produce in an eco-responsible manner as it is to draw attention to our relationship with nature on the stage.

Heather Barfield Cole 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. She spoke of the criteria of activist theater, and I feverishly tried to jot down her list, but fear I missed too much of it to reproduce here; however, in quotes I did write this: 'not as luxury, but out of need.' Enough said?

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 at Cal State Long Beach, where she is a professor. Her work was one of the best examples I’ve yet seen/heard of in 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.) As a side note: not even the work presented here at EMOS could attain the level of 'solving for pattern' that D’Zmura so creatively reached in her work on 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. 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. (There was) 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 Garrett 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.

from Mike Lawler, ecoTheater
Theater matters - notes from Earth Matters on Stage, part i
23 May

Okay, so I can’t keep my nose out of it…

I’m here in beautiful Eugene, Oregon attending the 2009 Earth Matters on Stage: A Symposium on Theatre & Ecology at the University of Oregon. Last night was the official beginning of the event with keynote speaker Una Chaudhuri giving a talk on what she has dubbed Zooesis, or the discourse of animals (or, rather non-humans) in the media.

As I emerged from the talk I looked at Ian Garrett of the Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts and Moe Beitiks of the Greenmuseum Blog and said: “I’m not smart enough to be here.” Which is to say if the opening moment of EMOS 2009 is a reliable indicator, it will be a highly academic affair.

Chaudhuri was followed by obligatory phases of mingling with strangers (not my forte) while smugly observing the corn-based disposable cups, paper plates and napkins, an engaging, often heart wrenching (though also quite academic) play by EM Lewis called Song of Extinction, and the most structured post show discussion (aka talkback) I’ve ever participated in, led by Cal State LA professor and playwright Jose Cruz Gonzalez.

Part of me thought, "oh, I shouldn’t have stuck around for this.” It had the effect of stifling the power of the play, and its masterly intertwined themes. I jotted on my program during the talkback this tidbit: 'Robbing the visceral through incessant deconstruction.'

But that’s my own problem, right?


published in 2009

rosenthal at emos
Rachel Rosenthal at 'Earth Matters
on Stage', photo: Dale Dudek
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