From the Stage: PERFORMANCE!
This past week, BGT sprung to life on the stage! It all began with private performances for the schools, during which our young playwrights were able to bask in the glory of seeing their work come to fruition as their student peers and teachers cheered them on. Next, we enjoyed a lively weekend of public performances and were honored to share the amazing BGT plays with our community. As we say goodbye to another year of this program, we reflect on what an incredible year of growth it’s been: celebrating our 5th anniversary, doubling the program to reach 2 schools, and creating a bigger and greener production than ever before. We feel so grateful for the continued support for BGT from our friends, collaborators, and community. We can’t wait for next year!
For a proper send-off, here’s a note from Jeremy Pickard, BGT’s program director:
Fifth-graders are my favorite storytellers: bold, hilarious, and constantly surprising. When allowed to express their creativity freely, they take audiences on extraordinary adventures to the depths of the ocean, the strangeness of outer space, and the fragile eco-system of the human heart.
This year’s student playwrights responded to a daunting topic– climate change– by writing stories filled with humor, poetry, and hope. Their writing process was fast and passionate; they quickly and deftly sifted through the environmental information we presented to them, mining only that which was most inspiring, and crafting new myths for a changing world.
Though climate change is not necessarily a visible foe in our daily lives, the effects will (and do) sneak up on us, transforming our status quo in dramatic ways. Anthony Sosa depicts this perfectly in his play Josh & Kong. Josh, a lonely boy growing up in Greenland, sings: “I just made a snowman/ It melted./ It just took two or three seconds/ My home, my life, my world is changing!/ I wish for a miracle or someone to help me save my home!”
Learning about climate change also illuminates the complexities of our environmental problems. Kids, like adults, understand adversity best when there is a clear “hero/villain” scenario; but as far as the climate is concerned, we are all accountable. Our students consistently came up against this grey area where problems are not as simple as “right versus wrong”. In Yamilex Ortiz’s play Solar Panels, Ms. Kelly, a woman selling clothes in Bushwick’s Maria Hernandez Park, finds herself at odds with an antagonist that is entirely sympathetic: a solar engineer, working on behalf of the Mayor’s new climate change initiative which promises a swift conversion to renewable energy but requires the take-over of the neighborhood’s beloved park. There is no clear “bad guy” in this scenario. Rather than fighting against a source of evil, Ms. Kelly remains open to learning why the solar plan is important, and then deftly offers a compromise that is better for everyone. Ms. Kelly is the voice of her community, simultaneously adapting to climate change and preserving the culture of her neighborhood.
Sometimes, of course, a good story wants a villain. But in most of this year’s plays, we watch villains grapple with personal insecurities and moral dilemmas in ways that keep the environmental conversation complex. There are business owners who confess how loneliness made them greedy, glacier-melting surfers trying to fulfill their father’s dying wish, and banished princesses with a wronged reputation to right. In one of the most remarkably sober plays from all our five years of Big Green Theater, Destiny Lewis’ M.S.L. tells the story of a charismatic mermaid who protests against the unjust laws causing the ocean to be acidified by human activity. Mirroring the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., the mermaid is celebrated, imprisoned, and ultimately assassinated. But even here, we see a villain conflicted, if only for a moment: torn between following orders and his beloved coral collection, Officer Joel sings, “What should I do?”
As an adult eco-theater maker, I am inspired by how easily and naturally our students include hope in all of their plays. Despite epic conflicts (bullying super storms, disappearing cities, thievery, murder, deception…), the plays resolve in ways that feel both genuine and dramaturgically earned: friendship, community, and empathy. These solutions make sense, to fifth-graders in need of acceptance and to the world in need of unity.
There are days when the dire circumstances of climate change make the most optimistic adults despair. This was never the case with the 2015 BGT playwrights; their imagination consistently trumped any hesitation in the face of big problems. We did not ask them to save the world, but to write plays; what they gave the world in return is a new mythology, relevant and necessary for us to grapple with seemingly impossible environmental dilemmas. The plays may never be seen onstage again, but I have no doubt their stories will stay with audiences, classmates, artists, and families for many years to come, guiding us all through a dramatically changing world.