En Garde Arts Presents Uncommon Voices

S1 E5 | FULL EPISODE

A Play for the Living in the Time of Extinction

Miranda Rose Hall beautifully crafts a theatrical work that poignantly grapples with living in a time of extinction. Hall’s plays have been presented at Lincoln Center as part of their LTC3 programming. This play was presented at En Garde Arts’s Uncommon Voices and was workshopped this summer at the New York Theatre Workshop’s residency series.

AIRED: April 15, 2020 | 0:13:13
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TRANSCRIPT

I find that one of the barriers with talking about climate

is that people get overwhelmed with facts and figures,

and sometimes that sense of overwhelming information

makes the brain -- makes my brain want to say,

"No, stop, I can't take it in. It's too much.

I don't know how to deal with this."

And I thought, "Oh, my gosh, if I'm having that reaction,

then somebody else is probably having that reaction."

And so we wanted to make a play

that could get in through a kind of emotional backdoor

and turn facts and figures and overwhelming information

into a story that people could connect to.

♪♪

My name is Miranda Rose Hall and I am a playwright.

Ever since I was a little girl,

I thought I wanted to be a writer.

Then I got to college and I met some students

who were taking a playwriting class,

and they would all hang out together and eat snacks

and read each other's plays,

and they were just having fun with one another

and it seemed like a much better way to spend your time,

or my time, than writing sad poems alone in my room.

Recently, I made a play

called "Plot Points in Our Sexual Development,"

and that premiered last October at Lincoln Center at LCT3.

And that was my professional debut.

I had a play at Diversionary Theatre,

which is an LGBTQ theater in San Diego

called "The Hour of Great Mercy."

I went to Georgetown,

which is where I met my fellow company members in LubDub.

LubDub is a physical theater company

and we make stories about myth, magic, and science.

And a couple of years ago,

we read a book called "The Great Derangement"

by Amitav Ghosh, which is a call to action

for fiction writers and fiction makers

to tell stories about the climate.

Not long after that, we read a book called

"The Sixth Extinction" by Elizabeth Kolbert,

which won the Pulitzer Prize.

It's an incredible book, and it talks about extinctions

of the past and extinctions of the present,

and that really lit our fires.

And we decided that we would want to commit

the next cycle of our work

to making work about the climate.

Before Miranda wrote the play,

we all went up to Saratoga Springs, New York,

with the Orchard Project. We were in residency there,

and we did quite a fair amount of thinking

about climate as a hyperobject,

which is an idea that a philosopher named Timothy Morton

is wrestling with.

Just this idea that climate is, like, so big,

the challenge of climate chaos

and the problem of climate chaos,

that you can't quite get your head around it.

We were all kind of rolling around on the floor

and doing a lot of experimental devising,

which is how we generate material.

I came out of that residency thinking, "I think

I want to make a one-woman play about extinction."

And as a company, we all decided that that is the way we --

one of the ways we wanted to move forward with the material.

It's about a woman named Naomi who is not a performer.

She is a dramaturge.

She is behind the scenes normally.

She works in a small theater company

with two of her best friends from college.

Normally, these two friends, Zoe and Sarah,

are the ones who perform in a play

that they've all made together called "Climate Beasties."

Which is as billed a kind of in-your-face,

no holds barred, spectacular meditation

on the catastrophe of climate change.

And they've had to go home for a family emergency

and they've said, "Naomi,

you have to do the play on your own."

And Naomi says, "Oh, my God, I can't do that."

And she walks on stage with some research

that she's done about extinction

to create something out of nothing.

There's this part of the show,

a whole scene with, like, witches of conservation,

and there's a cauldron and a bat puppet.

And after the show at the post-show talkback,

which I-I always facilitate...

[ Laughter ]

...this woman raises her hand

and is like, "Have you heard of this book,

'The Sixth Extinction' by Elizabeth Kolbert?

She has this whole chapter about these bats."

And I say, "I started it, but I got busy."

And she says, "Well, that's not surprising.

It's a difficult book."

[ Laughter ]

Yeah, I know.

So, of course, I vow to read it that night in one sitting.

So I go home and I get the book and I start reading it again,

and as anyone in the audience

tried to read "The Sixth Extinction"?

Wow. Oh. Oh.

Oh, okay.

Has anyone finished it?

[ Laughter ]

Oh, all right.

Good for you.

So I started rereading it, and I-I [chuckles]

a woman devoting her life,

or so she thinks, to climate change,

starts rereading this book

about climate crisis and mass extinction

and the apocalypse of the golden toad

and the death of the coral and the collapse of the rainforest,

and at first I was like, "Yep, yep, yep, yep, uh-huh."

And, I mean, it was unnerving.

The information is unnerving. [ Laughter ]

But it didn't rock my world --

like, I mean, I learned some things.

It's a very well-researched book.

It won the Pulitzer Prize.

I was learning some things about science history

that seemed useful -- the book seemed useful.

And then...

I get to this chapter about these bats,

these little brown bats...

and about how they're dying from this horrible disease.

And I was --

I couldn't breathe. [ Exhales sharply ]

I was sitting there, reading it, and I couldn't breathe.

And I --

gonna get personal here --

I started weeping my face off,

projectile sobbing -- I wept and wept and wept.

And I was like, "What is happening?"

I find that one of the barriers with talking about climate

Because, for the record...

I don't even like bats... [ Laughter ]

...and, actually, I hate them,

especially when they get into my house,

and, like, my mother and I have spent many a summer evening

trying to kill those rabies babies

with our tennis rackets. [ Laughter ]

And then I read this chapter about these little brown bats

dying from this awful disease,

and for days -- days --

I was walking around consumed with these bats,

and even thinking about them made me weep.

Bats.

♪♪

>> Something about the little brown bats

lodges itself in her soul, and she can't shake it.

The story of extinction often comes down to isolation --

just a couple members of a species are left.

I was really intrigued by the isolation of the one-woman show.

I think that that became a very powerful mode for me.

It felt like it wasn't the play to have 20 people on the stage.

We realized that we had these lists of species in the play,

but that there wasn't a sense of what they looked like

and that that felt like a real absence in the play.

-And we decided, "Well, we'll just print all the photos

of these more than human creatures, animals, plants,

and we'll have our actors show them to the audience.

And for me, because I was involved

in the printing of these photos,

it was the first time I was really struck by the volume.

I was like, "Oh, my God."

♪♪

Endangered species --

Italian dune grasshopper...

Rodrigues flying fox...

pig-nosed turtle...

Enchanting Paphiopedilum...

three-spotted dwarf minnow...

little brown bat.

Critically endangered --

pygmy raccoon...

elongated tortoise...

ploughshare tortoise...

Javan rhinoceros...

variegated spider monkey...

marbled gecko...

Nassau grouper...

Vancouver Island marmot.

Extinct in the wild --

Socorro dove...

Wyoming toad...

Père David's deer...

Hawaiian Crow.

Saint Helena redwood...

she cabbage tree...

golden skiffia...

butterfly splitfin...

Kalimantan mango...

yellow fatu...

Christmas Island blue-tailed shining-skink.

Extinct.

♪♪

-The subject of extinction or the subject of climate crisis

does not live in the halls of science alone.

Everybody has a relation to the environment,

and everybody can do something

to change the way that we interact with the earth.

-Definitely a core challenge in building this piece is,

how do we take these overarching narratives

of global crisis and chaos

and make them really local and really personal

and highly specific

so that people can connect to them?

Here is Dr. Carbon Fever...

and Mrs. Connie Sumption...

in a new unscripted conversation.

I find that one of the barriers with talking about climate

-Could you pass me a little more wine, Connie?

-I can't! [ Laughter ]

-Why not?

-I can't tear myself away from the window!

-What are you looking at?

-I'm not quite sure what I'm looking at, Doctor --

cars and trash and forests on fire and --

-Oh, dear. Not this again.

[ Laughter ]

-I-I wish that you could join me for just a moment.

-[ Clears throat ]

[ Thumps ]

Connie, I wish that you would come back to dinner.

-No, I can't eat dinner. I'm too consumed with death.

-What kind of death consumes you?

-Mass death, mass extinction, death by famine,

drowning, dehydration, decapitation, boiling alive,

strangulation, starvation, suffocation,

poisoning, heatstroke, hypothermia, hopelessness.

I find that one of the barriers with talking about climate

-[ Clears throat ]

[ Laughter ]

-Doesn't it consume you, Doctor?

I find that one of the barriers with talking about climate

-Well...Connie...

I suppose I assume that we're all going to die,

and death is natural, after all.

-But to die like this is completely unnatural!

-What is so unnatural?

-The rate, the scale, the level of terror,

the total collapse of biodiversity!

-How can it be unnatural when nature itself can be cruel?

Isn't human cruelty natural?

-No! It can't be! [ Laughter ]

-Are you so upset because you're surprised?

I have no illusions about our capacities.

I've never been so foolish.

Maybe for a moment when I was very young,

but we've done what we've done.

Might as well move on.

We only have -- what? -- a few years left at this rate.

Why not eat our dinner, drink our wine, enjoy our lives?

-I thought you of all people would understand!

[ Laughter ]

-Dr. Naomi...

-[ Breathlessly ] Who's Naomi?!

-The one who prints out all the scripts

and buys all the books.

-Oh, she doesn't know -- she doesn't know anything!

[ Gasps ] She's just standing there

in front of all those people, and she doesn't know a thing!

-Well, it's not my fault she didn't follow the script.

Goodbye.

[ Laughter ]

I find that one of the barriers with talking about climate

[ Laughter continues ]

-My greatest hope is that this -- this show

can help people

break down the emotional blocks

of grief and rage and confusion

and that, hopefully, the work of the theater

can help people feel connected to one another

and connected to this material

in a way that doesn't make it seem

so impossible to engage or so overwhelming to engage,

and that people will have a -- will feel like they have

a personal relationship to some of these species

and that they're not living in an isolated little bubble

and that people can feel that we are all connected

and that the health of the earth

and the health of all species on Earth

is an interconnected story.

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

I find that one of the barriers with talking about climate

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