In 1623, William Shakespeare proclaimed, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players." That is, in the eyes of the playwright, every aspect of the world, and that beyond conceptualization, is grounds for theater and all people are actors within this worldly stage, whether by choice or not.
This month, UC Merced's Theater and Ecology class presents a marriage between the real ecological world and the theatrical world with an original play: "Fire, Water, Poison, Hope: California in 2023." This student-researched, written, produced and performed play premieres Dec. 9. To highlight the importance of ecological theater and accessibility to all people, both showings of the play are free and open to everyone, but as some scenes feature strong language, viewer discretion is advised.
The class and the play are led by English Professor Katherine Brokaw.
The founder of UC Merced’s Shakespeare in Yosemite, Brokaw loves doing those annual shows, "but I have long wanted to do some theater that is more focused on the San Joaquin Valley." She applied for a Henry Luce Foundation grant, which funds projects focused on humanitarian research to help inform and celebrate a more just and equitable society.
Brokaw's grant supported four UC Merced graduate students' research in the Valley. This took place over summer 2023 through "a series of oral history-style interviews with residents of the San Joaquin Valley who had experienced some form of environmental injustice," said graduate student Savie Luce.
Working with Brokaw and graduate students, a group of undergraduate students are bringing these interviews and research to life on the stage. "Fire, Water, Poison, Hope: California in 2023" takes place in the Valley and presents scenes, monologues and spoken word, all in the form of eco-theater. The play addresses the plethora of natural disasters the Valley has faced and continues to face, including flooding, fires, over-spray of pesticides, droughts and air pollution.
Luce said the goal of the play is "to provide us with hope for the future, encouraging us to band together in times of need."
Through a beautiful portrayal of real stories, from real people of UC Merced's community, "Fire, Water, Poison, Hope: California in 2023" aims to increase compassion, spread environmental awareness, and, as Brokaw describes, be "local, sobering and hopeful."
The opening show takes place at 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9, in the campus's Arts and Computational Sciences Building, room 120. The second showing is downtown at the Playhouse Merced at 7 p.m Sunday, Dec. 10.