We remember to reduce, reuse, and recycle, but perhaps there is a fourth R: Read! This Earth Day, plant some story seeds with this cultivated collection of plays about the environment. Whether examining how natural disasters affect communities or wondering what our role as ordinary people may be in a larger ecological crisis, these stories present a chance to creatively engage with science-based topics.
“Digging up and exposing to the light the presence of the environment in any and every play can also engage communities around the issue, at least enough to help them understand that though they cannot control nature, they can control their personal impact on it.” – Howlround
Each of these plays is budding, blossoming and teeming with life, using storytelling to reconnect us to the environments we live in and often forget to care for. Let’s start digging!
A Cool Dip in the Barren Saharan Crick by Kia Corthron (US)
(Full-Length Play, Drama / 2f, 2m, 1 boy)
From the dry Sahara to drought-stricken Maryland, a young Ethiopian man named Abebe comes to live with a mother and daughter grieving the loss of the males in their family to Hurricane Katrina. As Abebe studies to be both a preacher and an ecologist, the family wrestles with their relationship to water: the hurricane that killed their family, the cleansing of baptisms, and the new water bottling plant opening nearby. Personal problems and the politics of drought threaten his new family as Abebe searches to bring healing to everyone, one drop at a time. A refreshing and unique examination of environmental effects on the family unit, in our backyard and across the world.
Hungry and unable to find a bite to eat on the melting polar ice caps, a teenage polar bear named Avinnaq wanders all the way to Bearmont, New Jersey. Change is scary for some, and Avinnaq finds her whole new environment a bit hard to bear. Teen actors play bears, racoons and even an iceberg in this fun, lighthearted comedy about friendship and acceptance. A Polar Bear in New Jersey touches on global warming while reminding us through these furry friends the importance of treating our differences—and the environment—with kindness.
Sometimes our impact on the environment may be invisible to us but viscerally affect the lives of others. It’s Thanksgiving, and Flint, Michigan has already been without clean water for 936 days. cullud wattah finds modern-day tragedy not in the poor decisions of kings and queens but rather in the tragic everyday circumstances confronting a Black family when the poisonous choices of others infect their water. Three generations of strong women try not to let the continuing contamination interfere with their everyday lives. However, water is a necessity, and they are left to meticulously count how many bottles of water their daily tasks require. Poetic language, music and the way water holds memory wash over health issues and familial rifts as these women attempt to heal from a problem they did not cause. This poet-playwright beautifully and heartbreakingly illuminates the ripple effect of failing to care beyond our own sphere.
How to Save a Rock by Pigfoot Theatre, Conky Kampfner, Alex Rugman (UK)
(Short Play, Dramatic Comedy / 2f, 4m)
Caring for the earth is for all ages. In 2009, a trio of climate scientists’ email gets hacked right before a major summit, and in the near future, a young environment-loving girl’s passion dwindles as it seems too late to help. When Frankie receives a letter from the last polar bear on Earth asking for assistance, her trio of friends picks up where the scientists left off on a quest to make a difference. Complete with opportunities for bike-powered lighting, recycled and repurposed props, and an updatable script, this show invites its audience on a carbon-neutral adventure. Delightfully inventive and heavily interactive, How to Save a Rock reminds us to still have hope and gives us the opportunity to actively help the environment while still at the theatre.
Often, the effects on the environment are invisible—until they aren’t. The gusts of an ecological crisis, women’s affinity for HGTV-inspired lawns, and elements of Greek Bacchanalia create the perfect storm that is Hurricane Diane. Utilizing an ensemble of New Jersey housewives and the latest iteration of Dionysus as a butch permaculture gardener, playwright Madeleine George pens a hilariously thrilling tale on the perils of interfering with nature. As a reframing of the climate crisis fueled by laughs and chaotic characters, this story offers a comedic entryway into conversations about our relationship with the environment.
When your son heads off the college and begins dating an environmental activist, competing for family time is like paddling upstream. In this play, suburban mother Annie Iversen finds herself immersed quite literally in the landscape of the environmental crisis as she recounts a whole chain of events while stuck floating in Peter’s old kayak. Hilarious, touching and thought-provoking, Kayak provides a personal lens into the climate crisis, helping audiences recognize their everyday responsibility to the environment.
Putting the Kettle On by Simon Brett (UK)
(Short Play, Drama / 1f)
When your boyfriend dumps you for a more environmentally savvy gal, the breakup may make every move feel like a climate crisis. Miggy recounts her sorry story from her kitchen, where she cannot seem to decide whether making a cup of tea would be a detriment to the environment. Putting the Kettle On comically reflects the ways in which our minds ramble when both grieving a breakup and deciding where we can help the planet.
With a central female friendship pollinated by the complexity of researching colony collapse disorder, Madhuri Shekar’s Queen questions whether integrity or action is more important for environmental efforts. The story follows two women in STEM, mathematician Sanam Shah and biologist Ariel Spiegel, as they encounter discrepancies in their research on the role of pesticides in the declining bee population. Like bees to beekeepers, science works with, around and despi
te the imperfect humans who practice it. Brainy yet heartwarming, this play explores the relationship between science, conscience and heart that allows one to learn about ecology, bees and even one’s own self.
Lily Forrestal has cancer, biologist Ellery Forrestal is trying to save the rare Bolivian insect he studies from deforestation, and their son Max Forrestal is going to fail biology if he does not finish a 20-page paper on extinction by Monday. Max’s biology teacher Khim Phan is the only one to notice the young musician’s somber melody. Song of Extinction, a symphony of emotions and existence, offers a look into life and loss on micro- and macroscopic levels. Showing us three perspectives on extinction—that of a dying mother, a biologist, and a Cambodian refugee—this play looks at the climate crisis from an intimate, emotional angle. In a time fraught with loneliness and impending problems, the play reminds us of the beauty in the world and how we may miss it if we continue to neglect its care.
On Earth, natural disasters are, well, natural, as we experience hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, droughts, wildfires and more. With increasing human contributions to global warming comes the possibility for more abundant and intense natural disasters. The Play About My Dad navigates the playwright’s own memories of Hurricane Katrina and its effect on her family and hometown of Gulfport, MS. Exploring a storm and the stories within it, Boo writes about the increasing absence of her father, Larry Killebrew, a lifesaving emergency room surgeon. A flood warning for your tear ducts, this story offers healing for the Killebrews, Gulfport, and similar communities affected by natural disaster while reminding us how natural disasters force us to pick up the pieces of own our lives.
The See-Saw Tree is a 300-year-old oak tree, and it is rooted where the town wishes to build a new parking lot and playground. When environmental activist Mr. Bunn asks the residents to think how the removal of the tree may affect the inhabitants inside, we are transported into the animal world where a bat, owl, rabbit, birds and more strive to save their home. Family-friendly and imaginative, this play asks us to consider the animals who live around us when making decisions about our homes.
Header Image: 2019 New York Theatre Workshop production of Hurricane Diane (Joan Marcus)