There is something magical about the First Law of Thermodynamics. Energy is invariably conserved. What we tend to forget is that energy can be conserved through people. More than any other art form, the theatrical performance transmits energy through the communion with an audience every night. Two weekends ago, the Big Green Theater Festival transmitted a great deal of energy delivered in a frenzied 10-act play, written by a group of ten fifth-graders, performed by a highly energized cast and directed by Jeremy Pickard.
It started subtly, setting the stage with a scene from an everyday family, whose life is disrupted by Hurricane Sandy. The hurricane and its destructive effects became the vessel that the kids used to marry pop culture with ecological conscience, and each of the ten acts revolved around family relationships. Moving from one act to the next one felt like being a tourist in Times Square – we were constantly bumped by pop culture figures you would never expect could be morphed this way. It is the children’s relentless imaginations that can bring into one place the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Dancing with the Stars, Simpsons, and personify Sandy, Irene, and Katrina into a family, and also create a lovely metaphor of Sandy as a story of two lost brothers. Through these pop culture references, a bunch of fifth-graders offered us a different point of view on serious and complex issues like genetically modified organisms, global warming, fracking, and irresponsible use of our planet’s resources.
The Big Green Theater Festival tapped into a great supply of imagination and creativity and produced a mature script, which fueled an inspired direction by Jeremy Pickard, an interesting set and dream-like lighting design by Jay Maury. The actors gave a highly energized performance that, in its turn, combusted into merriment and smiles within the audience. As I was talking with audience members, one line came up over again and again: “I had a blast!” Most of the viewers were surprised by the level of maturity in the children’s writing. “Easy yet compelling,” one person described.
This feeling of having a blast created a sense of family bonding between the audience, the people that made that performance happen, and the actors in the welcoming space of The Bushwick Starr. Just like the ending of the performance, where the family found its way back from the beginning to the end, and in spite of Sandy’s destruction found solace into everybody’s presence unmediated by technology and fueled by good old human storytelling.
“It gives us a lot of energy,” actress Nanda Abella said, referring to her work with the Big Green Theater. For her it is “inspiring to bring to life characters kids wrote” while characterizing this work as a privilege and a beautiful opportunity. “I am super blessed to put kids’ work in the theater and give back to the community,” said Modesto Flako Jimenez, who has worked with the Big Green Theater as an actor and writing teacher for the three years of its existence. Sam West, who is in his second year of acting in the Big Green Theater Festival, said that he could not pass on such an opportunity. For him the reward is in the reactions of the kids when they attend the performance. “The kids put so much craziness into their writing,” he notes. For Hannah Wolf, who assisted the Big Green Theater in the writing process, coming in for the workshops was the highlight of her week.
In theater’s communion, the audience relinquishes control of reality in order to be transported to a world delivered by the playwright, the director and the actors. If the staging of the play is honest, then the communion will be strong. In Big Green Theater I witnessed a powerful communion, which was energized by the relentless imagination of a wonderful group of fifth-graders. Their creativity not only transported us to their frenzied world, but also moved them from the student’s desk to the teacher’s podium, reminding us of things that we might have forgotten about the world and the environment.