When the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in 2010, most Angelenos experienced the oil spill's devastation secondhand through TV news reports, newspaper articles and online photos and videos of the damage. In L.A.'s site-specific production of Caridad Svich's The Way of Water, Opera del Espacio is making the disaster tangible -- and implicating the audience in the event.
You might even find yourself pouring an oil-like liquid onto the actors or helping to load company members into body bags by the end of the performance.
The production is part of NoPassport Theatre Alliance's string of performances of Svich's new work around the world, from colleges to professional theaters, from Los Angeles to South Africa, marking the two-year anniversary of the BP oil spill.
According to Svich, The Way of Water is written in a "poetically realistic mode," which is a departure from her usual fragmented, postmodern aesthetic. Opera del Espacio's take on the text will be a unique and interactive interpretation.
"We talk about media a lot and we discuss media, but a lot of theater hasn't figured out how media should reflect our culture today," says Tanya Kane-Parry, a founding member of the L.A.-based company.
Opera del Espacio's production will layer prerecorded text of the play with live dialogue, creating a musical version of the text that highlights important words and images. At the end of the show, audience members will be invited to pour a black liquid onto the performers, "choking" them like the birds and fish that were killed in the spill.
Kane-Parry calls Opera del Espacio's production an "extracted" or "expressed" version of Svich's play. It compresses the text to get to the heart of the issues: the environment, the economy, public health. Her theatrical mandate is always, "Don't lecture, illustrate."
For Svich, tying The Way of Water to a local context is essential. Opera del Espacio will perform the play in public spaces across L.A. in the month of April, including the courtyard of the music building at Cal State L.A. (April 17) and Bootleg Theater (April 19), with other performances TBD.
Kane-Parry hopes that curious passersby will flock to the site-specific performances and join the conversation. "We're nothing without audience," she says. "I'm trying to communicate with people, to start a dialogue through this work that we do."
For more information on NoPassport's linked performances of The Way of Water, visit nopassport.org/wayofwater.