Category Archives: Garth Lenz

Big Yellow Taxi, revisited

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iPhone 6s Plus
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Big Yellow Taxi, revisited. Eliah Eason (click image to view mov)

 

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 Big Yellow Taxi, revisited. Eliah Eason (click to view mov)

After my last rehearsal for my piece, I was baffled by how much my project has changed.  However, after reflecting on the factors surrounding my piece’s progress, I realized that it is only fitting that it would shift this drastically. After all, my project’s focus has always been change– climate change that is.
I took this class because I have recently allowed myself to see the harm I’ve been casting on the climate, and I realized that my art making could make a tangible difference on the planet; I just need the tools to figure out how to best go about that.

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My original form was a satire because I thought it would help communicate a topic that is so widely rejected by audiences. People hear the words climate change and most likely do one of two things: shut it out completely OR distance themselves from the issue altogether, sympathizing but not taking any responsibility. However, I was not completely attached to the script. There is something that Peter said in the very beginning that I didn’t really hear until a few weeks ago. He was talking about sharing personal stories and how that draws people in. I realized that keeping this script as fiction might make the class laugh, but it wouldn’t make the subject personal to them.
But I knew exactly what I had to do as soon as Garth Lenz mentioned Joni Mitchell and that she wrote the first environmental song. I love Joni Mitchell and the lyrics hit me on a visceral level across the board. I decided to write a poem sampling some of her lyrics from “Big Yellow Taxi“, layering fragments of my life in relationship to climate change and facts from my source material.
Of course my piece had to change because that’s what it is about, and I changed with it. I had to change because I understand my place in this environmental disaster, and I can’t call myself an activist without taking responsibility for my own part in this mess. We can all reduce our waste– But we first have to accept that it’s ours.
P.S. A Joni Mitchell piece with my poem’s text will be added shortly… Stay tuned for more.

How do we show the effects of engine idling?

George Pakenham, Professor Karl Storchmann, and I continue to ratchet down on idling from our different vantage points.    In my work I have often explored the question of how to render that which is invisible to the unassisted human vision system visible.

Would people shut their engines if they could see the by-products from their gasoline engines?  What if they could see the heat they were generating?

NYC has about 5,100 legally operating food trucks which generate $15 million dollars in taxes.  That’s about 5,000 fossil fuel fired, air-polluting, climate warmers running 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year in New York City alone.


In the United States there are approximately 3 million food trucks burning kerosene, natural gas (hello, it’s methane which comes from decomposing plant matter), propane, and/or gasoline.     That’s a fair number of street level emitters of particulate matter, unburned hydrocarbons, and a whole batch of complex compounds in aerosol, vapor, or otherwise respirable form and heating up the place at the same time.    Plus there is an entire supply chain of high-carbon footprint activities necessary to get that fossil fuel into the tank.

Then there are small engines of many types, buses, and trucks.    Same set of parameters but they burn even more fossil fuel. Instead of 3 million units, there are approximately 253,000,000 cars alone in the United States and around 1,200,000,000 (billion) cars in the world.

That’s a lot of engines, venting approximately 19 pounds of heat trapping carbon products per gallon at the tailpipe.   Somehow we refine a million additional barrels of oil each year  to fuel our lives.  We currently consume 95 million barrels of oil a day (42 gallons per barrel of oil).

In addition to thinking about the complex chemicals generated as a product of the internal combustion process (idling and otherwise) which we are all breathing, this new InfraRed imaging camera has started me to think about more than a billion automobiles helping to heat up the planet as they drive about – or idle.

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Until we come up with a way to change human behavior we are going to have even more people operating their vehicles longer than necessary.   Given the statistics released by the World Health Organization, our love affair with the things we need/want (cars, energy, money, and shiny new things) is literally killing us all.

Kind of a whacky  predicament  for a bunch of otherwise smart people to be in, isn’t it?

 

Midterm Project Planning: A Series of One Acts

One of the biggest draws for taking Green World, was the idea that we would be using art to advocate the change we wanted to see. As a theatre artist at Tisch, I experience  first hand almost every day the transformative power of art and how it is able to reach and affect people in ways formal communication is unable to do.  So from the onset of my midterm project, I knew that I wanted to utilize the arts in some way.

An Unfortunate Pattern

Throughout the first couple of weeks, we explored the anti-climate change movement/cover-up and tobacco industry in Merchants of Doubt, the oil fracking industry and resulting environmental impact in Gasland, the destruction of the earth’s most precious carbon sinks, water sheds and endangered ecosystems in Garth Lenz’sThe True Cost of Oil” exhibition, the dire consequences of coal-mining on our water in our discussion with Bonnie Gestring, and our battle for water rights as more corporations, such as Nestle, seek to privatize water for profit.

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An unfortunate pattern became apparent to me.

  1. In all, if not many, of the issues we discussed a large corporation was either linked or directly responsible for the major damage done to the environment.
  2. Worst, in most of these cases they take little to no responsibility for what they have done…
  3. …despite large groups of people being detrimentally affected by the act or the consequences of the act.

Then came the question: How? How could the people on the top make the decisions that ruin people’s lives and put their health in jeopardy? How could the workers on-site go through with the fracking or the mining, that not only endangers themselves but others? How could the people living near and who are affected by these actions tolerate the dire consequences unjustly acting on them?

A Human Approach

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Many answers came to my head, that were condemning and accusatory. I realized though, if I thought of it from an actor’s perspective (one that looks at the human being, their objectives, and actions objectively) then the results were much more interesting and compelling. I realized with all the propaganda, strategies, politics, and naming calling and blaming involved with these issues, the best thing to do might be to strip the issue down to it’s human core.

“Let’s make everyone human beings,” I thought. Instead of using the labels, and generalizations, why don’t we give real faces and voices to all sides of the issue and see what comes of it. I believe it will allow people to come to their own conclusions and figure out what is wrong.

Taking a form

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Upon realizing the type of story I wanted to tell, and the spotlight I wanted to give to  the three perspectives, I decided to do a series of one act plays. The form of a straight-play (as opposed to a musical) tonally fits my story, it also has a flexible enough form to play around with length. Also, the idea of creating a live experience is important the purpose of my plays. Creating a live experience allows it to forever live within those who see it. It also has the vivacity to make a large impact on spectators. Moreover, plays/drama were in my range of capability. As an actor and beginning screenwriter, I know how scripts are constructed and what they give to us and the audience.

Loose Structure of the Play:

For What It’s Worth (Working Title)

Part I: How now, Sir 1%? (Run time: 45 min)

Focuses on the CEO of either an existing Energy company who has just read the environmental impact report on a new hydraulic fracking site.

Part II: Stuck in the Middle With You (Run time: 45 min)

Focuses on two workers on a hydraulic fracking site, one who is unaware of the impact of what they are doing and who is far too are.

Part III: Save me from Ourselves (Run time: 1 hr)

Focuses on the community surrounding the fracking site of Part II, specifically on a family of five who are noticing the impact on their happiness and well being.

Note: The series of short plays are meant to be performed in one sitting, and are meant to exist in the same universe.

Research and Character Construction:

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The issue I run in to whenever I write, is if I’m authentically capturing an experience or culture that I am/was not apart of. The only thing I can do to combat inaccuracy is to do the research, or in this case read first hand accounts, documentaries, and news articles. Not only will this provide much more accuracy in my story, but also give me the groundwork for the kind of people that exist on all three sides of the issue.

Here are the sources I am perusing, on top of using NYU’s JSTOR:

For the corporations: Propaganda, Merchants of Doubt, The Corporation

For the workers: Quora digest, Web articles, Fracking jobs site, interviews

For the citizens: Gasland, online articles, books, other documentaries 

Moving Forward: 

Much of the research still needs to be completed. After that, I need to create the entire story as if it were one long play, then figure out the different angles in which I approach the same story for the individual plays. I plan to hold a sort of informal reading of the plays, or at least parts of the plays if time doesn’t permit. I’m not sure as of it how I will be making a difference to 10 people I do not know, but for now, my idea is to tape the reading and put in online and share it on a couple of social media platforms.

 

Reflection on 1984 and “The True Cost of Oil”

“It’s the devil’s way now
There is no way out
You can scream and you can shout
It is too late now

Because you have not been
Payin’ attention”

I first read 1984 during my freshman year of high school after delving into the world of Radiohead and hearing their song “2+2=5.”  Although I haven’t spent much time with either work in recent years, reacquainting  myself with Orwell’s masterpiece brought back a flood of memories and feelings that were forgotten for a while.  The band’s disillusion stemmed from the escalation of the Iraq war which coincided with the song’s release in 2003, and that same disillusion is evident in the lyrics. “It is too late now because you have not been payin’ attention,” conveys a sense of hopelessness and seems to condemn the general public for its complacency and lack of action at that time.

The situation that Garth Lenz presented in his Ted Talk  strongly relates to themes present in both Orwell and Radiohead’s works.  Lenz’s talk on the systematic destruction of the Canadian Wilderness was the first time that I been forced to pay attention to the issue.  I initially felt frustrated with the companies and parties responsible for this tragedy, but immediately afterwards felt frustrated with myself for not truly being aware of it before.  I felt as if I had turned a blind eye to an issue that had always been haunting my peripherals and needed to be addressed.  This is this kind of behavior that Orwell prophesied and feared would become commonplace.  It’s tough to decide whether or not the average citizen can be held accountable for their ignorance, or if the media and how it channels information to the masses is the larger problem at hand.

Deeply upsetting

Seeing Garth Lenz’s exhibition, “The True Cost of Oil” was an incredibly painful, but necessary experience. As many people do, I usually turn a blind eye to the “repugnant” realities of our climate crisis and imagine it far away in time and space. But it is in fact close. Very close, in Canada even, and in Garth’s presentation in large, glaring pictures. I couldn’t help but be sucked into these beautiful and vibrant photos, whilst imagining the terror of Lenz’s words reak havoc and destruction. It’s impossible to escape the raw and cruel carnage of the tar sands, and the sheer scope of the demolition when….

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…it’s staring you in the face. It forces you to take ownership. It forces you to feel, and that’s where Lenz’s photo journalism really hits the mark. If his own passionate words weren’t enough, his pictures wrote the message very clearly. It even reminded me of the famous Maya Angelou quote:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Unfortunately, I realized, we need presentations like this to make us feel awful. We need to feel how close this destruction is, and we need to feel the fear of the possible consequences. That’s the only way for this to  “never be forgotten” and be fully addressed.