University assistant professor of theater arts Theresa May is interested in theater that [email protected]@http://directory.uoregon.edu/telecom/directory.jsp?p=findpeople%2Ffind_results&m=staff&d=person&b=name&s=Theresa+May@@
That’s why, in 2002, when she heard about the 70,000 salmon that were killed along the Klamath River as a result of damming and irrigation, she wanted to do something more than sit idly by and hope it wouldn’t happen again. She was then an assistant professor at Humboldt State University and was invited to attend a meeting of scientists and officials. Underrepresented, she felt, were the Native Americans whose livelihood and culture were negatively affected by the fish [email protected]@http://www.klamathforestalliance.org/Newsarticles/newsarticle20041111.html@@
“I thought ‘What can theater do? What can theater do that is different than media coverage? Or is different from a stakeholders’ meeting or town hall?’” she said. “And what I think theater can do is tell stories that touch our hearts.”
Enter “Salmon is Everything,” a play May worked on with faculty, students and other members of the community. The production illustrates the issue from the native point of view, focusing on the salmon not only as the tribes’ sustenance but also as a physical representation of their spirituality. May and her colleagues conducted interviews and did research to ensure the play got its culture as accurate as possible. She even brought on Gordon Bettles of the University’s Many Nations Longhouse to act as a culture consultant and [email protected]@http://longhouse.uoregon.edu/contacts.htm@@
The play follows Julie, a native college student; Will, her husband; Kate, an environmental studies grad student; and Rachel, a photographer and Kate’s partner. At first it seems to have a few different plots, May said, but eventually they converge and the audience can see how all the different characters are tied together. Telling stories and giving faces to those affected by the fish kill humanizes the issue, May said. Though facts are important, she said it’s the people affected who really tell the story.
“The point is that these factual events affected people’s lives … and that’s a story worth telling,” May said. “(Theater gives us) the opportunity to imagine together about one another’s experience, and it actually asks us to do that. By imagining each other’s experience, we’re in better shape to make good decisions for the community as a whole and the environment, too.”
Sarah Ruggles, a theater arts major, plays Kate. She described her character as being in the middle of the fish kill debate, trying to figure out how important it is to her. She said that even though she was not personally affected by the fish kill, it was important for her to make the issue her own as [email protected]@http://directory.uoregon.edu/telecom/directory.jsp?p=findpeople%2Ffind_results&m=student&d=person&b=name&s=Sarah+Ruggles@@
“I didn’t really think such an event was that detrimental to people, but it was, and I think it’s important to realize how their culture places an importance on the fish,” Ruggles said. “You know, for us, it’s just fish, but for them it’s more than that. It’s more than just their sustenance; it’s part of their culture.”
Acting as a narrator, Piper Ruiz, a Spanish major, plays the reporter. She said her character ties the scenes together and relays important information about the event to the audience. Ruiz has acted in other plays before, but she said what makes this one different for her is the fact that the director is also the [email protected]@http://directory.uoregon.edu/telecom/directory.jsp?p=findpeople%2Ffind_results&m=student&d=person&b=name&s=Piper+Ruiz@@
“I feel like I am privileged to be in the presence of the mind that created the conflict, the resolution, the ideas, the details,” Ruiz said. “Plus, it’s really great to be able to ask questions to the playwright.”
Although the play has already been performed at HSU, it is now about to open at the University’s Robinson Theatre on Friday, May 20, where it will stay until June 4. May said one of the biggest differences between this production and the first is the set. Dan Carlgren is an MFA student in scenic design, and May said he did a lot of research while working on the [email protected]@http://broadwayworld.com/studentcalendar2.cfm?id=751@@ @@http://directory.uoregon.edu/telecom/directory.jsp?p=findpeople%2Ffind_results&m=student&d=person&b=name&s=Dan+Carlgren@@
“Metaphorically, it’s taking place in a Longhouse, the place of community, the place of telling stories, where people come together. So the whole theater, by his design, is kind of passed as a Longhouse,” May said. “It kind of makes this perfect storytelling space, because the play doesn’t attempt to fool us. You know you’re watching theater, you know you’re watching storytellers tell a story. It’s culturally consistent.”
May, Ruggles and Ruiz all agreed that students should see “Salmon is Everything” because it’s an important local issue. The four main characters are all young adults, and May believes students will relate because of this.
“It’s the young people in the tribal communities that are wrestling with these issues,” said May. “It’s about students; it’s about how as young people we engage and cope with and find solutions to and communicate with each other through and beyond this sort of barrage of polarized ideas.”
May wants “Salmon is Everything” to be an illuminating and stimulating experience for the audience. To shed light on the issue even further, there will be a preshow lecture on the May 19 and May 20 performances and a post-show discussion after every performance.