Ajijaak on Turtle Island, La Mama Experimental Theater

Observations on Environmental Theater: A Cautionary Tale

Ajijaak on Turtle Island

La Mama Experimental Theater Club
In Association with IBEX Puppetry

Co-Directed by Ty Defoe and Heather Henson
Written by Ty Defoe
Lyrics by Ty Defoe and Dawn Avery
Music by Dawn Avery & Larry Mitchell, Kevin Tarrant, and Ty Defoe

Based on original storyboards written and drawn by Heather Henson

Christopher & Justin Swader (Scenic Designers)
Katherine Freer (Projection Designer
Marika Kent (Lighting Designer)
Emma Wilk (Sound Designer)
Lux Haac (Costume Designer)
Donna Zakowska (Costume Designer for Crane)
Puppet Design & Fabrication by Jim Henson's Creature Shop

Ty Defoe
Tony Enos
Joan Henry
Wen Jeng
Curtiss Lee Mitchell
Adelka Polak
Sheldon Raymore
Henu Josephine Tarrant

Jake Montanaro
Jennifer Sanchez
Euni Shim
Dormeshia Ward

Ajijaak on Turtle Island
Photo courtesy La MAMA website

February 10, 208

We're living in such a monumental time of global climate change that words, descriptions, and messages about the environment have to change as quickly as a forest fire in California.

We're in such an environmental shitstorm that to offset one passenger's round-trip flight between New York and London you'd have to recycle FORTY THOUSAND PLASTIC BOTTLES.


Recycle that for a moment.

I had high hopes for the environmental message in Ajijaak on Turtle Island, and I was excited to see a show that would "inspire the next generation of eco-champions." Bring it on!

Much of the show proved to be enjoyable. Truly extraordinary puppets danced before our eyes (thanks to IBEX Puppetry), and the audience gasped when a river of fabric cascaded two feet above our heads. Indigenous legends wove around impressive map projections, and Travis Richardson and Kevin Tarrant's resonant drumming filled the space with deep cultural vibrations. It was uplifting to see a cast of Indigenous/Native American actors sharing their stories in a visually arresting way that brought art from those who aren't usually heard to the table.

The challenging aspect, and advice I would give any theater artist, is that language, shapes, acts, and forms we've used to communicate environmental messages must be utterly reimagined.

Messaging that harkens back to a golden past when humans lived in harmony with the environment has been - and will continue to be - ineffective. Individuals should be conscious of their electricity, reuse, and water needs, of course, but we need to incorporate messaging at a monumentally larger scale.

Disincentivize airplane travel by writing plays featuring future high-speed trains and inspiring, innovative new technologies. Portray worlds where carbon offsetting actually works, and where corporations and governments have reasons to work together. Ask impossible questions - should we have children? what if all carbon power disappeared tomorrow? what if the setting was New York under 5' of water? - and coax your audiences to envision big answers.

Heck, put a scientist in your play! < gasp >

I want to see environmental theater that doesn't have a happy ending. I want environmental theater that isn't easy. I want environmental theater that submerges us in reality and throws in a life jacket at the last minute, so we can climb, spluttering and dripping, onto the shore.

One thought on “Ajijaak on Turtle Island, La Mama Experimental Theater

  1. You moved smoothly from the visuals of the show to the questions of the environment TODAY, asking that theater use its unique messaging powers by portraying the problems and possible answers on a much larger scale. Powerful.

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