Sunday, October 12, 2014

Salmon Is Everything: Event and Book

I attended the reading at Northtown Books by members of the Klamath Theatre Project on Friday evening.  Marlon Sherman, Suzanne Burcell and Theresa May talked about how the project came about, and Mary Campbell (member of the original cast) and co-director Jean O'Hara read excerpts from the play.

From Marlon Sherman and Suzanne Burcell (Karuk), I was impressed by how open they were to the idea in the beginning, which was suggested by Theresa May, a new member of the HSU theatre faculty at the time, in response to the massive fish kill on the Klamath in 2002.  They were instrumental in recruiting Native students, conspicuously absent (then and much of the time since) from HSU theatre.  These students went back to their Karuk, Yurok and Hupa families and gathered relevant stories.

In reading excerpts from her chapter in the book, Suzanne Burcell described the rebellious shock of Native students to the idea that the point of view of competitors for Klamath water, the farmers and ranchers upriver, had to be represented.  She also noted with humor how Teresa May reacted to her suggestion that they also had to include the point of view of the fish.

The first part of the book describes the process of developing the script.  I also attended the first reading of the script in progress, and confess I didn't see how a theatre piece was going to emerge from it.  But according to the book, this reading inspired more people to come forward with personal and family stories, and these provided the human and cultural dimensions to the political and scientific that made the moment so alive on stage.

I reproduced my immediate response to that first production in the post below.  Since I've had cause recently to reflect on my nine years of writing about North Coast theatre, I would still place the 2006 HSU production of Salmon Is Everything near the top of my theatre experiences here.  For one thing, it was the most alive, especially in the emotional connection between those on stage and those in the audience.  And it meant something.  Certainly it spoke at the time to several areas of my experience here--working for Seventh Generation Fund, writing the script for the environmental video Voices of Humboldt County: Cumulative Impact which was cited in at least one forest court case, and writing the grant for the Native Performance Fund, still going now as the Native Art Fund. Even beyond the textures represented by these and other experiences, as a live theatre event it was singular in my experience here.

The heart of the book is the script itself.  Jean O'Hara describes touring it to Hupa, Yurok and Karuk communities.  In 2011 it got a full production at the University of Oregon, where Theresa May now teaches.  Her own chapter details what worked and what didn't in the process of creating the play, for she means this book to be a kind of guide to community-developed theatre.  A foreword by Gordon Bettles provides some historical context, and here and elsewhere in the book there are updates on what has happened since.

The book is Salmon Is Everything: Community-Based Theatre in the Klamath Watershed by Theresa May with Suzanne Burcell, Kathleen McCovey and Jean O'Hara, published by Oregon State University Press in their First Peoples series.  It's at Northtown Books and presumably other booksellers.

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