Staged readings at Stanford put water at center stage

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Stanford students Ouree Lee, Max Walker-Silverman, Lillian Bornstein and Austin Caldwell in ”The Announcement” presented as part of the Planet Earth Arts New Play Festival at Stanford during Earth Day Week April 2015.

This past spring, Stanford students directed and acted in a play about how life on Earth will change in the coming years if major environmental issues are not addressed. The performance was one of six original short plays on environmental themes written by Bay Area playwrights for the Planet Earth Arts’ New Play Festival.

Planet Earth Arts is kicking off this year’s program with a new event in Roble Hall Theater at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 14. “The Water Plays” is a series of six new short plays examining water as the essence of all life. Featuring Bay Area actors giving staged readings, the plays will explore issues such as California’s drought and climate change. Reserve free tickets in advance at www.planeteartharts.org.

Planet Earth Arts brings together artists, scientists, humanists and public policy leaders in an interdisciplinary collaboration to explore environmental issues. The National Center for New Plays at Stanford helped launch Planet Earth Arts’ New Play Festival in collaboration with PlayGround, the Bay Area’s leading new play incubator.

This year, with support from university President JOHN HENNESSY, Planet Earth Arts is undertaking an expanded visiting artist program during the 2015-2016 academic year that will engage and involve Stanford students, faculty and researchers.

“The Planet Earth Arts program aligns with Stanford’s role as a leader in the fields of environmental studies,” said Hennessy. “The arts are central to the Stanford student experience. We believe the arts are important not only because they celebrate our creativity, but because they also help students deal with some of the most complex issues in our society and our world.”

The “Water Plays” performance will be followed by a post-performance panel discussion among members of Stanford’s faculty, including JENNIFER DIONNE, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering, the playwrights and the audience.

“From the Greeks to Shakespeare to today, theater has always been a powerful medium through which to look at issues confronting our society,” said DAVID GOLDMAN, executive director of the National Center for New Plays at Stanford.

By exploring environmental issues through the lens of the arts and human creativity, the organizers hope to help attendees envision new paradigms of planetary sustainability and stewardship.

“We are using theater’s transformative power to awaken, enlighten and move audiences to action and change in addressing the future of all life as we know it,” said MICHAEL FRIED, co-founder and artistic executive producer of Planet Earth Arts.

Dionne was so impressed with the Planet Earth Arts project last spring that she arranged a special performance of three Planet Earth plays for her “Science of the Impossible” freshman seminar last April, as a creative way to get students to think about the potential social impacts of future science breakthroughs.

“The response from my students was overwhelmingly positive, they all stayed after class ended to continue the discussion,” Dionne said.

According to KATHERINE LIU, Stanford ’18, who participated in the seminar, “I definitely came out of the performance with a new understanding of the issues that our planet is facing, as well as a stronger desire to use my own knowledge and skills to contribute to solving these challenges.”