A group of passionate humanities students from UC Merced have been working hard to produce and perform an original play: “Fire, Water, Poison, Hope: California in 2023.”
The play is a collection of monologues and scenes that are based on a series of research conducted over this past summer of people from across San Joaquin Valley and Sierra region who have been on the frontlines of environmental injustices.
Performances are free and open to the public, and will take place on Saturday, Dec. 9, at 2 p.m., at UC Merced (5200 N Lake Rd) in Room 120 of the Arts and Computational Sciences building, and on Sunday, Dec. 10, at 7 p.m., at Playhouse Merced (432 W. Main St.).
This project was made possible through the contributions of the Luce Foundation, the Department of Literatures, Languages, and Cultures, and the Faculty Advisory Committee on Sustainability.
“Theatre has always been about connecting with the community,” says Savie, one of the graduate students deeply involved in the project. “In many ways, that’s what this Luce Fellowship Project aimed to do: Unite the community to raise awareness about the environmental injustices in the Central Valley. But it has achieved more than that: It has given voice and body to those who have lived through these experiences, allowing them to tell their stories in creative and expressive ways.”
Lucie adds, “As one of the actors and writers for the production, it’s natural that I’d be a little nervous about seeing it performed, but only because it is a big responsibility to recreate others’ lived experiences. I want to do right by them and to emulate their experiences accurately.”
Professor Kathrine Brokaw is the instructor of the Theatre and Ecology class responsible for the play.
“I love doing Shakespeare in Yosemite, but have long wanted to do some theater that is more focused on the San Joaquin Valley,” Brokaw says. “I had the idea of writing an original show with my fall Theatre and Ecology class. With the encouragement of my colleague Bristin Jones, I then decided to apply for the Luce grant, and was hoping that a summer of interviews would give us some material with which to ground the play. I didn’t know exactly what we would learn from these interviews, but hoped that stories covering a range of environmental injustices would come out, and they sure did.
“This past summer, I received a grant from the Luce Foundation to fund four UC Merced graduate students to conduct interviews with folks in the San Joaquin Valley and Sierra region who have been on the frontlines of environmental injustices. Savie Luce, Shaira Vargas, Mariam Ohanelham, and Samantha Almeida talked to folks who had lost their businesses to flood, been evacuated due to fires, been sprayed with pesticides, and who work for environmental justice nonprofits and the National Park Service, or who research these issues.”
The play is expected to help raise awareness for UC Merced’s new major and minor in Environmental Humanities, which launched in Fall 2024. People can follow this play and future projects through Instagram @UCMEnviroHums.”