Original Post Apocalyptic Play: feed/back opens tonight!

feedback banner 2Hijacking my own blog once again and interrupting the End of World Subcategories, since my very own postapocalyptic play opens tonight on the 12th Avenue Arts stage on Capitol Hill in Seattle!

Two months ago, 6 theatre artists met for the first time at ACT theatre to start devising a new work for MAP theatre’s first-ever off-night (MAP’s Night Off) production. It was an experiment: come up with two 45-minute pieces based on the set rendering for MAP’s mainstage production Greensward, which would be playing concurrently on more traditional show nights.

Armed with nothing but that and our own thoughts and interests, we set to work. One thing we kept going back to was how we all felt we’d gone through some kind of twisted wormhole to an alternate universe after the election events of 2016. That, and this patch of grass Untitled ended up being the spine of what was to follow.

Rather than two pieces, we ended up envisioning the future as it took place in two parallel universes: one that is our current timeline, with our current U.S. president, and one where the election went in the other direction.

A thing we realized pretty quickly was that, going forward, neither of these worlds is idyllic. If you take November 8 of last year as the jumping off point where the two worlds split, there was still bad stuff happening, particularly where climate change is concerned. In predicting a future where the Democratic nominee won, yes, we decided things probably wouldn’t have gotten as bad as quickly as they do in the other future (like, probably the U.S. wouldn’t have pulled out of the Paris climate change agreement, for one). But realistically? On Nov. 8 we were already past the tipping point where global warming is concerned. We are. Now. Past the tipping point. But more on that later.

In the world where victory went to the Democrats, things were already bad, with regard to the environment, but instead of vilifying or denying scientific claims, we embraced them and actively tried to prevent…but things were (are) already too far past the point of no return to be anything but temporary Band-Aid fixes. The population continued to grow, putting even more strain on already limited resources. New scientific discoveries were being made to cope with these limited resources (my character, in fact, created a cheap and easy way to desalinate water – GO ME!) but it was all far too little too late. So, it’s not like everything was all hunky-dory.

The other world is the future of OUR timeline, where victory went to the Republicans. Things in this world went downhill much faster. Low-scale nuclear war with North Korea, paired with already-bad things getting worse: denial of climate change dumped more carbons/toxins into the air, permafrost melt spewed more noxious gasses (and also microbes that had lain dormant for thousands of years) into the air, warming the earth further, things went from bad to worse. The population was reduced drastically in this world, and as society collapsed and people were more isolated from each other and began living in smaller, tribal communities, dormant psychic abilities began to flourish, and at the time our play takes place, most surviving human beings are telepathic and have the power to control one element or another.

In both worlds, we wrote in an eruption of the supervolcano under Yellowstone that occurs in roughly 2060. So, in both timelines, things were not going too well…until this grass emerged (perhaps lying dormant under the permafrost for thousands of years?) that could metabolize ash and restore soil back to its original state, ready to seed and harvest in a few weeks. For a few decades, famine declines and crops flourish again in both worlds.

Which brings us to somewhere around the year 2135, where the play takes place in both worlds. The grass has been dying for a decade or so and our characters, prominent scientists in one world and powerful magicians in the other, have been tasked with making sure the grass doesn’t die. The play begins when our heroes are at the last patches of grass: a temple in one world, a research station in the other.

It was interesting to write something that had roots in actual science, but we did! Even more interesting to write about a possible future of our own world…we’d discuss all these horrible scenarios with excitement and gusto, and it was really sobering once we realized we were actually talking about the potential future of our own world. I was formatting the script one day, and a little girl came on some talk show and sang Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” and I burst into tears mid-edit.

Yesterday, I read this in its entirety before our dress rehearsal, which was quite depressing…and then to read some of the comments below, lots of mansplaining about how people are just being extremists and it’s not really that bad. I think to myself, “Well, if it’s not really that bad, if we just ACT as though it’s that bad, and have some kind of plan in place and start really working on fixing it in earnest, it can’t possibly hurt. But if we do nothing and it actually IS that bad, I guess the joke’s on us.” It seems as though, well, the joke IS on us. I don’t have much hope of us fixing things, and am glad I’m not leaving any kids behind to have to suffer through it…I’m sure I’ll see enough in my own lifetime as it is.

The actual set for both pieces ended up being quite different from the rendering (above), but also ended up working even better for feed\back, (9 smaller patches of grass instead of one big one!) and it’s actually QUITE stunning (as are WE in our labcoats rehearsing Act I, the “science” part of the script):

feed\back, Act I
feed\back set & rehearsal: (LtoR: Tae Phoenix as Kyt, Carolynne Wilcox as Lo, Aimee Decker as Sybil and Josh Valencia as Flint)

So, you have the backstory. I can’t divulge much of the actual plot until after it’s opened, but if you’re in town, feel free to come check it out – it runs, mostly on off-nights, through the month of July, and there will be talk-backs fol-lowing selected perfor-mances, to solicit thoughts & feedback about feed\back!

Click here for dates and tickets, and please feel free to ask me any questions, I am always happy to answer.

SaveSave

End of World Subcategories: Ecotastrophe!

underwater

This subcategory is smoking hot right now, and I mean smoking…HOT…pun intended because we are quite literally in the beginnings of it RIGHT NOW, we ARE the frogs hanging out in that boiling point. Call it what you want. Climate change. Global Warming. “Cli-Fi”. I’ve also seen it lumped into the clumsy catchall of “slow apoca-lypse”. And if you google it, you’ll find more references to what’s actually happening in the natural world right now, than you will anything regarding fictional television, film or literature. Because, despite the fact the current administration is denying it, we are already in the primary stages of this right now, and though it may be slow and gradual, less immediately tangible than, say, nuclear annihilation, the threat is highly real and even probable unless we drastically and promptly change our collective behavior.

But, I digress, since I am here mostly to discuss & define the Ecotastrophe as it exists in fiction (at least for the time being…there will be plenty of opportunity to examine the reality of it in the near future). Probably the piece of ecological fiction I’ve been most influenced by in recent years is Earth 2100, a futuretrip mockumentary that aired on the ABC network back during the summer of 2009. I’ve used this fake history as the jumping off point in two plays I’ve written now, as it follows the events in the life of a fictional character, Lucy, who was born in 2009 and lived through to the next century to witness the effects of climate change and the dominoes that ensued to eventually lead to total collapse.

The thing that fascinates (and terrifies) me is that with climate change, you get several directly relevant situations that will result from this. It’s not just, “Oh, wow, summer is really hot now”. It’s the entire globe getting warmer as a whole. It’s the melting of polar ice caps, which in turn causes severe change with regard to weather patterns (Super hurricanes, anyone? Intense drought?), not to mention flooding and rising tidelines. We mention the “Seattle Archipelago” in the play (feed\back) I’ve been working on this summer, as the various hills of this city become a city of islands. And when coastlines get eaten and drought occurs, flooding ensues most beachfront property is destroyed, crops fail. Then: stagnant water often leads to new, bacterial diseases we don’t necessarily have vaccines for. People move inland. Famine and border skirmishes occur. Mass extinctions of several species of insect and animal, severely affecting the food chain. The dominoes fall, one after the other into one giant chain reaction.

polar-bear-global-_3339474bAnd then there are other things we are doing/have done that probably help this along: oil spills, meltdown of nuclear power plants (us older kids probably remember 3 Mile Island and Chernobyl – more recently, Fukushima in the 2011 earthquake/tsunami sucker punch that hit Japan and is even now contaminating the Pacific Ocean), and let’s not forget fracking, which is even NOW beginning to cause small earthquakes in historically non-seismic areas, like Oklahoma.

As fictional “what if” fodder, it’s awesome! …but I think we are getting to a place in reality where that fodder is becoming a highly possible cautionary tale I would love for us to avoid. What are your thoughts? I realize this is potentially a hot-button topic…

Books: The Death of Grass by John Christopher, New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson, Glimmering by Elizabeth Hand

Movies: The Core, The Day After Tomorrow, Interstellar, Earth 2100, Snowpiercer

TV: I can’t remember any series dealing with ecological collapse as the main catalyst for the series…not fictional ones anyway, there are several documentary-type series such as Nat Geo’s Years of Living Dangerously. There have been episodes of Star Trek that have dealt with it, as well as Black Mirror. Fringe’s alternate universe had some shades of it, as did SyFy’s Defiance, 12 Monkeys, and to a greater degree, Incorporated.

Too Close For Comfort: Current Times & The Postapocalypse

FlagI’m gonna take a little respite between End of World Subcatogories (back to that next time!) to ponder something I’ve been stewing on for a bit, particularly since a friend of mine tagged me on this particular tweet:

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 11.26.13 AM

Whilst it specifically mentions dystopian fiction (the Societal Breakdown!), I would say I’ve had many more Disturbing Thoughts regarding postapocalyptic and disaster fiction as well since the advent of the wormhole this country seemed to collective fall into on November 8th of last year.

Depending on the day, it feels like we will either explode in some kind of nuclear conflict with North Korea, with all the unhinged tweetings of this creature who is supposed to have the best interests of every American in mind (fat chance) (I still can’t put his name after the word “president”), or plunge headlong into something resembling The Handmaid’s Tale at the hands of our current vice president. And then there is the very real and imminent threat posed by climate change/global warming. You don’t have to be a scientist to believe this…we are rapidly approaching the tipping point of no return.

I used to find this sort of fiction cathartic – not sure I can fully describe why, but it has something to do with “Oh, it’s just fiction – as bad as things might be, we’re not THERE yet”…because I don’t think I’ve ever felt this close to THERE as I have over the past few months. And thus, my interest in this type of story has shifted a little…rather than being as completely cathartic as it was before, I look to these movies, television shows and books as a means of instruction, really. What are these people doing in these simulated situations that I could learn from, in the very real possibility of the Sh*t Hitting The Fan for real.

From Walking Dead, I’ve learned not only how to kill a zombie (it’s gotta be the brain!) but which weapon tends to be better in this type of apocalypse. Guns work, of course, but they’re SO loud!Better to use something like a katana, a crossbow or a barbed wire-covered baseball bat: they’re quieter, and get confiscated less. And that the following skills are better than currency: hunting, farming, healing.

From The Stand, I learned to trust my gut – especially when it comes to my dreams. From The Last Ship, I learned that in an outbreak, one should keep one’s distance from others as much as possible.

From most dystopian fiction, I’ve learned that if something is amiss with the way things are being run, don’t ignore it, don’t go with the flow. Resist early, resist often, enlist like-minded people to your cause and fight tooth and nail to keep the freedoms and benefits you have.

From nearly ALL postapocalyptic fiction, I’ve learned one HUGE fundamental thing: other survivors can be your source of greatest strength and your biggest enemies, because the collapse of civilization brings about all sorts of opportunists who size you up according to what they can take from you. Darwinism at its most base, I suppose.

Oh. And if I start talking about what I’ve learned from speculative, climate-change scenarios, I’m going to start crying.

Would love to hear why this type of fiction appeals to you, and what, if anything, you’ve learned from your experiences of it!

 

 

 

End of World Subcategories: The Societal Breakdown (or, DYSTOPIA!)

 

DystopiaThere has been a bit of a debate about whether or not Dystopian fiction belongs with Postapocalyptic fiction, and I say YES! I bring to you the SOCIETAL apocalypse, because it is the apocalypse of a society. Probably not as much death as, say, a zombie or nuclear apocalypse, but there areusually still mass casualties and things are definitely NOT As They Were Before. Oftentimes, dystopia is a result of some sort of larger and semi-apocalyptic event that precedes it (say a small-scale nuclear conflict, or famine, disaster, etc).

In a Societal Breakdown, we often see a culture, a people slowly implode – there is a small minority of folks who have certain and often extreme (Hitler, anyone? The current Religious right, anyone?) views about how things should be, and this small minority of folks either finds themselves in power or seizes power. It would seem nothing is amiss, at first, and life goes on as normal, but then things begin to change. Little freedoms begin to disappear. Curfews are established. Certain people begin to disappear.

Societal Breakdowns, in fiction, are pretty much all over the map. But the thing they have in common, is there are always rebels who disagree. Many rebels and detractors always die early on, and become a cautionary tale and/or inspiration for the protagonist, who is oftentimes disgruntled with the dystopia, but goes along with it until some catalyzing event that forces them to finally become part of the resistance in earnest. Star Wars: A New Hope is a classic example, actually: Luke Skywalkwer dreams of joining the rebellion against the evil Galactic Empire, but is stuck on his uncle’s moisture farm in Tattoine. His parents have died early on (of course, we come to later find out, his father is still alive and at the very helm of the Empire, but Luke believes he is dead until that discovery) as casualties of the dystopian society. The catalyzing event is that he and his uncle buy some used droids that just HAPPEN to have come directly from one of the leaders of the rebellion (Princess Leia), and contain secret plans on how to destroy the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star. Ultimately, Luke blows up the Death Star, which is a huge victory for the rebels, who ultimately bring down the Empire at the end of Return of the Jedi.

Unfortunately, in Star Wars, we don’t get to see so much of the dystopian society itself – the Empire’s reach is so vast that it only barely touches Luke’s daily life until he is caught up in the middle of it. Other fiction goes much further into the history of why the dystopia exists, what its characteristics are, and why it’s ultimately unacceptable for the majority of its citizens.

Books: Animal Farm, 1984 by George Orwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Anthem by Ayn Rand, Dayworld by Philip Jose Farmer, Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood

Movies: Divergent series, Star Wars (original trilogy), The Hunger Games series, Minority Report, Snowpiercer, V for Vendetta 

TV Series: The Handmaid’s Tale, Almost Human, Fringe, Dark Angel

End of World Subcategories: The Viral Outbreak

symbol-biohazard
Now we come to (arguably) my “favorite” of the post apocalyptic scenarios: the global pandemic. Inplague-based fiction, there is usually some kind of horrible viral outbreak (and zombie fiction could potentially be a subcategory of Outbreak fiction, but I feel it’s gotten big enough to warrant its own subcategory). We see people succumb, one by one, to this disease. Then we see the survivors deal with the end of the world, then we see the survivors come together to form new communities (and maybe fight something else before they get to live happily ever after).

I say “favorite”, in quotes, because, well, who really wants any of these to happen? But, if I had to be a survivor in any of these ways human civilization could perish, outliving a deadly disease would probably be the easiest. I say that with difficulty, because of course it wouldn’t be easy. But, where everything is concerned, it’d do the least harm, because:

1.) No radiation & drastically reduced human population would give the earth a chance to heal, and hopefully, we’d pull back from the tipping point of climate change, and many  endangered species would come back from the brink. As long as the remaining survivors figured out a way to shut down nuclear plants before they melt down, that is…

pandemic2.) Lack of other outside forces to dampen the fun! And by that I mean aliens, zombies or other creatures. Basically, “all” you’d have to deal with are the dead bodies (and I’ll get into THAT in another post), other survivors being horrible and loneliness until you find others. And maybe bureaucrats with creepy agendas.

3.) There’d be vast stores of canned food & drink lying around. Also, you could grow crops out in the open without any threat from aliens or the undead. Or radiation/pollution contamination. And, you’d still have to worry about the weather, but not in a climate-change kind of way.

I mean, that’s not many, but they’re all kinda huge. If I got to pick the type of apocalypse I wanted to survive, this would probably be it. But if I change my mind, I’ll let you know.

Books: The Stand, by Stephen King, The MaddAddam Trilogy by Margaret Atwood, The Last Man by Mary Shelley (this woman was highly ahead of her time), The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton, Blindness by Jose Saramago

Films: Smallpox 2002Outbreak, 12 Monkeys, Contagion,

TV Series: The Last Ship, Helix, Containment, 12 Monkeys, The Strain

End of World Subcategories: The Zombie Apocalypse

3-The-Walking-Dead

Probably (and arguably) the most popular of our postapocalyptic guilty pleasures, if box-office totals and ratings are any indication, and one that has, in particular, gained ground in the last decade is:

The Zombie Apocalypse. Okay. So. Full disclosure: I didn’t have a whole lot of respect for this subset of the genre until recently. I mean: I’m a vampire girl. I cut my teeth on The Vampire Lestat and The Lost Boys. Zombies, on the whole, just don’t make for that fascinating or cunning of a monster. They’re dead, and pretty gross, so it’s hard to feel much empathy or compassion for them. And honestly, if it’s only one or two, they’re pretty easy to take out, especially if they’ve been undead for awhile and are in an advanced state of decay.

I mean, not that I didn’t enjoy The Evil Dead and Night of the Living Dead (and all their exponentially campy sequels and remakes), but the reasons I had a good time had less to do with the quality of the movies and more to do with the people I watched them with. There also was a bit of philosophy going around that zombie fiction tended to be hotter during Republican presidencies (mindless hordes) while vampire fiction tended to be hotter during Democratic presidencies (compassionate bloodsucker), which was always kind of interesting. And of course, now we are in the unprecedented time of the demigorgon, but I digress – that is a tale for another time, and may, indeed, predicate an ACTUAL apocalypse.

The zombie movies I traditionally liked best were the ones that tried to do something slightly different, like 28 Days Later and its rapid-moving rage zombies & Shaun of the Dead, high comedic parody about a group of extremely self-absorbed friends who are more interested in their interpersonal drama than they are aware of the world falling apart around them.

Also: zombies straddle genres: if you look at horror as a subset of Speculative Fiction, and Post-Apocalypse as a subset of Horror, zombies can either squarely fall under Horror, in the further subset of Monster, or Outbreak. For my purposes, I am discussing the Outbreak variety, since that seems to be more likely to result in some sort of global collapse, though below, I will give share my favorite zombie Monster fiction as well.

At any rate, I still didn’t find them to be that interesting a monster, and all around me, zombie culture was exploding: zombie walks, zombie survival courses, zombie video games, zombie birthday parties, you name it. The Walking Dead became the highest-rated cable show, and they were even having Walking Dead parties on Good Morning America. I wasn’t interested.

Then, I read some friends a short, postapocalyptic play of mine (plague-related apocalypse – think more The Stand than anything zombified), that featured a mother talking about her deceased daughter, Sophia. Both friends immediately asked me if I watched TWD. I sighed, rolled my eyes, impatiently said no, and told them why I just wasn’t interested. They pushed me further, saying TWD was more about the post-apocalyptic world that just happened to have been brought about by zombies.

I still was hesitant, but then found myself with some free time the next week…binged the first 5 seasons over two weekends (felt like I’d been sucked into the Zombie Apocalypse myself!), and was, of course, rabidly hooked. The walkers (love that they are NOT called zombies here) were still not that interesting in and of themselves, but some of the things the show has done with them are pretty innovative, from the different ways to kill them, to people keeping their undead loved ones alive or being faced with having to kill them, to weaponizing them in some truly unique ways, did capture my interest, and of course, a television series has more opportunity for long-ranging character development, so I became attached to the dwindling core of main survivors and intrigued, as my friends had said I would be, by the world presented in the series, and the opportunity to examine how human beings cope with not only global, societal collapse, but also with repeated trauma and ensuing PTSD.

My takeaway is this: Zombie apocalypse, while difficult for survivors, would be a great season of rest to heal the planet, and start to reverse climate change. If one manages to survive the undead and the opportunistic living, tempers the waves of repeated PTSD and ends up in a relatively peace-loving and somewhat democratic community, once the zombies finally start dying off (I mean, they have to rot into liquid and bone at some point, right?), the world left behind is likely quite beautiful, from a nature perspective, and maybe an opportunity for humanity to rebuild anew. Thus, as something to live through, I’d prefer it to the nuclear variety.

Other examples of Zombie fiction:

Books: The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks, Cell by Stephen King, Pride & Prejudice & Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith, Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry

Movies: The Serpent and The Rainbow, Night of the Comet, the Resident Evil series, World War Z, Quarantine

TV: iZombie, Z Nation, Fear the Walking Dead, The Returned/Les Revenants, Resurrection

End of World Subcategories: The Nuclear Holocaust

the-world-is-facing-a-growing-threat-of-nuclear-warAs I was first thinking about the sorts of things I might want to write for this blog, it kept occurring to me that there are, indeed, many different ways the world as we know it could end, and that it might be useful to define those subcategories for the purposes of discussing books, movies and other media. Truthfully, it seems to always be some combination of a few, but usually, there is a predominant, overarching cataclysm that sets the ball rolling and the dominoes falling. So let’s start with one of our favorites:

The Nuclear Holocaust. This variety of catastrophe haunted my teenage dreams in the 80’s, the era that brought us the radioactive trifecta of The Day After, Testament and Threads. The basic formula with all of these: we are introduced to the protagonist(s) a few days before the nuclear attack, establish who they are and how they react as international relations seem to be headed in a bad direction. Then the attack happens – we often don’t know who initiated it, we just see the protagonists react. After that, of course, is the post apocalyptic aftermath, our survivors have to navigate survival in usually a toxic and ruined world: those who don’t die in the blasts are subject to fallout, radiation and other survivors rapidly descending into barbarism to fight for the remaining resources. With the exception of Threads, however, the aforementioned movies don’t usually explore much of the aftermath after the initial few weeks and months. Shoutout to Threads for upping the anti in a devastating and factual, documentary-style take as we see the Ruth, female protagonist (kudos to BOTH Threads and Testament for their female protagonists in the early 80’s!), struggle through discovering she’s pregnant as the world is falling apart, living through the blast when her fiancé dies,  giving birth to her daughter by herself in a back alley with barking dogs and finally dying in her 30’s (though she looks about 80, due to the effects of radiation). Her daughter is about 13 at this time, gets raped and pregnant, and the movie ends with her giving birth, looking down at the baby (which the audience never sees) and the camera frozen on her face in a silent scream, presumably because the baby has some kind of horrible mutation.

I have to give brownie points to the Mad Max franchise as well for delving further into post-apocalyptic society post nuclear blast. Having seen ALL the movies in this franchise, I’m still not quite sure WHEN the nuclear blasts occur (if anyone has any concrete info on this and can back it up, let me know!), whether before Mad Max, or at the end of it, but it’s clear that, by The Road Warrior, we are at full post-apocalypse, and Beyond Thunderdome actually begins to explore the reforming of society with Bartertown.

Another MORE than honorable mention must go to the currently-running The 100, which I will likely dedicate a plethora of writing to, as it really delves into the aftermath and the bleak idea that human beings never seem to learn from their mistakes! One thing in particular I want to point out about The 100 is that, in the most recent season, they explored the idea that, with all these nuclear power plants around the globe not being staffed for so long, they are going to start to melt down, causing a secondary wave of global radiation (“Praimfaya” as it’s called in grounder patois) for a nice little round 2 radiation blast in a world that had finally been bouncing back from the initial nuclear war.

The trouble with nuclear holocaust, at least fictionally speaking, (and please, let’s keep it to fiction – take note, world leaders!), is that it’s so, well, BLEAK. And most folks, when watching something, want there to be at least a small, uplifting and/or hopeful element to the story. I have to say – just remembering Testament (and reading the Wikipedia posting) made me tear up, especially with all the reports we’ve been getting recently of North Korea’s missile testing.

Other examples of nuclear holocaust fiction:

BooksAlas, Babylon by Pat Frank, The Chrysalids by John Wyndham, A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr., On the Beach by Nevil Schute, Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

Films: On the Beach, Dr. Strangelove, Damnation Alley, The Postman, The Book of Eli

TV Series: Jericho,  Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Battlestar Galactica, Genesis II