@MSUDenver: Rising curtains, rising tides — “The power of theatre for social change is immense” — Marilyn Hetzel

In observance of Earth Day, we spotlight an MSU Denver theatre ensemble changing lives, one drop at a time.

From Metropolitan State University of Denver (Cory Phare):

In observance of Earth Day, we spotlight an MSU Denver theatre ensemble changing lives, one drop at a time.

If you promote water conservation in the Denver area, chances are good that you’ve already heard of Water Wise.

John Stulp, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s top water advisor, has – and that’s how the MSU Denver theatre troupe got to bring its brand of advocacy-based performance to the 2017 Colorado Water Congress’ annual convention this past January.

The Water Wise ensemble does what’s known as theatre for social change. And, as Marilyn Hetzel, Ph.D., chair of the University’s Department of Theatre noted, it’s a vehicle for delivering important messages that leave a lasting impression.

“The power of theatre for social change is immense,” she said. “They’re stories that can teach.”

Water we going to do about it?

The Water Wise troupe owes its founding in part to when Tom Cech felt the impact of this kind of performance firsthand.

“My wife, Grace, and I attended [Dr. Hetzel’s] production of ‘Here’s to Ears,’ and it was fabulous!” said Cech, the director of MSU Denver’s One World One Water Center for Urban Water Education and Stewardship program. “There were no props – they just told a great educational story about hearing protection.”

Cech reached out to Hetzel, and they strategized a way to develop and stage a similar production – only this time in conjunction with Denver Water, Aurora Water and the City of Boulder’s water department. The agencies had originally contacted MSU Denver looking for innovative ways to enhance their water education programs.

The show needed to convey the importance of conservation and a deeper understanding of natural resources. It would be performed at annual water festivals, and performances would also be integrated within the conservation-rooted school curricula already in place for fourth- through sixth-graders in the region.

For Miles LaGree, the question of logistics was part of the creative solution when he approached writing the theatrical piece as a member of the original Water Wise theatre group.

“The challenge was taking a list of facts, and then translating them into theatrical performances without any props or scenery,” said the senior ensemble member, who is wrapping up a bachelor’s degree in applied theatre technology and design. “How were we going to do the show with just us?”

The answer was simple: a powerful narrative, with an innovative means of conveyance.

Thus, Water Wise performances were born.

Rapid growth, rapid connections

When you do something well, word tends to get around. And just as a soft trickle builds from headwaters into a mighty roar downstream, buzz got louder about what the ensemble was doing.

That’s what led to the Colorado Water Congress stage, where Water Wise circa 2017 performed for members, including engineers and water providers from around the state. After the troupe’s performance (greeted with thunderous applause), representatives from across Colorado approached the group to discuss future performances.

According to Cech, another key value of theatre for social change was demonstrated: constructing a career pipeline to keep the message flowing.

“With the students from the troupe still in the room, we asked [conference attendees], ‘How many of you are hiring right now?’” said Cech. “Hands shot up, and immediately we had connections; students provided resumes to people who were interested in what they had to say and what they could do. That’s how it works.”

Transformative states that matter

According to Natalie Brower-Kirton, senior water conservation specialist with Aurora Water, who served on a post-performance panel at the event, the very process of developing the piece proved transformative for students.

“[Ensemble students] made an empowering and positive message about where our water comes from, why Colorado is unique, and what people can do to conserve it,” she said. “The best thing is not only that they reached a large audience but that they became water advocates themselves.”

LaGree attested to this. He also pointed out that theatre works particularly well as a vehicle because it’s a live art – and one that most younger students haven’t had much experience with.

“Not many kids are heading down to the Buell, so it’s great to bring the work to them,” he said. “And to see that fire lit in their eyes from the performances – that’s what it’s all about.”

And so, lighting that passion for conservation is really the greatest impact of Water Wise theatre for social change. As Cech and Brower-Kirton attest, it’s an indisputably valuable tool for organizational change, and why Hetzel fondly refers to theatre as “equipment for living.”

It’s why LaGree speaks of his time with Water Wise and the lessons learned from Hetzel as “more valuable than anything money could buy.”

“It’s seeing that light turn on in the kids’ heads, knowing they’ve learned something,” he said. “Those smiling faces are what let you know firsthand that it’s effective, that what you’re doing matters.”

@ClimateCentral: Climate Change Was the Epicenter of March for Science

March for Science April 22, 2017.

From Climate Central (Brian Kahn):

The roar of the crowd of thousands of scientists and supporters rippled up and down Constitution Avenue like a wave on Saturday. It found two fitting sounding boards on either side of the street.

On one side, the Smithsonian, the world’s largest museum and research program. It’s a literal institution in the science community, with its research cutting across all disciplines. In many ways, it’s above reproach and apolitical, something march organizers said was a central tenet of the march.

On the other side, the Environmental Protection Agency, an agency run by an administrator that denies the established science of climate change and an organization that the Trump administration has proposed radical cuts to. It’s the epicenter for a war on science increasingly being waged on partisan grounds, and one that marchers were intent on pushing back against.

That paradox is also why climate change emerged as a central part of Saturday’s march and the movement surrounding it, which organizers said included more than 600 marches around the world (Climate Central was among the organizations that partnered with the march). The reality of climate change has turned into a left-right issue despite being indisputable and posing an existential threat.

“The signs around here say it all,” said Liz Kohan, a fifth-grade teacher from Columbiaville, Mich., as she stood on the National Mall ahead of the march. “There is no Planet B.”

The marchers, who braved a mist that turned into a steady rain, said they were trying to reclaim the high ground and advocate for policies based on the best science. Many said the partisan divide had left them no choice but to mobilize and make their voices heard. [ed. emphasis mine]

From The Colorado Independent (Kelsey Ray):

For the first several blocks, Saturday’s March for Science in downtown Denver was remarkably quiet.

No hey-hey’s or ho-ho’s, no calls and no responses; just a crowd of scientists and their supporters — Facebook says it was more than 10,000 — walking in the streets with their snarky, clever signs.

They bore slogans like “You can’t repeal physics” and “Evidence is not optional” and “The revolution will be peer reviewed.” One sign had no message, just a large, hand-drawn graph of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels over the past 400,000 years. An eighth grader held up that one-word quote from The Lorax: “Unless.”

These protesters — these costumed Doc Browns, Captain Kirks and Ms. Frizzles, these young women who deemed themselves STEMinists and white-haired men in the witty-T-shirt-and-hiking-boots uniform of aging Colorado academics — were clearly passionate about the state of science in society. So why weren’t they louder?

I told Mary Fran Park, a science teacher in Englewood, that it seemed almost metaphorical: Just as scientists tend to let the facts speak for themselves, they were here letting their signs do the talking for them.

“I think that’s exactly right,” she said. “Scientists, a lot of us — unless we’re teaching — we’re doing our thing.” One sign put it well, she said — “You know it’s serious if the introverts are out.”

Fran Park has been to other marches this year, but for many, Saturday marked a first foray into activism. It certainly was for Xin Sheng, a researcher at CU Medical Center. He and his three colleagues marched for the first time, all in agreement that the political threat to science had finally reached “a tipping point.” Originally from China, Sheng said, “In the past, U.S. climate policy was good, but now…it’s not good.”

President Donald Trump has been notably outspoken against climate change and environmental research. His budget blueprint, essentially a wish list for budget boosts and cuts, proposed slashing EPA funding by 30 percent and reducing funds for environmental research agencies like the National Oceanic and Environmental Administration.

In the lead-up to the march, numerous editorials questioned the premise of scientists acting as activists. Is there a place in science for activism? Should scientists speak about political issues? Perhaps fearful of backlash and further cuts, most government-funded research agencies have forbid their employees from talking about politics.

Many of those at the march, particularly the career scientists, had considered these questions. But they ultimately decided that recent political attacks on climate science were too worrisome not to show up.

“It breaks my heart that we have somehow politicized science,” said Kelsey Elwood, a first year graduate student at CU Boulder whose work includes environmental and climate change-related research.

“It’s perfectly reasonable for politicians to be part of the scientific process…for the scientists to present the facts, and then the politicians to figure how to solve problems,” she said. “But it’s not reasonable for the politicians to figure out what the facts are. That’s not their job.”
Rebecca Raph, another graduate student at CU Boulder, agreed. “I certainly don’t think of myself as a particularly political person — or certainly didn’t before the election. But I think scientists are taught to hedge, and to say that we aren’t experts, because we don’t want to overstate what we know, which can create a vacuum,” she said. ” It’s time to step up and say what we know.”

Engineers, physicists and geologists said the same thing: Scientists shouldn’t necessarily be political, but this is too serious not to speak up.

Several blocks into the hour-long march, the crowd did find its voice. As if they’d read my mind, they began with a simple chant: “Science not silence,” they shouted. “Science not silence.”

Here’s a photo gallery from The Denver Post.

The @ColoradoPress’ first hall of fame inductee is Bob Rawlings

Bob Rawlings photo credit The High Country News.

From The Pueblo Chieftain:

Robert Hoag Rawlings was named Saturday as the first person to enter the newly established Colorado Press Association Hall of Fame…

His impact on his community was profound, from his role in forming the Pueblo Economic Development Commission, to his support of Colorado State University-Pueblo and the Pueblo Library District, to his relentless battle against cities to the north of Pueblo that have tried to obtain water owned by landowners in the Lower Arkansas Valley.

In describing Rawlings to the conventioneers here Saturday, Chieftain Managing Editor Steve Henson recalled one of many conversations he had with his boss about water.

“He told me one time, ‘Those SOBs just keep growing and growing, but they don’t have the resources to support it. So they want our resources and don’t give a damn about drying up our communities. We will fight them.'”