Category Archives: Climate Change

Harvey versus Katrina and the urgent timeliness of powerful new play ‘Runaway Home’

At left, flood waters in East New Orleans on Aug. 31, 2005. At right, the Meyerland area of Houston on Monday. 

As the catastrophic toll of Hurricane Harvey continues to rise with the flooding water, memories of Katrina in 2005 surge into mind like a torrent bursting through a shattered levee. And once again, like with our recent world premiere of Robert Schenkkan’s politcal drama Building the Wall, the Fountain Theatre finds itself launching a new play dramatizing an urgent national issue torn from today’s headlines.

Our world premiere of Runaway Home by Jeremy J. Kamps reveals the powerful struggle and courage of the New Orleans community three years after Hurricane Katrina.  Opening September 16th, the new play couldn’t be more timely.

“Unfortunately, the tragedy of Hurricane Harvey makes the issues raised in Runaway Home even more relelvant,” says Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “The Fountain always aims to create new work that illuminates the social and political concerns of our current times. With Runaway Home, we now have the opportunity for a new play to shed light and offer the need for civic humanity in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.”

As the New York Times outlined, Hurricane Harvey evokes comparisons to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Here’s a quick rundown of what we know about similarities and differences between the two.

The Cities

Katrina: Before the storm, New Orleans — with its distinctive Creole-Acadian-French-Haitian-Vietnamese cultural mélange — was a small city of about 455,000 people that lay in large part below sea level, ostensibly protected by a system of levee walls. Its population never fully recovered from the evacuation and destruction and remains below 400,000.

Harvey: Houston is a sprawling, car-dependent, diverse city, low-lying but not below sea level. It has a population of more than two million people, with a system of bayous and waterways to manage flooding.

At left, the flooded streets of New Orleans two days after Hurricane Katrina hit the city in 2005. At right, the flooded streets of Houston on Sunday.

The Storms

Katrina: It made landfall near the Louisiana/Mississippi border on Aug. 29, 2005, as a Category 3 storm and measured 350 miles across. However, the relatively low classification, based on wind speed, was deceptive because Katrina produced the highest storm surge ever recorded in the United States.

Harvey: It made landfall in Rockport, Tex., on Friday as a Category 4 storm, measuring 200 miles across, but was quickly downgraded. As of Monday, it was expected to linger for days, causing the National Weather Service to warn, “This event is unprecedented and all impacts are unknown.”

Deaths and Damage

Katrina: One of the deadliest hurricanes ever to strike the United States, Katrina was responsible for 1,833 deaths, and some bodies were untouched for days. The storm inflicted more than $100 billion in damage, with most of it caused by wind, storm surge and the failure of the levees. Katrina also left three million people across the region without power.

Harvey: Local officials have reported at least 10 deaths in Texas since the storm began, and the number could rise. Heavy rains and flooding are expected to continue at least through Friday, and most of the damage could be caused by flooding.

As for the economy, the Gulf region’s capacity as an oil and gas hub — Houston accounted for 2.9 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product in 2015 — does not appear to have been seriously compromised, and economists were predicting that the storm’s cost would be less than half that of Katrina’s. So far in Texas, there are 300,000 people without power.

Rainfall

Katrina: Rain was not the main problem with Katrina, which yielded 5 to 10 inches of rainfall in a 48-hour period.

Harvey: By contrast, Harvey brought a deluge, with up to 50 inches of rain predicted over the next several days — more than Houston receives in a year.

At left, emergency personnel workers rescuing people in New Orleans on Aug. 29, 2005. At right, workers rescuing people in Houston on Sunday.

Evacuation

Katrina: The mandatory evacuation of New Orleans was announced a day before the storm hit. An estimated 100,000 people remained stuck in the city. A few weeks later, in another chaotic evacuation, more than 100 people died leaving the Houston area to escape Hurricane Rita.

Harvey: Houston did not call on residents to evacuate and is now urging those who can to shelter in place. However, as the rain continued on Monday, a growing number of other jurisdictions — like Bay City, which expected 10 feet of water downtown — urged residents to leave.

Assistance

Katrina: The storm displaced over a million people and damaged or destroyed 275,000 homes. Almost a million households received individual assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Harvey: We don’t know yet how many people will be forced out of their homes. But the vast majority of homes in Harvey’s path are not insured against flooding, according to figures from the National Flood Insurance Program. FEMA officials estimated that 450,000 people were likely to seek federal aid.

The Takeaways So Far

Katrina: Evacuation chaos and mostly unfounded panic over riots and violence made issues of race, poverty and government failures impossible to ignore. The breaches of the levees compounded those problems and represented an engineering failure of grave proportions.

Harvey: Harvey will likely sharpen an ongoing debate over whether Houston, a city driven by real estate, has overbuilt at the expense of flood control. While Katrina showed a failure to build well, Harvey — depending on how it plays out — might come to represent a warning about climate change.

More info on Runaway Home

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‘Dream Catcher’ to host Climate Change Q&A Discussion this Saturday March 5th

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The important issues of climate change and global warming dramatized in our hit new play Dream Catcher will be igniting a fascinating Q&A Discussion immediately following the performance this Saturday night, March 5th, at 8pm. Special guest panelists are Sabina Virgo from 350.0rg, Mark Morris from Save Porter Ranch, and Ross Berman of Solar City

In the critically acclaimed new drama, Roy is an engineer on a billion-dollar solar energy plant being built in the Mojave Desert. Construction is threatened to come to a halt when Roy is confronted by Opal, his Mojave Indian lover, who claims the plant is being built on the site of ancient tribal burial grounds.  Solar power confronts spirit power as the two issues of climate change versus cultural preservation collide. 
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Sabina Virgo

Sabina Virgo is an acclaimed speaker, writer and political analyst. Her presentations are dynamic, creative and thought provoking. Along with her facilitation and mediation skills, Sabina’s written work has been published in the The Nation, The Guardian, Crossroads, and Peaceworks.  Her essays have been published by South End press under the title of Criminal Injustice.

 
Ms Virgo holds a degree from UCLA, and has a long history of work in the field of human rights, disability rights and diversity training. 
 
For the last twenty years, Sabina has been a community activist and leader in the labor movement.  While employed as a Rehabilitation Counselor for the State of California, Ms. Virgo organized the first union of state social service professionals – and became the founding president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Local 2620, which now represents over 5,000 state employees. 
 
 For the last several years, Sabina has focused her work on climate change and  environmental justice. Understanding the critical and immediate threat of climate disruption, Sabina is a member of the steering committee of SoCal 350 Climate Action, and is a facilitator of their Labor Outreach group.  
Mark Morris

Mark Morris

Mark Morris is from Porter Ranch and a native Los Angelino. Along with being an active union member he also sits on the board of the Valley Interfaith Council and serves as co chair of their social justice committee. About one year ago he became vice president of the non profit Save Porter Ranch, a community organization addressing fracking in the hills of North San Fernando Valley. 

He currently is working on making others aware of the dark history of man made environmental disasters that have plagued the San Fernando Valley from the Saint Francis Dam disaster of 1928 to the most recent disaster in Aliso Canyon releasing tons of methane gas into the atmosphere for almost four months.
Ross Berman is an engineer from Solar City, America’s largest solar power provider. Solar City makes clean energy available to homeowners, businesses, schools, non-profits and government organizations at a lower cost than they pay for energy generated by burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. 
The panelists will be joined by Dream Catcher actors Elizabeth Frances and Brian Tichnell and playwright Stephen Sachs immediately after the performance this Saturday, March 5th.  
Join us this Saturday night for a powerful new play and thought-provoking discussion. More Info/Get Tickets 

PHOTO SLIDESHOW: ‘Dream Catcher’ enjoys “a great night” with Native Voices at the Fountain

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The Fountain Theatre continued its association with Native Voices at the Autry by hosting a post-show discussion Monday night following the performance of our acclaimed new play Dream Catcher by Stephen Sachs, directed by Cameron Watson.

Inspired by a true story, the powerful and thought-provoking new play dramatizes the passionate confrontation between Roy, a young engineer, and his fiery Mojave Indian lover Opal who claims the billion dollar solar energy plant Roy is helping to design is actually being built on the site of ancient tribal burial grounds.

Native Voices at the Autry is the only Equity theatre company devoted exclusively to developing and producing new works for the stage by Native American, Alaska Native, and First Nations playwrights. Founded in 1994 by Producing Artistic Director Randy Reinholz (Choctaw) and Producing Executive Director Jean Bruce Scott, Native Voices became the resident theatre company at the Autry Museum of the American West in 1999.

After the performance of Dream Catcher Monday night, actors Elizabeth Frances and Brian Tichnell and playwright Sachs joined Reinholz and Scott for a Q&A discussion with the audience.  Patrons shared their reactions to the play and examined such issues as cultural diversity, the peril of global warming, and the intersection of science and spirit.

“We had a great night,” exclaims Randy Reinholz, Producing Artistic Director of Native Voices. He hailed Dream Catcher as “Theatre about the important issues of our time.”

“Randy and I both love Fountain Theatre’s commitment to tackling difficult issues,” says Jean Bruce Scott, Producing Executive Director of Native Voices. “The production is wonderful and the cast fantastic. Superb script, acting, direction. Thank you so much for a wonderful night in the theater and for the lively and friendly talkback afterward.”

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Dream Catcher runs to March 21st. More Info/Get Tickets

PHOTOS: Parties and standing ovations for ‘Dream Catcher’ opening weekend

Opening Night 360

Packed house in the round for Opening Night of ‘Dream Catcher’

Our world premiere production of Dream Catcher by Stephen Sachs opened this weekend to a flurry of parties, standing ovations and enthusiastic response. A packed sold-out audience on Saturday night was thrilled with director Cameron Watson’s in-the-round staging and riveted by the kinetic performances of Elizabeth Frances and Brian Tichnell. Dream Catcher runs to March 21.

A select group of Fountain donors and board members enjoyed an early look at Dream Catcher Friday night at the final Donor Preview. They included actor Alan Mandell, Lois Fishman, Ejike and Victoria Ndefo, Nick Ullett, Ruth Tavlin, Patty Paul, Bill Butler, Susan Stockel, Dick Motika and Jerrie Whitfield, and Oscar and Nyla Arslanian. They were joined by Director of Development Barbara Goodhill, Co-Artistic Director Deborah Lawlor, producing Director Simon Levy, and members of the Fountain team. After the performance, all celebrated upstairs in the cafe for a catered party with the actors and company.

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After seeing Dream Catcher, actor Alan Mandell beamed, “A terrific performance. Very intense. Exciting theater directed by that master director Cameron Watson. A wonderful script from Stephen Sachs. Don’t miss it.”

A packed sold-out audience filled the theatre on Saturday’s Opening Night. The provocative in-the-round setting — dubbed “Fountain 360” — created heightened excitement and electricity. At the post-show reception, playwright Stephen Sachs was surprised by a special guest in attendance: Louis Sahagun, the LA Times reporter who wrote the original article in 2012 that inspired Sachs to write the play.

LA Times Louis Sahagun Opening Night

LA Times writer Louis Sahagun congratulates Sachs (right) on Opening Night.

Early reviews for Dream Catcher are starting to come in. The Examiner hails it as “Extraordinary! A must see!” LA Splash raves the “Stunning performances.”

Feel it. Full circle. In the round. Experience Fountain 360 for yourself.

More Info/Get Tickets

Our fragile planet and precious lives

Planet earth

In our upcoming world premiere of Dream Catcher, Roy is a engineer working for a major solar power corporation to combat climate change. In this moving and informative essay, a NASA scientist shares his fight against global warming while battling cancer.

by

I’m a climate scientist who has just been told I have Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

This diagnosis puts me in an interesting position. I’ve spent much of my professional life thinking about the science of climate change, which is best viewed through a multidecadal lens. At some level I was sure that, even at my present age of 60, I would live to see the most critical part of the problem, and its possible solutions, play out in my lifetime. Now that my personal horizon has been steeply foreshortened, I was forced to decide how to spend my remaining time. Was continuing to think about climate change worth the bother?

After handling the immediate business associated with the medical news — informing family, friends, work; tidying up some finances; putting out stacks of unread New York Times Book Reviews to recycle; and throwing a large “Limited Edition” holiday party, complete with butlers, I had some time to sit at my kitchen table and draw up the bucket list.

Very quickly, I found out that I had no desire to jostle with wealthy tourists on Mount Everest, or fight for some yardage on a beautiful and exclusive beach, or all those other things one toys with on a boring January afternoon. Instead, I concluded that all I really wanted to do was spend more time with the people I know and love, and get back to my office as quickly as possible.

I work for NASA, managing a large group of expert scientists doing research on the whole Earth system (I should mention that the views in this article are my own, not NASA’s). This involves studies of climate and weather using space-based observations and powerful computer models. These models describe how the planet works, and what can happen as we pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The work is complex, exacting, highly relevant and fascinating.

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Last year was the warmest year on record, by far. I think that future generations will look back on 2015 as an important but not decisive year in the struggle to align politics and policy with science. This is an incredibly hard thing to do. On the science side, there has been a steady accumulation of evidence over the last 15 years that climate change is real and that its trajectory could lead us to a very uncomfortable, if not dangerous, place. On the policy side, the just-concluded climate conference in Paris set a goal of holding the increase in the global average temperature to 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, above preindustrial levels.

While many have mocked this accord as being toothless and unenforceable, it is noteworthy that the policy makers settled on a number that is based on the best science available and is within the predictive capability of our computer models.

It’s doubtful that we’ll hold the line at 2 degrees Celsius, but we need to give it our best shot. With scenarios that exceed that target, we are talking about enormous changes in global precipitation and temperature patterns, huge impacts on water and food security, and significant sea level rise. As the predicted temperature rises, model uncertainty grows, increasing the likelihood of unforeseen, disastrous events.

populationAll this as the world’s population is expected to crest at around 9.5 billion by 2050 from the current seven billion. Pope Francis and a think tank of retired military officers have drawn roughly the same conclusion from computer model predictions: The worst impacts will be felt by the world’s poorest, who are already under immense stress and have meager resources to help them adapt to the changes. They will see themselves as innocent victims of the developed world’s excesses. Looking back, the causes of the 1789 French Revolution are not a mystery to historians; looking forward, the pressure cooker for increased radicalism, of all flavors, and conflict could get hotter along with the global temperature.

Last year may also be seen in hindsight as the year of the Death of Denial. Globally speaking, most policy makers now trust the scientific evidence and predictions, even as they grapple with ways to respond to the problem. And most Americans — 70 percent, according to a recent Monmouth University poll — believe that the climate is changing. So perhaps now we can move on to the really hard part of this whole business.

The initial heavy lifting will have to be done by policy makers. I feel for them. It’s hard to take a tough stand on an important but long-term issue in the face of so many near-term problems, amid worries that reducing emissions will weaken our global economic position and fears that other countries may cheat on their emissions targets.

Where science can help is to keep track of changes in the Earth system — this is a research and monitoring job, led by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and their counterparts elsewhere in the world — and use our increasingly powerful computer models to explore possible futures associated with proposed policies. The models will help us decide which approaches are practicable, trading off near-term impacts to the economy against longer-term impacts to the climate.

Solar panels in the Mojave Desert.

Ultimately, though, it will be up to the engineers and industrialists of the world to save us. They must come up with the new technologies and the means of implementing them. The technical and organizational challenges of solving the problems of clean energy generation, storage and distribution are enormous, and they must be solved within a few decades with minimum disruption to the global economy. This will likely entail a major switch to nuclear, solar and other renewable power, with an electrification of our transport system to the maximum extent possible. These engineers and industrialists are fully up to the job, given the right incentives and investments. You have only to look at what they achieved during World War II: American technology and production catapulted over what would have taken decades to do under ordinary conditions and presented us with a world in 1945 that was completely different from the late 1930s.

What should the rest of us do? Two things come to mind. First, we should brace for change. It is inevitable. It will appear in changes to the climate and to the way we generate and use energy. Second, we should be prepared to absorb these with appropriate sang-froid. Some will be difficult to deal with, like rising seas, but many others could be positive. New technologies have a way of bettering our lives in ways we cannot anticipate. There is no convincing, demonstrated reason to believe that our evolving future will be worse than our present, assuming careful management of the challenges and risks. History is replete with examples of us humans getting out of tight spots. The winners tended to be realistic, pragmatic and flexible; the losers were often in denial of the threat.

As for me, I’ve no complaints. I’m very grateful for the experiences I’ve had on this planet. As an astronaut I spacewalked 220 miles above the Earth. Floating alongside the International Space Station, I watched hurricanes cartwheel across oceans, the Amazon snake its way to the sea through a brilliant green carpet of forest, and gigantic nighttime thunderstorms flash and flare for hundreds of miles along the Equator. From this God’s-eye-view, I saw how fragile and infinitely precious the Earth is. I’m hopeful for its future.

And so, I’m going to work tomorrow.

This piece originally appeared in the NY Times.

Dream Catcher Jan 30 – March 14 (323) 663-1525 More Info/Get Tickets

Solar power confronts spirit power in the world premiere of ‘Dream Catcher’ by Stephen Sachs

Mojave station sunriseSolar power confronts spirit power in a new drama by Stephen Sachs about climate change, cultural change and the moral consequences of personal choice. Cameron Watson directs Elizabeth Frances and Brian Tichnell in the world premiere of Dream Catcher, opening January 30 at the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood.

Roy is the youngest member on a team of high-level engineers brought in to launch the most important project of his career — the construction of a solar energy plant in the middle of the Mojave Desert — when the sudden discovery of long-buried Native American artifacts threatens to bring the billion-dollar operation to a halt. The disaster gets deeply personal when the whistle-blower turns out to be Opal, the fiery and unpredictable young Mojave Indian woman with whom Roy has been having an affair.

Inspired by a true event, Sachs wanted to address global warming, climate change and other large issues but weave them into something personal and intimate.

“I’ve always been interested in the battle between science and spirituality, and where they intersect,” he says. “How they are similar, each relying on a kind of faith to explain what we sometimes can’t see. And the paradox of moral certainty. Even when we’re campaigning for something good, sometimes we are forced to discover that we are not who we think we are.”

“This play is messy, complicated, volatile and exciting,” says Watson. “There’s no right or wrong, no bad guy – at least not for the obvious reasons. The muscularity of it got my attention right away. As soon as I read it, I knew I had to be involved, which doesn’t happen often.”

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Cameron Watson has received critical acclaim for directing Antaeus Theatre Company hit productions of Picnic (“Best Plays of 2015,” Time Out Los Angeles, and “Best of Los Angeles Theater 2015, Bitter Lemons) and Top Girls, which The Los Angeles Timesnamed one of the “Ten Best Stage Productions of 2014.” Other credits include the Los Angeles premiere of Cock (Rogue Machine Theatre); All My Sons (The Matrix Theatre Company); Trying, The Savannah Disputation, Grace and Glorie (The Colony Theatre); I Never Sang for My Father (The New American Theatre); I Capture the Castle, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey); and Rolling with Laughter in London’s West End. He wrote and directed the Miramax feature film Our Very Own, starring Allison Janney in an Independent Spirit Award-nominated performance. He created the new comedy series Break a Hip, starring Christina Pickles alongside Octavia Spencer, Peri Gilpin, Priscilla Barnes, Jim Rash and Allison Janney.

Elizabeth Frances finalElizabeth Frances has performed at various theaters including the Mark Taper Forum, La Jolla Playhouse, Los Angeles Theater Center, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, Native Voices and the Kirk Douglas Theater. She has worked with artists such as Travis Preston, Phil Soltanoff (Mad Dog Theater), Jim Findlay (Wooster Group), Shirley Jo Finney and Chris Anthony, and performed in world premiere by writers Randy Reinholz, Marcus Gardley, Josefina Lopez, Carolyn Dunn and Melinda Lopez. Film/TV credits include Ghost Forest,Hunting (Cannes), Her Story (produced by Eve Ensler) and Drunktown’s Finest(Sundance) with executive producer Robert Redford. Elizabeth was featured as one of twelve actors in the ABC Networks’ Talent Showcase. She holds a BFA from CalArts.

Brian TichnellBrian Tichnell’s theater credits include Circle Jerk (REDCAT); Some Cars (Padua Playwrights); Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate (L.A. Theatre Works national tour);Peace In Our Time, The Curse of Oedipus and Macbeth (Antaeus Theatre Company); Camino Real (Theatre @ Boston Court); and Hamlet (Oxford Shakespeare Festival). On TV, he recurs as Eric on Silicon Valley and has also been seen in Castle, The Newsroom, Body of Proof and Happy Endings among others. Originally from South Mississippi, Brian attended the University of Mississippi and California Institute of the Arts.

Sachs LA Times feature AUG 2015 croppedStephen Sachs’ plays include Citizen: An American Lyric (adapted from the internationally acclaimed book by Claudia Rankine); Heart Song (Fountain Theatre, Florida Stage); Bakersfield Mist (2012 Elliot Norton Award, Best New Play; produced in London’s West End with Kathleen Turner and Ian McDiarmid, in regional theaters across the US, and translated into other languages and performed worldwide); Cyrano (LA Drama Critics Circle Award, Best Adaptation); Miss Julie: Freedom Summer (Fountain Theatre, Vancouver Playhouse, Canadian Stage Company, LA Drama Critics Circle award and LA Weekly award nomination for Best Adaptation, and recently published by Dramatist’s Play Service); Gilgamesh (Theatre @ Boston Court); Open Window(Pasadena Playhouse, Media Access Award for Excellence); Central Avenue (PEN USA Literary Award finalist, Back Stage Garland award, Best Play); Sweet Nothing in My Ear(PEN USA Literary Award finalist, Media Access award, NEA grant award); Mother’s Day; The Golden Gate (Best Play, Drama-Logue); and The Baron in the Trees. He wrote the teleplay for Sweet Nothing in My Ear for Hallmark Hall of Fame which aired on CBS starring Marlee Matlin and Jeff Daniels. Sachs co-founded The Fountain Theatre with Deborah Lawlor in 1990.

Consulting with the Fountain on Dream Catcher are Jean Bruce Scott, producing executive director and co-creator of Native Voices at the Autry, and her staff. Set design is by Jeffrey McLaughlin; lighting design is by Luke Moyer; sound design is by Peter Bayne; costume design is by Terry A. Lewis; props are by Terri Roberts; production stage manager is Emily Lehrer; associate producer is James Bennett; andSimon Levy and Deborah Lawlor produce for the Fountain Theatre.

The Fountain Theatre is one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles, providing a creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists. The Fountain has won over 225 awards, and Fountain projects have been seen across the U.S. and internationally. Recent highlights include being honored for its acclaimed 25th Anniversary Season in 2015 by Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles City Council; the 2014 Ovation Award for Best Season and the 2014 BEST Award for overall excellence from the Biller Foundation; the just-closed West Coast premiere of Athol Fugard’s The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek, named to Los Angeles Times theater critic Charles McNulty’s “Best Theater of 2015” list; and the last seven Fountain productions consecutively highlighted as “Critic’s Choice” in the Los Angeles Times.

Dream Catcher opens January 30 and runs to March 21.

More Info/Get Tickets (323) 663-1525