Wortel will teach EHS students docu-drama techniques

“A lot of the communities we were in reminded of me Estacada,” artist Reeva Wortel said of the people she interviewed that inspired Spill.

About 10 months after the BP Oil Disaster of 2010, Wortel and Leigh Fondakowski (the head writer of "The Laramie Project") arrived in Louisiana on a commission to create a play about the spill.

They interviewed anyone affected by the spill, including oil rig workers, people involved in the clean up, people who’d lost a family member to the disaster and restaurant owners.

As to be expected, the interviews touched on hot button issues such as environmentalism, U.S. consumption of oil, climate change and more.

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Artist Reeva Wortel and playwright Leigh Fondakowski interviewed a wide array of people who had been affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.However, “It was very much important to us that we didn’t have an agenda,” Wortel said. They were there as artists, not as activists for any cause and not as members of the media.

Wortel explained that as artists, she and Fondakowski were able to get a different sense of the spill than most media was able to.

“We wanted to tell (peoples’) stories in a way the media can’t … in a sustained, long-term narrative,” she said. “When the spill happened the media flooded those towns and then left. And we were there.”

Wortel explained that she and Fondakowski returned to Louisiana several times over the course of a year and were able to develop relationships with their interviewees.

Wortel cited Byron Encalade as an example of how they were able to get a different story of those affected by the spill than the media was able.

Wortel and Fondakowski interviewed Encalade, the president of the Louisiana Oysterman Association. A character by the same name and inspired by his experiences is in the show.

As a result of BP’s decision to divert oil from the spill through Encalade’s oyster leases, his livelihood was ruined.

It seemed to Wortel that in media coverage of the spill, Encalade seemed to be the “angry, go-to black person.”

Through her interviews with Encalade, it was clear to Wortel that the media had misconstrued its depiction of him.

He had explained to her that “we are not oil industry haters down here.” He was simply trying to tell the story of how he lost his livelihood.

Once Wortel and Fondakowski felt they had interviewed enough people to give an accurate sense of the groups and people the spill had affected, they began crafting the show itself.

The two worked with collaborators to create a story arc and work-shopped scenes with actors. Fondakowski was the lead playwright.

Wortel had taken photos of everyone they interviewed and painted large portraits of them to be displayed during the show.

“The idea of the portrait is to extend the experience for the audience after the blackout,” Wortel explained.

Wortel expects the finished show to premiere this fall in Louisiana.

The show will still be “somewhat in development” when it comes to Estacada on May 18.

Eleven actors will perform the script.

As Wortel’s portraits are so big that they have not yet been transported from New York, they will be projected on the wall during the Estacada performance.

After the show, there will be a talk-back with the audience and the show’s creators and performers.

“We all use oil. We all use petroleum products. We are all related to the petroleum industry. We’re all implicated,” Wortel said.

Wortel hopes that Spill will spark a dialogue in which audience members state their opinions and fears about fossil fuels.

She hopes, however, that in presenting the Spill story, she and Fondakowski have not answered these questions, but posed them. They are not touting any side.

“We’re not telling a story about what we feel and what we think, we’re telling a story about what you feel and you think,” she stated in reference to the experience of the people that inspired the show.

Wortel will also be teaching Estacada High School students a curriculum developed around the show starting May 6.

“I’ve always thought since starting this project it would be great to develop a curriculum and share what we learned in Louisiana in a public school setting,” she said.

In EHS biology classes, students will read monologues with opposite views on the use of the toxic oil dispersant Corexit during the clean-up effort. The students will discuss and debate dispersant use.

English class students will read the play and decide as a class will decide on an event to conduct interviews of their own about. Using docu-drama techniques, the students will each interview two to three people and present what they learned from the interviews to the class.

Drama students will do character work portraying characters in Spill.

Wortel will teach portraiture in art class. Each student will interview someone and create a portrait of them.

Wortel explained that it was important to her to bring Spill to Estacada and work with students at her alma mater.

Wortel spent kindergarten through high school in Estacada and helped paint several Estacada murals.

“When you grow up in a small town like Estacada you’re not always exposed to a lot,” she said.

She hopes that Spill will help EHS students feel connected to the larger world. “You can grow up in a small town and live a big life,” she said.

She clarified that there are aspects of small town life that are difficult to find in big cities.

She explained that the kindness and warm welcomes she received in the small towns of Louisiana where the Spill interviews took place reminded her fondly of home.

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