“SPILL” performances in New York, Louisiana

An update from Pamela Tatge, Director of the Center for the Arts, about exciting developments for “SPILL,” a work that the Center for the Arts commissioned from playwright Leigh Fondakowski which had a workshop performance at Wesleyan in February 2012.

"SPILL" portraits and photos by Reeva Wortel.
“SPILL” portraits and photos by Reeva Wortel.

For those of you who don’t know SPILL, in 2010, playwright and director Leigh Fondakowski teamed up with Wesleyan Professor and Environmental Studies chair Barry Chernoff to co-teach an interdisciplinary course bringing together documentary theater and science. Students traveled to the Gulf Coast to conduct interviews and scientific research on the devastating British Petroleum (BP) oil spill that occurred earlier that year. Upon returning to campus, students developed original performances and visual art based on their research findings. Ms. Fondakowski too went on to create an original performance from her own research conducted in the Gulf, a work created with visual artist Reeva Wortel entitled SPILL.

Originally commissioned by the Center for the Arts at Wesleyan University, SPILL tells the story of the BP oil disaster through a deeply personal lens. Over the course of two years, Ms. Fondakowski interviewed oil rig workers, clean-up volunteers, community leaders, fishermen, scientists, environmentalists, oil industry proponents, families who lost loved ones in the explosion, and others—chronicling their stories into one compelling narrative that asks us to consider the true cost of oil. Much like The Laramie Project—Ms. Fondakowski’s wildly successful previous play (co-written with Moises Kaufman and Tectonic Theater) about the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard, an openly gay student from the University of Wyoming—SPILL engages its audience in a challenging but vital dialogue about critical issues.

While the first half of SPILL focuses on the oil rig explosion, the second deals with the aftermath and its effects on the people and land of south Louisiana. After each performance, the audience is invited to view an art installation comprised of life-sized portraits of the interviewees, painted by visual artist and collaborator Reeva Wortel. The striking installation creates a colorful space in which the conversation can be continued long after the performance itself has ended. In this way SPILL goes well beyond the average play. It is also an art installation, a conversation, a history, and a starting point for social change.

Following the workshop performance at Wesleyan in February 2012, the work went on to have several work-in progress showings including presentations/discussions at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, Louisiana State University, and the Women Center Stage Festival at Culture Project in New York. In the spring of 2014, SPILL will return to the place where the project was first conceived, taking the stage at theaters across Louisiana for its world premiere and a five-city tour.

Click here to read an article about SPILL from the New Orleans Gambit newspaper.

To learn more about SPILL or make a contribution, click here.