Midtown: Community

Play sees hope in destruction

The Justice Theater Project’s “Light on the Horizon” brings us entertainment and education – and cool perks.

The original stage play was written by JTP artistic director Deb Royals. Based on research and visits to the Louisiana Gulf communities before and after the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion, the production punctuates JTP’s 2011-12 theme, “Our Planet. Our People. Our Plight: Stewardship of the Environment.”

The production started Friday, with shows through June 24 at The Catholic Community of St. Francis of Assisi. The show opens with history and ends with hope as Royals connects us to the BP oil disaster. It’s a message born from a sermon by St. Francis Friar David McBriar, who used “addiction” and “excess” in reference to the BP oil spill.

McBriar’s preaching led Royals’ assessment of her own reliance on fuel and the underlying reasons the disaster happened, claiming lives and livelihoods.

“In this country, we do have an addiction to fuel,” Royals said.

“That pipeline goes through the Gulf to all the states,” she said. “When something like that happens there, it really affects every single one of us.”

“Light on the Horizon” takes us back to the history of the oil industry, from its late-1940s offshore start to its boom of acceptance two decades later.

“The audience gets a sense of where we came from, where we are now and where we’re going, to understand the way in which the offshore drilling has come to be in southern Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico,” Royals said.

One symbol of oil’s role Royals notes: In 1967, the Shrimp Festival became the Shrimp and Petroleum Festival.

“So many things could have gone another way, but we took the path we took,” she said. “People live from being shrimpers, or riggers, or something to do with the oil industry. It’s how they survive.”

Royals encountered other stories in the sustained grief around the fatalities: the plight of the Brown Pelican, Louisiana’s once-endangered state bird; the decline of the shrimp industry amid oily waters and ballooning gas prices; and the further rise of suicide rates that had increased after Hurricane Katrina.

“It still is crippling,” Royals said. “As much as we speak the language of recovery, it’s going to take a long time to be better, if it ever really is.

“They’ve been healing for years. They’re still healing,” she said. “The people who live there really get that they are still surviving because of the oil industry.”

Quoting a man she met along her way, “Like the Brown Pelican, we will always be here,” Royals recalled. “We’ll figure out a way.”

That breathes hope. “They are strong-willed,” she said. “They don’t call it Sportsman’s Paradise for nothing.”

Social justice mission

We’ll also benefit from JTP’s mission as a social justice theater company with chances to serve and be served. It’s how JTP turns social justice issues into discussions – and action, said Melissa Zeph, JTP’s Managing Director.

Today’s $10 matinee is a JTP signature offering. New, though, is a chance to drop off old electronics for recycling by American Greenz from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. At 1:20 p.m., a free pre-show features Bill Holman, director of state policy at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. Gov. Bev Perdue’s appointee to the Science Advisory Panel on Offshore Energy will discuss the future of offshore drilling in North Carolina.

Father’s Day Sunday, JTP and Seedraleigh will provide free baby-sitting. The day’s pre-show discussion, “Faith and the Call to Care for Creation,” will be led by Sheila Read from St. Francis’ Justice and Peace Office.

On June 24, the final pre-show discussion will be led by Joel Bourne, author of National Geographic’s 2010 cover story “The Spill.” In 2006, Bourne revealed a decades-old oil industry secret by reporting results of the only test well ever drilled in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

At all shows, Arts Access will provide Audio Description for the visually impaired, who will be admitted free, along with their drivers. We can also help families fighting childhood cancer with a visit to the show’s official Wish List drop-off site for Fight Like Paxton, www.FightLikePaxton.com.

Hope lives on

Royals hopes “Light on the Horizon” sparks a conversation here as the possibility bubbles of offshore drilling along our own coastline.

She urges us to pause and ponder what she figures is the root of southern Louisiana’s affair with the oil industry: the promise of more money for the rich and poor – and the American Dream.

“It made me sad,” she said, “but I’m hopeful.”