Credit: The Great Immensity at Kansas City Rep. Photo by Don Ipock.
The Civilians: The Great Immensity (2012)
Yes, the National Science Foundation supports the arts! And does so under its ‘Advancing Informal STEM Learning’ and ‘Antarctic Artists & Writers’ programs — so long as there’s a proven science component. Examples of NSF-funded projects include Nina Kraus’ Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, Exploratorium’s Art as a Way of Knowing, UCSC’s Media Systems, Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World, and a long list of other Antarctic works. Here’s another NSF-funded project for your bookmarks.
Led by artistic director Steve Cosson, The Civilians is a Brooklyn-based “center for investigative theater, supporting the development of new theater from investigations into real life topics.” In 2010, the group was awarded $700,000 from NSF to develop a play about global warming and the worldwide environmental crisis. The plot:
The Great Immensity is a continent-hopping thriller following a woman, Phyllis, as she pursues her twin sister Polly who disappeared from a tropical island while on an assignment for a nature show. Through her search Phyllis uncovers Polly’s connection to a mysterious plot surrounding the upcoming international climate summit in Auckland. As the days countdown to the Auckland Summit, Phyllis must puzzle out her sister’s thinking in the hope that she might decipher the plan and possibly stop it in time. With arresting projected film and video and a wide-ranging score of songs, The Great Immensity is a highly theatrical look into the one of the most vital questions of our time: how can we change ourselves and our society in time to solve the enormous environmental challenges that confront us.
NSF’s grant allowed Steve Cosson (who wrote the play) and Michael Friedman (who composed the music) to conduct hands-on research and interviews with scientists. They also took two research trips, traveling to Churchill in Manitoba, Canada and Barro Colorado Island in Panama where they observed at first hand the effects of climate change. In a Q&A about the making of The Great Immensity, Cosson says:
What we have discovered while conducting research for this project is that all the people we interviewed, whether scientists or polar bear guides, are struggling in their own way to understand the issues surrounding the prospect of climate change and global warming. Even experts, those who can fully get their heads around the science of climate change, must also understand the economics, policy, political sides of the issue as well, in order to grasp the entire issue. Whatever the point of entry into this subject, these issues are extremely complex, and it stretches the brain to think about them. It’s like being in a little boat while a great ship goes by.
The Great Immensity was developed at Princeton University in partnership with the Princeton Environmental Institute and the Lewis Arts Center/Princeton Atelier. It debuted in February 2012 at Kansas City Repertory Theatre with a review from Kansas City Metropolis calling it “amusing, edifying, and ultimately maddening, which is also the point.” The production involves education and outreach efforts such as post-performance talks with artists, scientists, and environmental policy makers. The Civilians have plans to publish and license the play for other theaters to independently produce their own versions.
Check out thegreatimmensity.org for an online adventure navigating climate change.