Using the words ‘environment’ and ‘Vancouver’ in the same sentence can result in some agonizing eye-rolling, so what better way to initiate conversation than through humour. My Ocean is the latest theatre piece drawn up by playwright Sasha Singer-Wilson which stars Nadeem Phillip (Rumble Theatre’s Cock, Neworld’s Doost) as the play’s lead: a twelve year old environmental activist named Lenny.
Before the play debuts at Vancouver’s Fringe Festival in September, SAD Mag discusses with Singer-Wilson its themes, the role our future generation has in saving the environment, and the benefits of having a one-person-show.
Calvin Jay: When writing this play, why did you find it necessary for Lenny (Nadeem Phillip) to be a twelve year old? Why did you choose to write this play as a one person show?
Sasha Singer-Wilson: In terms of the reason why it became a one person show, its kind of just how the voice came out, I’ve never written a solo play before but it felt to me like, when I really wrap my head around the state of our oceans, kind of alone – it feels like a solo experience – even though we are all in on it together.
For me when I think about the environment and the state of the ocean, our natural world, for me to not feel total despair, I think about the future generations. It’s in them that I feel I can find hope, that is—when I think about kids and the wonder and curiosity with which they approach everything.
CJ: Does it worry you the way young people are reacting to this sort of “information age”, seeing as kids are so connected to the internet?
SSW: It does worry me. I think for me what worry can do is lock me up as opposed to make me feel like I can actually be an [activist]. Like anything, with the internet, we can choose if we use [it] for good or for evil—I think it’s important to be thinking about how the environment isn’t separate from us. We are one and the same.
CJ: Can you speak to the benefits and challenges a play can have with a single performer?
SSW: In solo plays that are done well, the audience has a really direct screen to project onto and experience that kind of transcendence that good art can inspire. With a solo voice, there’s something really magical that can happen. In terms of the challenge, I think everything is a double edge sword – you have to find out how to keep it fresh and engaging.
CJ: Where does the term ‘forgiveness’ fit into this My Ocean? You mention this is a major theme throughout the play.
SSW: In the play, Lenny reckons with his own destructive actions and has to find forgiveness with himself over the course of the play. It’s a bit of a swing from being an activist, and then in his own home life he experiences pain and violence which leads to destructive actions – then he needs to reckon with that.
CJ: Vancouver is loud with environmental commentary, sometimes it sounds like bickering—how does this theatre piece contribute to that discussion?
SSW: One of the most powerful ways to start a conversation is through humour. Through opening people’s hearts, through sweetness, through charm. When our hearts are open, then it’s easier to receive the harder [themes like environmental concern].
[This play] is really fun; it swings from really funny to heartbreaking and that’s just like life. It’s a part of what we face while walking on the planet.
My Ocean will debut September 9th at Studio 16 in Vancouver, and will be showing through to September 17th.