See a Play, Save the World
Salmon is Everything goes to the heart of the matter
by Anna Grace
On the banks on the Klamath River, 75,000 salmon lay rotting. The stench of dead fish permeates every home and looms over the stalemated battle for water rights. Tension has been building for more than 100 years, as misguided governmental policy BRING’s fourth a host of social problems, including the stratification of the rancher and native populations. This catastrophe was built by human hands and exacerbated by greed, and it threatens to wipe out the last of a 10,000-year-old culture.
This is not the description of a cleverly constructed plot, but the drama of our own history, as told by Theresa May and the Klamath Theatre Project in Salmon is Everything. This is a play for the curious. If you feel like grappling emotionally with a complex situation and stretching your understanding of how we are connected with the land supporting us, this is the production to see. Purchase a ticket and prepare to learn.
The Klamath River is dammed; water is diverted to irrigate the farms growing potato, alfalfa and hay. When the water runs low, the temperature of the river rises, making the salmon susceptible to disease. In 2002, 75,000 salmon died, washing up on shore to rot. Director/creator/chief imaginer Theresa May was working then as an assistant professor at Humboldt State University, and was determined to use the medium of theater to address the tragedy.
Her drive inspired two years of collaborative work with all major stakeholders, from Native fishermen to third generation ranchers, resulting in a theatrical experience that combines biology, anthropology, political science and theology to explain the meaning of salmon.
Storytelling, the drama of a town hall meeting, indigenous dance, even a flashily lit “salmon rap” are all woven together. This is not straight theater. For many of the people performing, this is their first time on stage. Here, theater is used as the means to solve a problem. Audiences are advised to put aside their expectations and simply listen.
Complex characters illuminate the issue of water rights from many angles. Julie (the engaging Shayleen Macy), a member of the Karuk and Yurok tribes, dances between the culture of her home and the pressures of the outside world, struggling to give voice to her concerns for the survival of her people. Kunu Dittmer BRING’s energetic gravitas to Julies Yurok-Karuk fisherman husband, Will. Martin Diaz-Valdes plays an entrenched upper Klamath rancher with dignity and humanity. Sarah Ruggles is wonderful as the dreadlocked do-gooder biologist, so caught up in the controversy of salmon that it BRING’s her to question her own faith in the primacy of facts, data and the proper path for social change. And throughout all the action and drama, Maia Luer appears and disappears as the elegant, illusive Salmon Dancer.
Together, this cast educates the audience on a fascinating and difficult topic. Ordinarily, such lessons are transmitted and understood though our minds. Facts are laid out and weighed and we shake our heads saying, “Gosh, too bad about the salmon.” This production, while by no means lacking in information, is told through the heart. If you go, you will get it. Salmon is everything. ã Anna Grace
Salmon is Everything plays at the University Theatre through June 4; for info and tickets, visit pages.uoregon.edu/theatre or call 346-4191.