Saturday March 13, 2021
Sunday March 14. 2021
*includes Q&A with Founder Stephanie Weisman and Helen Stoltzfus
Dispatches from the Great Burning: What My Mennonite Ancestors and the Gobi Bear Taught Me About Surviving the Climate Emergency
Written and Performed by Helen Stoltzfus
Directed by Albert Greenberg
As the maelstrom of racial uprisings, a chaotic pandemic, and the worsening climate crisis threaten to engulf her, one woman seeks sustenance from her ancestors’ extraordinary survival stories, her encounters – both real and mythical – with the great grizzly bear, and from the silent slow-motion procession of 26 red-robed fellow activists.
What does it mean to be a worthy ancestor – or a worthy human being in these times? What does it mean to act audaciously – without knowing the outcome of one’s actions? Six reports from: San Francisco. The Gobi Desert of Mongolia. The Big Bang. The Civil War. The Alaskan tundra. The Future.
2018. I’m traveling in a Land Rover across the vast and inhospitable Gobi Desert. There are no roads, no mile markers, no signs, and no GPS to guide us. Yet somehow our Mongolian park ranger and guide Perudorja leads us to the wilderness preserve where the last remnants of mazaalai — the Gobi grizzly bear — teeters on the brink of extinction. Will they survive, these feisty little bears subsisting on wild rhubarb root and grasshoppers?
1861. The Civil War is raging. My great-grandmother Suzanna is fleeing Virginia to Hagerstown, Maryland where she hopes to reunite with her husband. She rides between the Union and Confederate armies in a spring wagon with a baby in her arms. She arrives at Harper’s Ferry where she need only cross the Shenandoah River. But the bridge is burning.
2019. I join Extinction Rebellion, a group of environmental activists, in closing down Montgomery Street, San Francisco’s financial hub, demanding that banks and corporations divest from fossil fuels. I protest as a member of the “Red Rebels”, a procession of red-robed individuals in white face who move slowly in silence.
From these divergent “fronts” I’ve produced a series of reports that comprise Dispatches from the Great Burning, presenting them (pre-COVID) at the Sierra Club in Berkeley, Berkeley City Ballet, and San Francisco’s Dance Mission Theater. Now available to you via Zoom.
ABOUT THE PERFORMER
Helen Stoltzfus is co-artistic director and co-founder of Black Swan Arts & Media, an Oakland-based theatre that creates and produces original performance and multimedia works that transcend barriers of race, religion, culture, and politics. Helen has been creating, performing, directing and teaching solo and ensemble theatre for over twenty-five years. Her most recent solo work about her awakening to the climate crisis is called “Dispatches from the Great Burning: What My Mennonite Ancestors and the Gobi Bear Taught Me About Surviving the Climate Emergency.”