13 December 2009

Wolves, Sheep, and Human People: An Environmental Play

I am currently blessed with an ambitious and intellectually challenging graduate candidate, Emma MacKenzie, who is working on an MS thesis about public discourse regarding Montana's wolf hunt following the reintroduction of wolves to the northern Rockies. Recently, the US Fish & Wildlife Service deemed that wolf recovery had met population targets in Montana, and so the gray wolf was de-listed (i.e. it's no longer protected under the Endangered Species Act). Montana sold permits this year allowing hunters to kill up to 75 wolves statewide. The state ended the hunt after 72 wolves were reported killed. It's been a hot button issue around Butte, Montana, and throughout the region.

Emma wrote & directed students in a short, three-act play about the benefits and problems associated with wolves, A WOLF IN SHEEP'S CLOTHING [poster image by Kirby Rowe]:

Cast: Emma MacKenzie, Joker; Jackie Dumke, The Economy; Stephanie Gruss, Mother Nature; Pat Munday, Environmentalist; Justin Ringsak, Wolf; Kirby Rowe, Lamb; Ginger Singer, Rancher Woman. As the Environmentalist, I found Ginger's portrayal of the angry ranchwoman (think Barbara Stanywyck in The Big Valley) very convincing!

Modeled on Augusto Boal's "Theatre of the Oppressed," the final act was performed three times. Audience members were invited to participate by taking the place of an actor and redefining that actor's role, or creating a new actor & role.

In developing the characters, their roles, and the narrative, Emma used Greimas' semiotic square along with other rhetorical and semiotic tools. With the semiotic square, the basic dialectical opposition of two initial terms (e.g. wolf vs. rancher) gives rise to new meanings. For example the environmentalist, as a meaningful actant, arises out of the opposition between wolf and rancher (or nature and culture). Here is an early version of the ideograph (a map of related cultural meanings) that Emma developed to help guide her narrative:

Act I included sock puppets representing (left to right) Lamb, Ranch Woman and Wolf:

Here is Act III of the play after some audience members have stepped in and modified the discussion, with (left to right) Frank Ackerman as The Economy, Noorjahan  Parwana as the Rancher Woman, Kirby Rowe as Lamb, Gretchen Miller as Environmentalist, Justin Ringsak as Wolf, and Stephanie Gruss as Mother Nature:

In addition to the fundamental problems of wolves killing valuable ranch livestock and the environmental value of wolves, discussion emerged over the private property rights of ranchers, the use of public land for livestock grazing, and the question of preserving private land as open space for ranching vs. subdividing it into house parcels. While there are no easy answers to balancing such conflicts in the contemporary West, it was a good discussion and I thank Emma for creating this production, students for working on it, and the Butte public for participating in it.

Thanks also to the Hummingbird Cafe for hosting our rehearsals and final production!


Janie said...

Sounds like an interesting and worthwhile discussion developed through the play.

troutbirder said...

Interesting. Any public or media reaction to this? Not to try and establish any tone of superiority but as you may know Minnesota for decades had the only significant number of wolves in the lower forty eight. Later some were transfered to other Midwestern states like Michigan to reestablish populations. Wolves have never been a major issue here. Farmers losses in the northern tier are investigated, corroborated and compensation is made. If true, I did find the story of a well known pack leader from Yellowstone, who crossed the Park boundary and was chased by snowmobile for several days in Wyoming before it was then killed... repulsive.

ramblingwoods said...

This is interesting but I tend to side with the wolves. Of course I am not a rancher...But I don't trust fish and game to do the right thing. The wolves need a good lobbyist in DC....Michelle

EcoRover said...

Troutbirder, I've read a lot about the wolves of Minnesota & the wider reintroductions, and admire the level of social acceptance. I have to believe the situation will work out here, over time. Not a personal fan of the hunting season, but it's a reasonable compromise so long as FWP maintains a healthy population.

EcoRover said...

Ramblingwoods, the woves do have a number of good lobbyists--first rate environmental groups such as the Center for Biological Diversity. Without such groups, I'm sure wolf reintroduction would still be just the wacky dream of restoration biologists.