Three Marias

The photograph was faded, but the spirit of the figure it contained was bright. A Puerto Rican woman with dark hair and a knowing smile seemed to defy her two-dimensional state as she was passed around the group at Superhero Clubhouse’s December Salon meeting.

The picture was of Maria, Fellow Shy Richardson’s grandmother and a core inspiration for the performance project she and Fellow Karina Yager are working on this season with Superhero Clubhouse. The team is preparing to travel to Puerto Rico in January to explore Hurricane Maria through the lenses of oral history, climate change, and environmental injustice. What was to be an examination of community survival through on-the-ground interviews is now shaped by a personal loss. Shy’s grandmother passed away very recently; however, she continues to influence the heart and direction of the piece.

The team is using three different “Marias” as their creative entry points to explore the displacement of Puerto Ricans following Hurricane Maria. The first, Shy’s great grandmother, represents the legacy Shy inherits through her Puerto Rican heritage. The second, her grandmother, was the conduit through which she understood Puerto Rico in the present. And the third Maria, the 2018 hurricane, created more damage to Puerto Rico than any other in modern times.

At the Salon meeting, while we were introduced to her grandmother through photographs, Shy shared a poem called “Territory.” A love letter to Puerto Rico, the poem captures the connection between the island and New York City as well as the people who mentally and physically traverse these two spaces. When the speaker shares having “heard people wonder aloud about what makes a people so proud to be from a place, a territory,” the answer surges: “…it is the resilience, the resolve to create something new.”

The group discussed how art can be an offering to and for those who might find healing in the work as well as a way to lift up experiences that are so often rendered invisible. As they prepare for their trip to Puerto Rico to conduct interviews, the Fellows will be investigating multiple questions: What does community look like before and after the hurricane? What is left to rebuild and how? What values guide the reconstruction?

Karina, a climate scientist, is also bringing the personal and the global to bear on this project. She is interested in the connectivity of water and following the imagined journey of a single water droplet through the global water cycle. A droplet might live in the ocean for thousands of years before being evaporated and deposited in another part of the world. It might become part of a hurricane and drop through the roof of a family in Puerto Rico. Water plays the role of both a sustainer and a destroyer.

Karina plans to interview climate scientists who study hurricanes from Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and the National Center for Atmospheric Research. She also noted climate scientist Piers J. Sellers as a personal inspiration. A NASA astronaut and Deputy Director of Science and Exploration at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Sellers created computer models of the global climate system to better understand the dynamics and future of our changing climate. Though Sellers was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer, he was determined to use his very limited time left to continue to work to address climate change.

Shy and Karina are looking at the many layers of loss. The collective grief of climate change (characterized by Per Espen Stoknes as “The Great Grief”), the losses of those directly affected by our warming world, and the personal losses of loved ones are in conversation with each other in the work. As they consider the three Marias, Shy and Karina will be exploring questions of identity, resilience, and hope. In the face of so much loss, what do we have to give? How do we heal? What keeps us grounded in the chaos?

(Top image: Maria Montes.)

This is the third of seven blogs in our Building Bridges series about the intersection of environmental justice and performance. These blogs will be responding to a monthly Salon taking place at The Lark in New York where our Fellows, Associate Fellows, and others in the Superhero Clubhouse community are exploring this intersection in their own ways.

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Megan McClain is the resident dramaturg for SHC’s series of Planet Plays, Flying Ace, and other projects and co-leads The Salon. As R&D Program Director at the Civilians, she’s guided the work of over 70 writers, composers, and directors creating original works of investigative theatre. She is also the Accessibility Manager at The Lark. Additional dramaturgical/literary work for Goodman Theatre, Disney Theatrical, Hartford Stage, PlayPenn, Playwrights Realm and more. M.F.A Dramaturgy: UMass Amherst.

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