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A spark for change: Musical makes climate change ‘more intimate’

SANTA FE, N.M. — A musical that addresses climate change will officially debut this weekend after years in the making. And after the show closes, the production team will offer resources to help groups everywhere to produce their own versions of the family-friendly show.

The origins of “Firerock: Pass the Spark,” showing at the Adobe Rose Theatre tonight and Saturday, date to around 2011, a few years after the project’s founder, Molly Sturges, received a United States Artists fellowship as support.

The work evolved through nationwide workshops, residencies and open calls. Originally called “COAL: The Musical,” the project and title evolved to comment on all fossil fuels as the political climate around global warming continues to change.

“As climate change shows itself in different ways, through fires, rising seas, hot temperatures and cold temperatures, that has impacted how we tell the story and the urgency and fierceness in which we approach the project,” said co-director Kristin Rothballer. She said the “political will” on the issue has changed drastically since just three years ago.

Over the years, Sturges’ project has attracted theater veterans who will be working on and performing in this weekend’s shows, including music director Enrico de Trizio – whose résumé includes the Broadway hit “Dear Evan Hansen” – and Broadway actors Paul Kandel (a Tony nominee) and Gina Breedlove.

Gina Breedlove, who originated the role of Sarabi in Broadway's "The Lion King," plays the role of Firerock in a musical that addresses the effects of climate change

Gina Breedlove, who originated the role of Sarabi in Broadway’s “The Lion King,” plays the role of Firerock in a musical that addresses the effects of climate change. (Courtesy of Lynn Roylance)

The story is set in the mining town of Hopewell Junction and the Wildwood Forest. Residents of the town are under “the Snooze,” a metaphor for ignorance about connections to the environment. They continue to take “Firerock,” representing fossil fuels, from the ground, and it’s up to local healer Pippa to stop them. The characters in the show are also challenged to find their “spark,” something inside everyone that inspires them to create change.

When Sturges began the project, she said, the majority of works about climate change was documentary-based, which could overwhelm people and frighten them into action. With this project, she wanted to take a more inspiring, uplifting approach that involves humorous, artistic and educational elements.

“What we don’t want is to be hit over the head and made more scared. As an artist, I felt it was my responsibility to make climate change more intimate,” Sturges said.

The intention of the project was always to create something that groups across the country or world could use on their own. After this weekend, Sturges and Rothballer said, the production team will go into a support phase aimed at providing resources for other organizations to stage their own performances of “Firerock.”

Groups will be able to download the free materials from the musical’s website in three different formats: the full musical production, a storyteller version done with one performer and several musicians, or a circle reading format that Sturges said can be done in a classroom or around the dinner table. The team for this weekend’s show also has been documenting its processes in order to help with future performances.

From working on “Firerock,” Rothballer said, she now better understands how songs and stories are good “unifiers,” particularly when it comes to complex topics like this one. The goal is to leave the audience better connected to not only their feelings but also to climate change itself and their own “spark.”

“We’re not in the business of addressing climate change solely about personal responsibility,” she said. “It’s not just about ‘Stop driving your cars,’ or ‘Change your light bulbs.’ It’s about how to reweave the fabrics of our communities so that we’re strong and resilient enough in the face of inevitable changes, but also so there’s collective will to shift things.”

Other cast members performing this weekend include Charles Gamble, Donna Bella Litton, and Dylan Norman. The audience can participate in discussions with the team following the evening shows and there will be a “100 Percent Renewables and Climate Justice” discussion after the Saturday matinee.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the actors in the main image. The actors in the main image are  Paul Kandel, Donna Bella Litton, and Gina Breedlove 

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