It all started on a sunny fall day. The morning my husband Dan peddled off to enjoy Watershed Management Group’s Homescape Harvest Tour, in his hand a map of some yards that the co-op had worked on through the years. When Dan got home, all sweaty and excited, he rushed me out the door to see some inspiring examples of rainwater harvesting. I was especially blown away by WMG’s living lab where everything on the property, including some fruit trees, were irrigated with rainwater. They weren’t using any city water! What a great way to conserve water! Docents explained how there was enough stormwater to fill every Tucsonan’s needs if we all “planted the rain.” Finally, a practical solution to making Tucson water secure!
That tour changed our lives! Dan and I learned everything we could about rainwater harvesting. He became a member of their co-op, spending every free weekend digging catchment basins in people's yards and installing water barrels to collect runoff from rooftops to irrigate native plants. We've spent the last seven years sharing what we learned. I blogged about our adventures (and misadventures) in transitioning to a more sustainable lifestyle. But at some point we realized that we were just preaching to the choir. We needed to reach beyond our little bubble of influence on facebook.
I wrote the play ReGeneration: The Tucson Story to reach out to more Tucsonans. It is about a diverse group of teens who bring their communities together to make Tucson habitable as the climate disaster progresses.
While writing this play, I was able to use the knowledge about sustainability that I had gathered over the years. The REAL challenge was writing about the other cultures that weren't mine. I did a lot of research on the Tohono O’odham and LatinX lifestyles. I wanted to make sure I was respectful of those traditions. A member of the O'odham generously took the time to read it and give me feedback. He said he enjoyed it. He only had a problem with one section. He said, "They would never do that." So I promptly removed it. I was still a little uneasy about the street kids’ dialogue. I wanted to make sure it was authentic. A high school English teacher agreed to have her students read it — when they got back from Spring Break. Then COVID struck.
I continued to rewrite the script and get feedback. I was painfully aware that while the pandemic may have stalled my production, it certainly had not slowed down climate change. I decided that it was time to contact local high schools and theater companies about producing the play. But they had problems of their own. They were struggling to adapt to the challenges of social distancing. Teachers were learning to conduct virtual classes. The theaters were working on ways to stay relevant. There was no time to read a play from an unknown playwright. However, in the problem was the solution. Theater teachers and theater companies started producing virtual (Zoom) plays. That was it! Inspired by their productions, I decided to produce a virtual reading of my play.
It was time for a leap of faith. I started my search for my diverse cast. I began by asking that high school English teacher to recommend students. A friend introduced me to a drama teacher. She announced it to her class. I finally got two responses. One of them was a bright young actress, Itzel, who I later cast. She convinced a couple of her friends, Ariel and Andrew, from the drama club to audition. They were great! I cast them all. That gave me the confidence to broaden my casting call.
I knew I would need two Latino teens to play the brothers. I had no idea that they would be so hard to find! I asked everyone I knew in the theater and film community for recommendations. Used all my contacts. Nothing but dead ends! Then I spotted a PSA with a young man who looked right for the part of Rogelio. I tracked Eduardo down on Facebook and asked him if he would be interested in being in my play. I waited with anticipation as he read the script. He got back to me after a few days. Said he was fascinated with the sustainability aspects of the play, but it was the characters' relationships that kept him turning the pages! He was definitely interested in the part. Only...one thing...he was a Pima College graduate. I had to convince him that I was confident that he could play a teen.
As difficult as it was finding a young Latino actor, I knew I had a bigger challenge ahead - finding a Tohono O’odham actress to play Ha:san. Then it happened...a little miracle...I discovered a short video by a young Tohono O’odham woman. We connected on Facebook. I asked her if she would be interested in being in my play. I was thrilled when she answered, “Yes!” I considered that a sign! With two of the most difficult roles cast, I trudged forward to cast all 16 roles! A big thanks to our theater and film community who sent out casting notices. While most of the actors reside in Tucson, Zoom has allowed me to cast people from other places, as well — like New Jersey, Texas, California, and Phoenix.
I am blessed with a talented and hardworking cast — particularly the teens who not only excel at acting, but who are also instrumental in getting this production off the ground. They are my assistant director, stage manager, promoters, technical support, and artists!
We hold all of the rehearsals and production meetings online. There are certainly challenges with using a virtual medium and a steep learning curve for me. But it is fun to work with this creative group of young people to find solutions. The teens are masters of coming up with blocking and using props in the limited space. Even separated in their individual Zoom frames you can see the comradery. It’s a blast to watch them! They are also my advisers. When I was struggling with finding the balance between using authentic street dialogue and being culturally respectful, they shared valuable insights. They are teaching me how to be a better director and communicator. And they are learning too. Throughout the rehearsal process, the teens are discovering sustainability practices like rainwater harvesting and regenerative gardening. Some will act as ambassadors to share that knowledge.
The cool thing is that this play is about a diverse group of young people who bring their communities together to save Tucson — presented by a diverse group of young people inspired to share solutions to create a sustainable future for Tucson. I couldn't be prouder!