“We knew we wanted to use plastic to create a very dynamic and alive space that starts the audience visually asking questions as they enter,” said Honolulu Theatre for Youth (HTY) artistic director Eric Johnson following last Wednesday’s 9am performance of H2O: The Story of Water and Hawaii.
Thanks in part to a collaboration with Spalding House director Aaron Padilla, Eric succeeded in creating that space—the walls of the Tenney Theatre at St. Andrew’s Cathedral, where HTY performs, have been decorated with hundreds of mini plastic-debris sculptures from Plastic Fantastic?’s interactive One Ounce Project.
The idea for the collaboration came from the Kōkua Hawai‘i Foundation and the Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation, which are supporting both projects. When Eric learned about the themes of Plastic Fantastic?, he and the HTY staff began to think of ways that H2O could form a dialogue with the exhibition, and extend its environmentalist messages.
“We knew marine plastics would be a piece of this show,” Eric said, “because the garbage patch is part of the story in Hawai‘i—any sort of water story needs to address that.” Set pieces sourced from Hawai‘i’s beaches were a natural match.
But students and families attending the play don’t learn about the connections between water and plastic until the end, after they have had an hour to wonder why dangling strands of trash line the walls, why debris-laden nets cover the ceiling, and why the stage backdrop is collaged with plastic bottles and floats.
“Some of those questions get addressed, but by the time you get to that point in the play those questions should be fully formed in your head,” Eric said.
At Wednesday’s morning performance, students were screaming with glee as members of the cast, dressed in tight-fitting white vinyl, ran up the dark aisles, misting them with spray bottles, as a hip-hop beat filled the air.
Were they pondering the plastic on view? Maybe not, but what was clear is that everyone in the audience had fun, and got a little wet. The cast sang, danced, and splashed its way through the elemental properties of water, the historical timeline of Hawai‘i’s aquifers, a raindrop’s journey, ancient water feuds between Hawaiian gods, ways to conserve water at home, and finally how to keep our oceans plastic-free. And at every phase of the narrative the cast donned a different set of elaborate hats that piped water through funnels and tubes, and the last act featured a honu puppet singing the anti-plastic refrain, “Get it outta my house!”
The last public performance was held last weekend, but school performances—including a neighbor island tour—continue through May 20, by which time, Eric said, more than 30,000 students will have seen it.
“Young people are hearing more and more about water on the radio or on the news, but it’s often through an adult prism,” Eric said. “So this just gives them the tools and curiosity to get involved in those conversations and learn from those conversations immediately.”
Learn more about Honolulu Theatre for Youth.
Plastic Fantastic? is on view through October 2, 2016.