Musical About Radical Environmental Organization Earth First! Debuts in Lake Worth

Earth First! is a 30-year-old hardcore environmental organization known for its in-your-face activism: a lot of civil disobedience, a dose of mischief, and plenty of arrests. Its motto exclaims "No compromise in the defense of Mother Earth!" and group members rose to prominence by "monkey-wrenching" — dismantling bulldozers that would cut down ancient forests, or putting nails in trees so they would break saws when cut for timber.  The group, which is frequently described as "radical" and helped spawn the term "ecoterrorist," has been both admired for its commitment and criticized for advocating violent or controversial means to an end. 

Maren Ward of Bedlam Theatre in Minneapolis had worked with Earth First! in the 1990s and  conceived the idea of a musical about it when listening to inspiring folk songs. She'd pitched the idea in the theater community for years. One night, Donna Oblongata, a Philadephia artist, was building puppets for another show and listening to the Hair soundtrack. “If an Earth First musical could make people feel the way other musicals do, that would be amazing,” she thought. She was onboard. 

The two teamed up and unleashed a “come one, come all call” to anyone from around the world who was interested. Ward and Oblongata asked for people to help brainstorm and improvise and do research on what the musical would and should include. Some Earth Firsters were musicians and contributed songs. One musician even hailed all the way from Ireland. 

Amusing as the concept is, EF: The Musical is a serious and loving look at a movement “that has done some really important work and has also had struggles along the way,” says Oblongata.

The artists took up a residency at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, where they talked to students in musical theater and gained some perspective and did much research on next steps for the project. They wanted to work with people who could identify with the cause and other radical artists that have a background in this realm with insightful things to contribute.

Oblongata and Ward came down to Lake Worth in January 2015 to do research. The Earth First Journal is headquartered there. They looked through archives, and sought out older generations of Earth Firsters. “We fell in love with Lake Worth and the beauty of the city,” said Oblongata. “We tried to get people down here to work on the project for the following year.”

“It’s a pretty sweet invitation to ask, ‘Hey, want to spend February in the tropics?’” says Oblongata.
Ward and Oblongata put out a flyer last summer and sent it out to communities of artists asking them to lend their voices to the project. “We did not specify that you must be an Earth Firster or a trained artist; it was more if you have something to contribute, to come on down,” said Ward. “We value community-based theater work and giving everyone an opportunity.”

Some people involved in the musical have an activist background and no theatrical experience, and vice versa. “The right people show up,” said Ward.

In order to prepare performers for their roles, Earth Firsters come in and give lectures, share stories, and engage in workshops to get people educated and informed on what it is like to be a part of the movement. “We asked people to go spend time reading the journal and researching; also we taught theater skills and how to sing the songs in order to perform,” said Oblongata.

The play will debut tonight and tomorrow, February 26 and 27, at 8 p.m. “We hope to get feedback on what points were thought-provoking, any glaring absences of information, and songs that were particularly popular,” says Ward. They hope to develop the show into a touring production. 

“The main point of the show is about asking myself the question of ‘How do I want to use the resource of myself to respond to environmental devastation?’” said Ward. “Earth First inspires and raises questions., The musical serves an opportunity for me to use a creative process to dig into those questions.”

Ward and Oblongata hope to inspire audiences with that same questioning process. “We are all asking ourselves what are we going to do, how are we resisting the destruction of the planet and how are we in denial?” said Ward.

Ward currently runs a theater program with people who are homeless or have experienced homelessness, as well as a space in Minneapolis called Bedlam Theater, which presents plays and projects on similar subject matter. Oblongata is currently working on an adaptation of Fiddler on the Roof, as well as a show called The 7 Person Chair Pyramid High Wire Act that will be touring in Europe this summer. The Earth First musical production remains the main priority for both.

“It’s just the beginning,” said Ward.

Both evenings, the show will be held outdoors at 1134 19th Ave. North, Lake Worth. Donations of $10 to $20 recommended. Of course, there will be free vegan food!

For more information, call Alma at 845-649 3272 or email [email protected].
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