Where better to reside than the city of Ashland, if one is a professional actor who loves communing with nature? When Louisiana-born Barret O’Brien and his wife, Erica Sullivan, gave birth to a daughter seven years ago, they decided to settle down here as part of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival community.
Each summer the O’Briens went camping with their daughter on the grounds of Willow-Witt Ranch (just east of Grizzly Peak), where Barret befriended owners Susan Willow and Lanita Witt. The women were in the process of expanding outward from their original mission (of conscientiously raising edible livestock) by creating an educational program called The Crest at Willow-Witt. Barret suggested adding a performing arts component through which they could teach related topics, avowing “Art shows up to the activism party with armloads of joy and communion.”
For this summer’s inaugural season, Barret, in conjunction with OSF actors Rodney Gardiner and Daisuke Tsuji, revised a play he initially wrote as a response to the loss of his family’s home during Hurricane Katrina. “Water Made to Rise” focuses on broad concerns related to climate change, which manifest as the characters confront internal resistances to “stepping up to the challenge of doing the work that needs to be done.”
On Sunday, Sept. 30, “Water Made to Rise” will be performed at Willow-Witt Ranch (658 Shale City Road) as part of an interactive outdoor event. Starting at 3 p.m. there will be an open discussion with members of three environmental organizations: Pachamama Alliance and Southern Oregon Citizen’s Climate Lobby, as well as The Crest at Willow-Witt. At 4 p.m. the actors will perform Barret’s play. Afterward, both the actors and the organizational leaders will engage in a talk back with the audience.
To accommodate Ashlanders who might not be able to make the trek up the mountain, the entire group will also present a similar event at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 24, at the Historic Ashland Armory, 208 Oak St. Profits from both performances will be donated to the three participating nonprofits.
Barret is genuinely passionate about his environmental concerns and his involvement with these three organizations. As an action for readers to take, he encourages them to join one or all of the groups.
Through The Crest’s programs, like classroom visits or summer camp, children are provided with a hands-on experience of farming and animal husbandry, as well as learning about local archaeology. The Crest has several ways for people to volunteer — ranging from serving as a camp counselor to taking tickets at performances. For more information, go to www.thecrestatwillowwitt.org.
Citizens’ Climate Lobby “is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, grassroots advocacy organization focused on national policies to address climate change” — policies like creating a carbon exchange tax. The Ashland/Medford chapter meets monthly. For more, go to citizensclimatelobby.org/chapters/OR_Southern_Oregon/.
Pachamama Alliance‘s stated mission says the organization “is dedicated to bringing forth an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, socially just human presence on this planet.” Barret points out that its Awakening the Dreamer program (available both in person and on-line) is “part of a global movement that connects people with others all over the world” (www.pachamama.org/engage/awakening-the-dreamer).
And, of course, readers are encouraged to attend the performances. Tickets for both venues are $15 ($10 for students). Adult tickets are available at Paddington Station and the Music Coop in Ashland (though student tickets will only be available at the door). Online tickets for the Sept. 24 Armory performance can be purchased through Eventbrite (for more information, call Sherrill Rinehart at 541-261-8568), and for the Sept. 30 Willow-Witt event at www.thecrestatwillowwitt.org/event/.
Ashland resident, author and anthropologist Nina Egert has been a lay environmentalist since the early 1970s. Act Locally appears the first and third Mondays of the month in the Tidings.