Dancers: Kelsey Forbush and Gabriel Mata in Figures In The DustPhoto by William Roden, New Dawn Studios
“Wildfires” is a new performance project that highlights Indigenous knowledge about the increasing severity and prevalence of wildfires. Sourced from Indigenous culture-beaters, “Wildfires” is based on a belief that Indigenous ways of knowing are key to the future of our forests and to the eco-crisis we all face.
“Wildfires” a new multi-disciplinary performance that brings together scientific and Indigenous knowledge with stories from those who have firsthand experience with the destructive and regenerative power of fire.
“It’s an extreme emergency. Mother Nature is calling” Tom Little Bear Nason, Chief the Esselen Tribe of Monterey County
From Canada to Maui, wildfires are becoming more prevalent and more severe. Driven by climate change, drought, the expansion of urban boundaries, and misguided policies of fire suppression, wildfires are blackening our skies, damaging our forests and iconic trees, affecting our air quality. and destroying our homes. As with every natural disaster, wildfires disproportionately affect low-income communities and people of color.
Native American culture has always stressed the importance of living in balance with nature and use of controlled burns as a way to manage wildfires. But in the 18th century this practice was outlawed. Now we are realizing that this was a profound mistake. Forests are now overwhelmed with brush that ignites and spreads. Scientists and firefighters are seeking to learn about Indigenous practices.
Our creative practice begins with research. We seek experts to interview on film. Once these interviews have been collected and recorded, selected sound bites are woven in with related visual images and a music mix. Finally, dancers explore movements that physically express the concepts covered. In this way, our artistic practice merges factual information with aesthetic elements and aims to inform and communicate in new and powerful ways.
For “Wildfires” lead artist Fran Spector Atkins and media artist William Roden interviewed Tom Little Bear Nason, (Chief of the Esselen Tribe of Monterey County) Jamie Tuitele-Lewis (Scientist and Fire Mitigation Specialist at the Monterey Resource Center), and Elliot Maiorana (Firefighter). Fran is also collaborating with composer Chad Hamill/čnaq'ymi (Spokane Tribe and CalArts). In addition to music composition, he serves as a guide to the culturally sensitive aspects of this project. Fran is also thrilled to be working with an outstanding group of LA-based performers/co-creators: Charlotte Katherine Smith (assistant) Phillip Wainwright and Stephanie Mazirahi.
Fran says “It is an honor and a privilege to partner with such extraordinary cultural consultants as Tom and Chad. I am eager to learn from them about Indigenous practices and to translate what I learn into theatrical experiences for diverse audiences. This project will lift the voices of those in our community who have been silenced. It will offer new ways to address the urgent environmental problems we all face, approaches that are imbued with respect, reverence, and reciprocity.”
“Wildfires” will include associated engagement opportunities for audiences, especially those people who have been impacted by fire, to process their experience through a series of creative movement workshops.
“Wildfires” is based on a belief that performance can be a ritual and spiritual tool for dealing with the eco-crisis we all face and that Indigenous ways of knowing are key to the future of humanity. Artists have a responsibility and an opportunity to weigh in and be part of the conversation on critical issues we all face. The topic of wildfires is an evocative topic with emotional power and metaphor. It is fertile territory for artistic exploration and interpretation. It is also a complex and important subject that needs to be broadly communicated.
“Upcoming performances of “Wildfires” as a work-in-progress will take place on October 7 and 8, 2023 at the Outdoor Forest Theater Carmel-by-the Sea and March 15, 2024 at the Stanton Theater in King City. This work will premiere at the San Francisco International Arts Festival in 2024 and will be available for tour in late 2024-25.