Arm-of-the-Sea Theater opens its new waterfront performance venue

An oil pump in background vs. clean energy in foreground. (Photos by David Gordon)

Arm-of-the-Sea co-director Patrick Wadden.

The new Arm-of-the-Sea production, in its new location at the Tidewater Center, next door to Tina Chorvas Park in Saugerties, was an epic tale, starting with the emergence of life from the sea to the threat of global warming today.

In his welcome to the new performance space, theater co-director Patrick Wadden thanked the many individuals, businesses, community organizations and foundations whose financial contributions and volunteer work have supported the theater through the years and made the new venue possible.

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The performance is the first in the new theater area, which now consists of a stone-covered gently sloping hillside, created from fill required to safely contain industrial wastes from the days when a factory occupied the site. Long-range plans for the Tidewater Center call for a covered stage, a storage building, a boat launch and a nature center offering exhibits and classes on the site, along with information about the site’s history as an industrial site. The site is to be developed in phases over several years.

Arm-of-the-Sea Theater was founded in 1982 by Marlena Marallo and Patrick Wadden as an experimental hybrid performance group combining art, ecology and social action, according to the theater’s website.

In the opening of the production Floodplain Rhapsodies and Taproot Remedies, Thylakoid, queen of the Chloroplast, introduces the story to come. Based on a legend of the Munsee people, the opening shows animals caught in a world-wide flood, wondering how they can recreate land. Each of the animals said they needed dry land. Each tried to find the bottom of the water to begin the process of building land; each failed. The humble muskrat reached the bottom, but died in the attempt. Still, the mud on its paws showed there was mud below the surface.

Traffic jam and pollution.

How that mud became the stuff of dry land is not explained in detail; the next scenes show the animals on land, first on Turtle Island and, as the flood waters receded, on the continents we know today.

Fast forward to Rachel in a canoe in a remote area. She sees the creatures of the wild, and through her travels we see traffic jams, inflation, homelessness and a range of other social problems. “I’m just another soul displaced by the pandemic,” she tells another character, who tells her that the creek they are standing beside is called Esopus, a name given to it by the Munsee Indians. The creek is later dammed to supply New York City with clean water. The downside is the overflow of muddy water into Esopus Creek — a phenomenon we have seen in Saugerties this summer. The show offers an alternative: healthy forests that hold water and replenish oxygen.

In contrast, auto and truck traffic, shown as piles of vehicles, emits unhealthy gases and the sources and amounts of these gases is increasing, causing climate change.

New York City Department of Environmental Protection oversees building a dam on the Esopus Creek.

In the final act, the production moves from the general to the specific: proposed expansion of the Danskammer Energy Center located on a strip of land that juts into the Hudson River in Newburgh. In 1609, Henry Hudson’s crew watched native people dancing there, the play’s narrator tells us, and the point was named Danskammer, the dance chamber. In 1952, a coal powered plant was built there, “one of many such plants along the river that produce electricity, along with tons of climate-changing gases.” The narrator goes on to say that there are two proposals for redeveloping the station. One would build a modern generating station using fracked gas. One voice says, “To produce the energy, you will be needing electricity, don’t you know, to run all the air conditioners you’re going to be needing around here.” On the other side, New York State is committed to fighting climate change, says another voice. “This plant will accelerate it.” The frog explains that wind and solar power can be stored and released to the grid as needed. Finally, Rachel says civilization can turn to renewables “and turn over a new leaf.”

Finally, the audience is reminded that the public comment period on the plant is open now and audience members can comment.

Queen Thylakoid of Chloroplast with plant foods.

Wadden wrote and directed the play, and its “art and soul” were provided by Marallo. Eli Winograd composed the music that provided a sound backdrop, as well as performing music and voiceovers along with Aru Apaza and Bill Ylitalo. The theater program lists the actors and others who worked directly on the production, as well as the long list of contributors who make these performances possible.

Rain prevented the performance of the Arm-of-the-Sea production  on Friday, August 20 and the performance Sunday, August 22 was rescheduled in anticipation of rain to Wednesday, August 25 at 8 p.m. Tickets from both canceled performances will be honored. 

Duck, frog and giant turtle on dry land.

Animals in a flooded world; all must swim.

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