Personal, individual stories of suffering and recovery related to disasters like Hurricane Katrina are the materials of artists, and, as such, have the power to touch us deeply. A poem, a painting, or a play can express the feelings associated with the event, and thereby make it real for the audience.
KATRINA/ULTREYA: Moving Forward With Courage is that kind of play. It began as the journal of Mary Gehman, then a member of First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans. Mary is an English teacher and published author; writing is her way of making sense of the world, and her experiences following Hurricane Katrina needed a lot of help to make sense! Having lost her home, her pets, and most of her possessions, Mary eventually moved to Donaldsonville, LA, and she now belongs to the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge.
Janet Spencer and Laura Miller, also members of First UUCNO, are professional theatrical directors and actors. They adapted Mary’s story for the stage. Janet and other members of the congregation first presented the play as a staged reading during a church retreat. She went on to tour the production to other UU churches, with members of those congregations acting the parts. Audiences were encouraged to make donations, and all net proceeds went toward the rebuilding fund for FUUCNO, which was so devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
In September of 2007, Janet brought the play to UU churches in the Pacific Northwest, again using local congregants to perform it. Most recently, the authors have licensed the work to UU organizations to produce, including a district conference in Ohio, and a church in Arlington, VA. Again, all net proceeds were donated to New Orleans UU, either directly to First Church or to GNOUU.
As a staged reading KATRINA/ULTREYA is relatively easy to produce. Two or three rehearsals with 9 or 10 actors including 2 children, and a singer/guitarist are all that is necessary. Janet provides the script, 2 slide shows on cd, and an additional cd of the songs, which are all guitar standards. She is ready to consult with the local producer, by telephone, email, or even in person, if travel expenses are available. The play works really well as dinner theatre or as a Sunday service. The Santa Rosa, California UU Church produced it that way, with their minister, his wife and son all performing in it, to a packed house!
Janet’s dream is to produce the work as a radio play, with professional actors, a full sound track including sound effects and music. (Mary told her that part of the nightmare on the overpass was the constant noise: people yelling, helicopters , boats, etc.) It would make a great NPR presentation.
Note: “Ultreya” is an ancient Spanish word meaning “moving forward with courage”. When Katrina hit New Orleans, First UU had just called Marta Valentin to be minister, and she had not even ascended the pulpit before everyone evacuated. Reverend Valentin’s first sermon was delivered to her congregation via a telephone conference call. It was entitled “Ultreya”.
For more information please contact Janet Spencer at: firstname.lastname@example.org.