For the past year, local playwright John J. King has been dreaming up a half-drowned Boston in the year 2072 for his play Martha’s (b)Rainstorm, a climate change fairy tale written in partnership with Fresh Ink Theatre and the Boston Public Library during its first playwright residency in 2017-18. After many drafts, workshops and a February reading of outtakes, King, Fresh Ink and director Stephanie LeBolt are finally ready to stage the play at the Boston Center for the Arts on June 7-15. We chatted with King about sea levels and Sox games in futuristic Boston.
How does your futuristic Boston differ from today? The water has risen 18 feet above 2018 levels, and the city has done a lot to adapt. Back Bay is a series of canals called Little Venice; the Public Garden is the Public Pond and the water comes all the way to Charles Street (the Common is still safe); the Seaport has been walled and moated to protect from flooding and is now Seaport Island, an upper-class gated community you need a special ID to enter (this protection of Seaport has essentially forced Southie completely underwater). Not as much of a plot point, but interesting context: In the world of the play, Harvard has helped pay to redirect the Charles through Allston (basically where Western Avenue is) to link the stadium and business school with the central campus and add a buffer of protection. And Fenway Park isn’t flooded but is iffy enough that Red Sox home games are played at Suffolk Downs until they can relocate the stadium.
How did the collaboration with Fresh Ink Theatre and the Boston Public Library work? This was the first year that any of us did this, so there were a lot of “how does this function”-type questions that we had to work out. It was really great in terms of the library being super-supportive. I went in and did a lot of research there. Their research librarians pulled a lot of old newspaper clippings and microfilm for me. They have a huge trove of records from the American Revolution period and just local news throughout New England history, and that was really exciting to be able to dive into.
How did you get the idea for the play? The core idea of feeling overwhelmed by all the many, many things going on in the world and wanting to have an impact—but you know it’s just so hard to do when your life takes so much time—has always stayed with me. And I have always had a real interest and passion for diving into climate change, and figuring out what’s going on in the world and how it continues to deteriorate in a lot of ways without much action. When Fresh Ink came to me, and asked me to pitch some ideas for this yearlong process, I’d been thinking about both of those things and it suddenly dawned on me: “Oh, this is actually kind of a really great mix to have a woman who wants to do something about climate change, and that’s such a huge problem, and it feels very overwhelming for one person to take on.”
What resources did you use to extrapolate the effects of climate change? I had a lot of conversations with scientists in the area, many of who are actively working on this problem and this data on their own and many of who are working on it with the city. I have a good friend who is a marine biologist, who does a lot of lab work and teaches at UMass Boston. And I randomly ran into him literally two days after Fresh Ink and I sort of signed on to do this. He said, “What are you working on?” I said, “This climate change play.” He said, “Hey, two weeks from now, myself and a team of scientists and city planners are going on a cruise of the harbor to help put together a plan for the mayor. Any interest in joining us?” So that was sort of an amazing first trip where I met a lot of the people who are not only doing a lot of the research but actively involved with the city of Boston in terms of making plans for what the city is going to do.
Did a lot of the play change as a result of workshops? Yeah. Huge amounts changed from workshops. Kind of leading up to the night in February, Fresh Ink and I did a workshop of what was then a separate full draft. And I felt like the script was really solid and doing some interesting things, but it was really almost like an Arthur Miller play. It was very much people in offices arguing over what to do about climate change. And then we did that presentation in the library of some stuff that wasn’t in that script, but that was a little more wacky and fun, and I saw that, and I saw the audience’s reaction to it, and I was like, “This is why I’ve been a little bit bored and frustrated in these rehearsals. It’s missing this really playful spirit and it had turned into this, like, political drama about city government red tape.”
SUMMER ARTS PREVIEW 2018: DANCE | VISUAL ARTS | BOOKS | PERFORMING ARTS | COMEDY | MUSIC