PITTSBURG, Kan. — The Pittsburg High School theater department is known for presenting a spring play that deals with situations relevant to the youth of today.
Past performances have touched on school shootings, and society’s pressure for girls and boys to look a certain way.
This week, PHS students will again take on an issue: the environment.
“Ignorance Is Bliss: A Global Warning” will make its world premiere Wednesday and Thursday (the 40th anniversary of Earth Day) on stage at Pittsburg Memorial Auditorium.
Director Greg Shaw believes that with the addition of “extra senses” through the costumes, lighting, actors and intimacy of theater, such issues resonate much more with people than if they were to read about the topic in an article.
Journalists might not like it, but he’s probably right.
Last year, his Repertory Theater and Stage Craft students took on “Phat Girls,” a minimalist play — think bare stage and a few black boxes — that still achieved a “wow factor” among those in attendance when it came to their concept of body image. It affected the cast, as well.
This year, the students worked closely with “Phat Girls” playwright Debbie Lemedman for a learning experience that went beyond the stage. They researched all aspects of environmental issues, then commissioned Lemedman to write a script.
She willingly obliged and was receptive to working through the process of four drafts to create a script especially for the students.
Audiences can again expect a minimalist production. For those familiar with PHS productions such as “Grease” and “Footloose,” such sparse staging is not for lack of Shaw’s expertise, creativity or budget.
Rather, his approach is to make the topic the center of attention by stripping away everything else.
Through a series of vignettes, the audience gets to know a typical family, individuals, a talk show host and celebrity, and others who in some way are being affected by or are affecting the environment. Some vignettes are humorous, some thought-provoking. Some illustrate hypocrisy. None are doom-and-gloom.
Instead, the actors teach audience members how to make small changes in their everyday lives that can make a difference in the long run. And they pose questions about whether people really should care about the planet.
Shaw maintains that two people sitting next to each other with completely different perspectives on the environment won’t be offended.
“We’re wanting to focus on the idea that there are many, many things we can do, regardless of what you think about the topic, that there’s no way doing those things can hurt,” he said. “Recycling can’t hurt. In case our Earth does go to the extremes that some people are willing to suggest — we just don’t want to look back and say, ‘Gosh, we probably should have done something.’
“I mean, if it doesn’t hurt and doesn’t cause us great discomfort, why not?”
Performances will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday and 9 a.m. Thursday (area schools are welcome to take students to this performance) at Pittsburg Memorial Auditorium, 503 N. Pine St. Admission is free. The run time is about 90 minutes.