Tree rings are filled with stories. Like chapters of a book, each holds details about what’s been happening around them. Scientists use those stories to learn how the earth’s climate has changed over the years.
The stories of one famous tree—Methuselah, a 4,847 year-old California bristlecone pine—are the inspiration behind “Memory Rings,” an environmentally-themed play that will be staged next weekend by UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance.
“Memory Rings” traces changes in nature and humans over five millennia. Conceived as a meditative but playful work, it combines fairy tales, video, puppetry, choreography and visual design. Actors, dancers and puppeteers perform to an original score, casting a poetic light on the topic of climate change.
Meryl Friedman, director of education and special initiatives at the center, said that the multimedia experience is designed to draw audiences in. “There’s a sense of discovery that happens in this show, with a lot of ways to engage and relate,” Friedman said.
Ursula Heise, a professor with the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, said arts play a big role in shaping how people think—and act—on environmental issues.
“We all have to confront biodiversity loss, toxificiation, ocean acidification and climate change,” Heise said. “By approaching these problems from different traditions, you tell different stories.”
The nexus of arts and the environment is the inspiration behind the Laboratory for Environmental Narrative Strategies (LENS), a new initiative that focuses on using storytelling to examine the environmental crisis. Academics from the humanities will partner with students, scientists and other scholars to explore ways of capturing people’s imaginations.
Allison Carruth, who is working with Heise to establish the lab, said performances like “Memory Rings” engage broader audiences and make environmental science more accessible.
“Environmental humanities scholars bring together scientific, policymaking, activist and artist communities,” Carruth said.
“Memory Rings” premieres at UCLA’s Freud Playhouse on Friday, April 8 at 8:00 p.m., with two additional performances on Saturday, April 9. Additional information and tickets are available on the website.
In a way, the play’s centerpiece is a physical part of UCLA. Methuselah is located along the Sierra Nevada at the White Mountain Research Center—a multi-station facility for scientific instruction and research, where bristlecone pines are used to reconstruct past climates and ecosystems.