"Why did we choose a musical?" Molly Sturges asks me. When we meet alongside San Francisco climate activist Kristin Rothballer, Sturges seems tired yet satisfied, the hallmark of a creator on the cusp of completing a multi-year project with the help of countless others. The project is Firerock: Pass the Spark, a multi-pronged, musical theater-based approach produced in part with local nonprofit Littleglobe (which Sturges co-founded) that tackles the grim concept of climate change through an easily digestible theater piece. "Climate change is a tough, overwhelming topic," she continues, "and we wanted to do it in a way that any community could make it their own."
Sturges developed Firerock over the past seven-plus years, enlisting aid from across the country and all sides of the climate change spectrum: coal miners, scientists, young climate justice workers, activists, Tony-winning musicians and beyond. Workshops were held across the country and at New Mexico School for the Arts. Sturges, a 2008 co-recipient of the United States Artists Award for music (with Littleglobe co-founder Chris Jonas), wanted to provide a multi-tiered scale for other communities to mount the show, from full-on production to simple reading—all without licensing fees—and hoped to circumvent finger-wagging while driving home the importance and time-sensitive nature of our rapidly diminishing ecology. "When the project started eight years ago, people weren't talking about [climate change]," Rothballer, who served as consultant, says. "I felt like I was banging my head against the wall; people would shut down, people would feel fear. But the magic of Firerock is that it creates a space for those feelings to be held in a way that supports people."
The basic premise is that the character Firerock (a sort of anthropomorphized version of fossil fuels played by New York singer Gina Breedlove, who originated the character Sarabi for the Broadway production of The Lion King … yeah, THAT Lion King) dwells beneath a magical forest, and the mining conglomerate PREMCO wants her. Years of overuse of said fossil fuels has imbued the nearby town of Hopewell Junction with what is called "The Snooze," a haze of disaffected behavior. And though Firerock pleas for help (through song!), she goes unheard, eventually joining forces with a well-meaning otter to try and lift the curse.
"When I was looking at the arts that centered around climate change, it was mainly documentation of the horrors," Sturges continues, "and all that was happening was that people were feeling terrible and shamed … [and] afraid." Rothballer agrees. "An Inconvenient Truth was a seminal movie and an important movie, but it left a lot of people feeling guilty," she says. "Part of what Firerock aims to do is reimagine our relationship to the Earth as a reciprocal relationship; there's a much deeper gift."
Musically, Firerock exists someplace between contemporary Broadway and Disney. Some songs cut deep with moving emotional resonance, others simply impart valuable information while keeping things light and breezy. Musical director and composer Enrico de Trizio, whose credits include the bonafide 2015 hit Dear Evan Hansen, came onboard to compose with Sturges and award-winning Los Angeles-based composer Luis Guerra. These are no doubt heavy-hitters and should at least convey some of what's going on behind the scenes. Rothballer helped develop the story with film, TV and theater writers like Georgina H Escobar and Nancy Vitale. Local cultural powerhouse and director of the Lifesongs program Acushla Bastible directs. And this is just a mere smattering of those who helped in one form or another.
"This is a really hard-hitting artists team," Sturges says. "This is a story about waking up." Rothballer expands, saying, "The development of the story is in direct response to things that are happening on the planet and the political realm—the planet is warming, regardless of what a politician says, and there's no doubt there are political and technological and economical things to do in the face of climate change—the more we can contribute in fierce, direct and rigorous ways, the more we will allow people to connect and engage."
For now, Sturges seems relieved to have finally completed her task, and all that's really left for the time being is to debut this sucker at the Adobe Rose Theatre. During its run, three separate versions will be filmed and incorporated into a DIY toolkit which will be made available for free through LittleGlobe.
"Eight years ago it starts as an idea, but this is a project that will evolve," Sturges says. "Every time it goes to a new community it will evolve. It's designed to change. I think we're far more potent that way."
Firerock: Pass the Spark Performances:
7:30 pm Thursday-Saturday Jan. 18-20; also 3 pm Saturday Jan. 20. Thursday (invited dress rehearsal) free; others $15-$20.
Firerock Community Circle:
4:30 pm Saturday Jan. 20 (immediately following early performance). Free.
Adobe Rose Theatre,
1213 Parkway Drive,