The play tracks residents of a small bayou town as they learn they’re no longer getting the levee they were promised in the previous Master Plan. The state, essentially, will give them up to the water. The story also follows a theatre troupe that comes to town to make a musical about local pirate legend Jean Lafitte, weaving pop-inspired songs about the pirate’s murky history into the uncertainty of the present. Act II of Jeune Terre is set ten years in the future when the imagined town is underwater and its inhabitants have moved up the road. In 2030, town residents, state scientists, and theatremakers alike have blithely adapted, and we hear about the last decade’s hardships only in passing. Characters’ discussions of a marriage or job promotion are intercut with mentions of Miami being flooded or the fallout of the Pence administration.
While the play’s town of Jeune Terre is a mash-up of bayou communities, it is most directly influenced by Jean Lafitte, Louisiana. Jean Lafitte sits twenty-two miles south of New Orleans. In the past fifteen years, it’s been battered by over half a dozen hurricanes. Though many coastal towns are shells of their former selves—weekend fishing camps up on poles but not much sense of community—Lafitte keeps rebuilding, maintaining a school, a community center, and a grocery store. When the state’s 2017 Master Plan removed a levee previously set to surround the town, Lafittians raised hell, packing community input meetings and demanding state legislators have the plan restored. With the maneuvering of longtime mayor Tim Kerner, they’ve secured a smaller tidal levee around the town and an open-ended promise to raise it higher when the time comes. If Jean Lafitte eventually goes the way of the fictional town of Jeune Terre, it will not be without a fight.
Framing the fight against climate change as only a fight of individual consumer choice will lead to a sense of isolation, then helplessness and apathy.
In wrestling with what my play is saying around climate change, I’ve been wrestling with the ways theatremakers and audiences alike might similarly shift our narrative of adaptation—from a continued acceptance of a new “normal” to a collective model of accountability and civic action.
Climate activist Mary Annaïse Heglar wrote an essay for Vox earlier this year where she talked about the way this sort of collective involvement must take priority over individual environmental action. While, sure, Heglar says, recycling is important, being focused only on our personal eco-sins becomes a bait-and-switch for holding corporate damage-doers, such as the oil and gas industry, accountable. Framing the fight against climate change as only a fight of individual consumer choice will lead to a sense of isolation, then helplessness and apathy.