Santa Barbara performer E. Bonnie Lewis met Ken Gilbert in 1973 at the theater department at UC Davis. “We spoke a similar creative language,” Lewis said of her relationship with Gilbert, her longtime partner in life and in art. “We supported each other’s creativity.” The two parted ways in college, but reunited 17 years later to find the creative energy between them still had spark. “We had a passion for theater,” said Lewis. “We kept going to theater, and he kept complaining. He didn’t like the material, or he didn’t like the way it was presented. After a while I said, ‘Why don’t you put your money where your mouth is or shut up?’” The two formed their company, DramaDogs, in 1993 and produced Air for One, with Lewis onstage and Gilbert directing.
Air for One told the story of conjoined twins, one of whom was dying slowly from an inability to take in enough air. “It was all about the breath. We started with breath and movement and live music, and here we are,” said Lewis of DramaDogs’ theatrical style. “It’s breath and movement and sound —that keeps you in your body and keeps you present, and that became our mantra. That was the start of our technique.” DramaDogs, in collaboration with many area performers, have been treading the boards for more than two decades in the Santa Barbara area. The company kicks off its 25th year of performances with February’s Earth Duet and Other Stories, a series of short plays and performance pieces about the importance of environmental conservation.
Earth Duet and Other Stories is performed in collaboration with Climate Change Theatre Action(CCTA), a worldwide series of readings and performances of short works about climate change. Climate Change TheatreAction’s conglomeration of artists from across the globe performed short works in their respective communities from the CCTA catalog of plays between October 1 and November 18, 2017 —coinciding with the United Nations COP23 conference regarding the Paris Climate Agreement. DramaDogs’ presentation of Earth Duet brings Santa Barbara a curated collection of these short works,woven together with poetry and accompanying movement-based storytelling. DramaDogs describes it as both entertaining and inspirational, and emphasizes the humor of the plays, which familiarizes the audience with the plight of Earth and its many life-forms —including humanity. “It’s not a lecture!” said Lewis. “We need another lecture like we need a hole in the head… [Come] be entertained—mildly informed if you so choose—and feel the connection of live theater.” Lewis hopes Earth Duet will stir audiences to seek more information about how climate change disrupts our delicate ecosystem and to connect with conservation efforts in the community —for example,through the Santa Barbara Zoo or the area chapter of the Audubon Society.
Earth Duet is presented as part of DramaDogs’ Relevant Action program, which addresses current social issues through the medium of theater. These theatrical works, which have been also been performed in alignment with the Santa Barbara Public Library, tackle ideas such as equality, racism, feminism, and the importance of education and conservation. Lewis and Gilbert described their series of Relevant Action theater pieces as a way to cultivate their artistic, activist voice.
Earth Duet features the stylistic traits that typify DramaDogs’ work, including the integration of movement and poetry and the use of live, original music developed for the piece. One of DramaDogs’ artistic goals is to connect performers and audiences to promote conversation, so the show will have a talkback after performances so audience members can share their impressions of the work and its themes of environmental safeguarding.
DramaDogs, a Theater Company,presents Earth Duet and Other Stories in collaboration with Climate Change Theatre Action Thursday-Friday, February 8-9, 8 p.m.,and Sunday, February 11, 2 p.m., at Center StageTheater (751 Paseo Nuevo). Call 963-0408 or visit centerstagetheater.org