Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Tree Play in the Media: Reviews, Interviews and More

The Tree Play has received bounteous attention from local media. Below please wander through reviews, on-air interviews and a collection of images from the production. As more photos get sorted, I'll post the best of them on the play's Facebook page and link to them here.

>>Review of The Tree Play by Shanon Weaver in The Austin Chronicle

>>Review of The Tree Play by David Glen Robinson on the CTX Live Theatre website

>>Feature on Political Theatre by Austin Chronicle Arts Editor Robert Faires

Interview on KUTX's "Eklektikos" with John Aielli. Alas, no recording of this one.

>>Interview on KOOP's Off Stage and On the Air (episode 320) with hosts Lisa Scheps and Nicole Shiro. Interview starts at 22:20.

From the photo shoot and a few other choice pix. More to come...

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Tree Play, Political Theatre and Me

In last week’s Austin Chronicle, Arts Editor Robert Faires wrote a fine piece about political theatre in Austin, “Getting Political With The Tree Play and Robin Hood: An Elegy: Two new Austin plays tackle timely subjects.”

For those of you with the stamina, below are my uncut written answers to Faires’ questions about my take on political theatre, why this play now and where The Tree Play fits into my body of work.

Robert Faires: You're not shy about calling The Tree Play agitprop. Given how nervous some theatre folks get about political themes scaring away audiences, why are you so up-front about it? Do you have faith that Austin audiences will seek out plays with political messages, or are you doing it more out of a conviction that the message needs to be delivered and you don't want to sugar-coat it?

Robi Polgar: Well, it’s “an agitprop folk tale,” because I can’t just call a play a play, can I? Consider that my play about coal miners, the Great Depression and Thatcherism, The Road to Wigan Pier, had the sub-title, “A (Socialist) Tea-Time Travelogue & Historical Musical Revue.” I can’t help myself. It’s a way of hinting at the experience to come. And hopefully you read that, or “agitprop folk tale,” and are just the littlest bit more curious about what going to that sort of performance entails. And it’s my way of not taking myself too seriously despite the serious subject.

But you are right. It’s “agitprop” because of course there’s an agenda wrapped inside the storytelling. And, yes, I’ve never been shy about calling attention to the political aspects of my work. There’s a message in this piece and audiences can expect to see a style of theatre that’s a shade different from how a straight drama might deal with this subject, where they can sit anonymous in the dark. I’ve always staged plays where theatre-goers bear a little more responsibility for their presence. Nothing intrusive; but you’re more than observer at The Tree Play. You’re a witness. You’re sitting in the forest amongst the trees — it’s just out of the ordinary enough that maybe it’ll affect you unexpectedly. Maybe what you experience will alter your perception just a little.

Stylistically, agitprop conjures images of rough theatre, theatre that prizes raw materials over the polished. Calling the play an agitprop folk tale gives us leeway (or I think it does!) to create an experience that moves beyond the familiar to get our message across. The story is simple, the action is simple, the designs and movement are evocative. It’s not realistic, even as it relates realistic events. It almost sounds like a children’s theatre piece — that’s the “folk tale”-ness — except that there’s a level of sophistication that transcends it being a play for young people (that’s the intention, anyway). Despite the surface simplicity, it’s a bit of a challenge.

I’m not nervous about staging plays with overt political — or in this case activist — subject matter. I think audiences will seek out a good story no matter the content. Austin audiences are sharp. Give them the opportunity to experience art that treats them as intelligent, intrepid and open-minded and they’ll seek out those projects. And I am keenly aware that the audience has to have what John McGrath called “A Good Night Out” when they’re confronting big questions set before them (like three feet in front of them!). They have to have a good time. I have my point of view, of course; I know what outcomes I’d like to see. The play should be a little more open, poetic. Plus, there’s a good argument to be made that the real story of The Tree Play is a love story.

Anyway, why would anyone shy away from a good political drama (or comedy)? The best political plays don’t push a point of view, which I find strident and off-putting. The best political plays engage audiences with compelling characters who struggle to resolve the seemingly unresolvable. Confronting issues of the day can make for satisfying drama. But you can’t push an agenda on anyone because that’s disrespectful. A good political drama presents the issue, shows the characters struggling with it and gives the audience opportunities to consider where they stand. Sometimes it asks them what they might do to improve the world. I hate in-my-face polemics. But I love a good piece of theatre that makes me reconsider my concept of the world, especially when it’s done in a way that’s peopled with interesting characters and that tells a good story in unexpected ways. And that probably makes me laugh or amazes me.

Most political theatre preaches to the converted. As a vehicle for getting a message out theatre has a short reach, unlike books, film, television, the Internet. But it’s visceral in ways other media can’t match. I’m drawn to that interaction between a group of people sharing a space with a group of performers telling a story. Maybe experiencing this play will influence our audience to take some sort of positive action, no matter how small.

RF: Why this play now? Was there something that sparked this particular story or the way you wanted to tell it? Is this a story you could have told 15 years ago, or 5? What do you think will resonate with an Austin audience today?

RP: Why this play now? Sadly it’s years and years too late. Decades, probably. On the other hand, it’s a call to action, right now: an imperative as timely as anything. It’s never too late to take a stand, either to save the rainforest or, more broadly, to confront any number of challenges society faces. We are the agents of our own destruction, humans. Well, some humans. It’s despicable how people in power can be so short-sighted as to mortgage our world for their (or their enablers’) profit. And while it’s also true that most of us sit idly, ignorantly, by and let this happen (bread and circuses, anyone?), it doesn’t have to be like that.

I’d like people to leave the play encouraged to think even a little about the rainforest; how it is a crucial and irreplaceable element of the way the Earth breathes. The Tree Play says: it’s not late to do something. Become more aware, make informed decisions how you live your life. Make an incremental shift toward better stewardship of the planet. It’s not hard. We stop the breath of the rainforest with catastrophic consequences.

The spark for The Tree Play was a piece in The New Yorker by Jon Lee Anderson, “Murder in the Amazon.” It pushed all my buttons. The state working against its people for the benefit of big agribusiness. Hit lists of pro-environment activists, peasants, businessmen. A class struggle that also pit neighbor against neighbor. The profound selfishness of it all. The waste of nature and of human life.

Reading the piece, an image came to me so I pulled out a spiral binder and started to write. I had a first draft in a week. Right from the start The Tree Play was a “play with movement”; it was as important to create physical interaction between the humans and the forest that surrounds them as it was to tell the story of the wanton felling of the trees. I wanted the characters and the trees to dance together. And I wanted the audience to sit “in the forest” somehow.

Could I have told this story five, 15 years ago? I know I could have told this story five years ago because that’s how long it’s taken me to get it from the first draft to opening night! Okay, four years, so I’m ahead of schedule. But 15 years? Fifteen years ago I felt the same disgust for what was happening to the rainforest and its defenders, though had I written something to get a theatre audience to confront the issue it would have been a much different play.

My way into telling this story was through the character of a girl who grows up in the forest then returns to protect it. Why choose her? Or maybe I should ask, why did she choose me? Nineteen years of fatherhood certainly influenced my storytelling. Nothing like watching your kids grow up to reboot your sense of having to take responsibility for your world! Generational wisdom flows through the story as characters teach one another about life in the rainforest. It’s in the relationships between the girl and her father, the girl and the other men in her lives and, especially, between the girl and a particular tree, for which time is immeasurable, until it connects with the girl.

RF: How does The Tree Play relate to other artistic work of yours that's had a political dimension? Where does it fit on your personal continuum of political work, theatrical or otherwise? And what about it is new for you, where are you trying something that you haven't before?

RP: I’ve always gravitated toward creating work that has a political dimension: in the plays or songs I’ve written or how I’ve chosen to approach plays I’ve directed. I’m compelled to find ways to challenge audiences to think about big questions, that take us beyond our daily lives.

The continuum, as you call it, is evident right from the start. Of the plays I’ve written and directed, the first was an adaptation of Klaus Mann’s “Mephisto” (1988), which traced one actor’s rise to stardom in Nazi Germany at the expense of every person he’d ever loved. I cast a dozen actors who played dozens of roles. They wore increasingly grotesque masks as their society spun out of control. I wrote original songs for the show. We danced. There’s a direct connection between that first effort and The Road to Wigan Pier (2004), where a cast of a dozen actors portrayed dozens of characters whose lives were spinning out of control due to societal and historical forces they couldn’t contend with. I wrote original songs for the show. We danced. Oh, yeah, and there was a soccer match. And tea. Lots of tea. Wigan had the advantage of being much more amusing than Mephisto, which I put down to growing up and taking myself less seriously. Plus it’s a lot harder to crack jokes about Nazi Germany.

That said, The Tree Play is lot like Burnt (1995), a play about the rise of Nazism juxtaposed against modern-day intolerance, which I co-wrote with Catherine Rogers. Burnt intertwined multiple modes of storytelling. There was the naturalistic story of a family trying to survive as their society turned against them in the 1930s; there were the dream-like movement sequences that evoked the Jews’ journey from ghetto to boxcar to concentration camp; and there were madcap scenes that poked fun of the Nazis and their methods: We reduced the Wannsee Conference to a game show that had audiences struggling not to laugh — we were talking about exterminating a whole ethnic group after all, but it was funny. The Tree Play also uses short, naturalistic scenes interspersed with passages of evocative movement to tell our story of a girl who grows up in the rainforest, then returns after she has become an environmental activist. And like all my work, we’re finding ways to bring the audience into the environment, into the story.

That’s something else that’s imbued my idea of theatre making: finding ways to create a sense of shared space so the audience isn’t watching from some safe remove but senses it has a part to play, even if it’s only pretending to be going out for a night at the local working men’s club (Wigan Pier) or perched in a gallery above the circus (Life of Galileo; 1998) or looking out from under the Romanesque arches of 15th century Venice (Scenes from an Execution; 1995) or sitting on the beach watching a clown show about World War I (Oh, What a Lovely War! 1992). With The Tree Play the idea is to lead audiences into the rainforest to experience more viscerally issues of deforestation and climate change through what I hope is a touching story of a girl and a tree.

What’s new for me? Well a lot of this process feels new because I’ve been away from making theatre for a decade! It’s been equal parts exhilarating, exhausting and downright stressful producing a play for the first time in so long.

Given all the years I’ve written and directed (I think of directing as a facet of creative writing — a process of conception, creation, adaptation, editing) this is actually the first time I’ve penned the entire script myself.

I’m also taking more responsibility for the choreography of the piece, thankfully with the help of the inestimable, wonderful Toni Bravo. We held an audition-free casting process. Instead of having actors read for roles, we held a series of workshops that focused mostly on movement. We experimented with the ensemble-as-chorus but did practically no scene work to speak of. It’s a leap to start a process and not revert to the tried and true. Instead we trusted that the workshoppers who played together well were the best actors to cast across a range of speaking roles, unheard, and I’m delighted it’s turned out that way (and save for one actor I worked with 10 years ago, this is a cast I’ve never worked with nor seen on stage before).

One other unusual thing for a play I’m working on: The Tree Play is short!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Tickets on Sale Now for The Tree Play

Premiering August 6

The Tree Play

An agitprop folk tale for the theatre 
by Austin writer/director Robi Polgar

that explores the relationship between man and nature and 
poses questions about survival, environmental activism and 
what it means to fall in love.

August 6 – August 8
Preview August 5
Ground Floor Theatre
979 Springdale Road, Austin TX 78702

Inspired by real events, The Tree Play tells the story of a young girl who befriends a tree in the Amazon rainforest. Their unique bond leads the girl on a life-long quest to protect the world’s forests, while awakening a new consciousness in the tree.

Choreography: Toni Bravo
Scene Design: Ia Enstera
Costumes: Buffy Manners
Lights: Jennifer Rogers
Sound and Projections: Lowell Bartholomee
April Perez Moore, CrystalBird Caviel, Susan Peterson, Blake Robbins, Kevin Gates, Jonathan Salazar, Huck Huckaby, Nathan Porteshawver, Toni Baum, Corinne Franks Oh and John Grewell
Written & Directed by Robi Polgar

Thursday, Friday, Saturday: August 6 – August 8
Preview August 5
Ground Floor Theatre 979 Springdale Road Austin, TX 78702

$5 – $20 (discounts for students, seniors, under-18)
Preview Wednesday, Aug. 5, 7:30pm
Opening night: Thursday, Aug. 6, 7:30pm*
Friday, Aug. 7, 7:30pm and 9:00pm
Saturday, Aug. 8, 4:00pm Family Matinee, 7:30pm and 9:00pm

The Tree Play runs approximately 45 minutes (no intermission).
Please bring a pillow or blanket to sit on. 
Some chairs will be available for patrons who request them.

For more information, please visit our Web page: 

Like/Follow The Tree Play on Facebook:

Follow [attend] our event:

Questions? Email robipolgar @ or phone 512-926-2203

*Patrons are invited to join the company at in.gredients (2610 Manor Road, Austin TX 78722) following Thursday’s performance for an after-party.

Thank you to Hyde Park Theatre for supporting this production. This production has been generously funded by The Creative Fund's Q Rental Subsidy Grant program. The Creative Fund is a funding mechanism that provides much needed support to local performing artists enabling them to further their creative endeavors.

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Tree Play Scores Major Match, Venue Underwriting

The Tree Play wins $3,000 matching grant, $700 venue underwriting, to kick off a month-long fundraising campaign. Building on the generous support of a friend of the project and The Creative Fund's Q Rental Subsidy Grant, June's fundraising campaign follows a successful earlier effort to generate seed money to support the play's August premiere.

Austin, TX June 5, 2015

The producer and creative team of The Tree Play are delighted to announce the awards of two generous grants to support the world-premiere play about the rainforest, the people who live in it and those who risk their lives to protect it. 

A Challenge to Raise $6,000 for The Tree Play

Long-time family friends of the playwright have offered to match all June contributions up to $3,000 -- every dollar raised will be matched one-to-one. A successful campaign will raise $6,000, a hefty amount for an independent theatrical project. This is in addition to a generous personal contribution made to the project by those same friends, separate from the match.

>> People interested in helping support The Tree Play can make their tax-deductible contributions via the project's website

The Q Fund Awards The Tree Play $700 Q Rental Subsidy Grant

In addition, The Creative Fund has awarded The Tree Play $700 to help offset the costs of venue rental at the Ground Floor Theatre. The Creative Fund’s Q Rental Subsidy Grant program puts money back into the Austin performing arts community. “Q” is a catchy name inspired by performers taking their cue and reminding Austinites it’s their cue to support local arts. The Creative Fund is a membership-driven organization; those who'd like to learn more about joining should click here.

About The Tree Play

The Tree Play is an agitprop folk tale for the theatre, provoked by the deforestation of the Amazon. Written and directed by Robi Polgar, The Tree Play tells the story of a girl who befriends a tree. Their unique bond leads the girl on a life-long quest to protect the rainforest, despite the ultimate personal cost.

The Tree Play runs Thursday, Friday, Saturday, August 6 - 8, 2015 (Five performances only: two performances on Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm and 9:00pm) at the Ground Floor Theatre, 979 Springdale Rd, Austin, TX 78702

Tickets for The Tree Play are $5 - $25 and will be available at the Ground Floor Theatre Box Office starting July 1.

Note: Recommended for ages 12 and older.

For more information, please contact:
Robi Polgar, Writer/Director
512  771  0051

The Tree Play is being produced with the generous assistance of Hyde Park Theatre.

The Tree Play has been generously funded by The Creative Fund's Q Rental Subsidy Grant program. The Creative Fund is a funding mechanism that provides much needed support to local performing artists enabling them to further their creative endeavors.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Director Doodles, Squiggles and Sketches* for The Tree Play

*You can see a more coherent (read, "artistic") sketch in the header of this blog. It's by +IA ENSTERÄ, scene designer extraordinaire. We met to discuss the play and, as is her wont, she noodled with pen and paper as we explored how to create a rainforest inside a theatre. The artwork above is what she drew. 

Here's a peek inside the mind of a director (enter if you dare) as I figure out how to take The Tree Play from page to stage. Below are some of the -- let's be generous -- sketches I've -- let's be realistic -- scrawled as part of my thinking out loud with pencil and paper. I've included descriptions so you'll understand what I'm trying to convey in my crude drawings.

SPOILER ALERT!!! If you want to see the play with completely fresh eyes -- unadulterated by my explanations below -- skip the bits preceded by "Spoiler Alert!!!," or just stop reading right here (do please, however, consider making a donation to help support the play -- thanks!).

This is the first drawing (above) that I did back in June, 2011. You'll find this squiggle in the initial draft of The Tree Play, a hastily scribbled half-dozen pages of notebook paper that I'll share in a later post.

Two things stand out in the drawing. First, my cliched concept of the tree and how actors might portray it (in the play three actors work together to create the title character, the Tree). There they are with their arms outstretched -- look, look! They have branches. Ugh. How literal! Well, it's still early in the process and I gotta start somewhere!

The single figure downstage left of the Tree is the character of the Girl, pretending to be a tree. That's the other thing: At first I imagined this play would be produced in a proscenium theatre. Hence, "downstage." The wavy lines upstage are some sort of rainforest backdrop. That soon gave way to the ideas in the sketch below.

I quickly determined two things once I'd written the play. First, the actors portraying the Tree don't stand with their arms outstretched, pretending they have branches. They are, as I noted at the time, "solid" in their stance, more tree trunk than canopy. No more cliched "arm-branches." 

And now we're looking at a performance shape that is ovular -- an irregular oval in which the play happens, surrounded by the audience. The little circles (some are numbered) indicate places where other actor-trees might be, to form a forest through which we watch the play. I'm starting to think about ways to immerse the audience into the world of the play.

That idea of watching the play from among the trees is what the drawing above tries to capture. Inside the oval are the large Tree and the SPOILER ALERT!!! New Tree. Between them hangs the hammock the Father lies on as the lights go down at the end. 

The little matchstick figures around the perimeter are the audience, standing and watching. Yes, I seriously considered making the audience stand for the duration. Anyone who's ever worked worked with me knows I'd risk major audience discomfort if it served the concept! 

What drew me to this particular configuration -- and torturing the audience for a 45-minute play -- is indicated by the larger figures in the background. I was mulling over the idea that we'd aim the lighting from the ground up -- through the spectators, using the bodies of the audience to cast huge, tree-like shadows on the walls around the space. We'd add another layer of forest, created by the people coming to see the play. This would reinforce the idea that "We Are The Trees," the central concept for this production. 

Fortunately for you, assuming you're coming to the performances that is (have I mentioned the play runs August 6 - 8 at the Ground Floor Theatre?), I came up with a better, less audience-torturing idea. I know, I know -- I've grown soft in my dotage.

That said, I didn't completely ditch the up-lights idea. The drawing above is of the Girl, aloft in the Tree, lit from below -- you can see the nose of a lighting instrument poking out of the left side of the page and the three-line beam of light casting deep shadows on the Girl. Lighting the Girl when she's sitting in the Tree from below heightens (no pun intended) the dramatic effect of the moment. I think the squiggle at the bottom of the drawing is SPOILER ALERT!!! the Journalist after he's been murdered. 

I love showing people the drawing above because their first reaction is usually: "?" At first it just looks like a confusion of lines and circular shapes. Yes, yes, all my drawings demonstrate that aesthetic. Then they see: It's me beginning coming to terms with how characters enter and exit the playing area -- where they start and where they wind up. The biggish, dark circular thing up-center left is the Tree (it looks like a potato, or a softball, with little toothpicks sticking out of it). And you can see the Girl's position below and slightly to the right of center (she's the little circular blob with a left-heading arrow passing just above). Where characters enter and exit says a great deal about who they are, where they came from and what sort of change is in store for them.

This drawing takes the entrances-and-exits sketch above a little further. When I saw the Ground Floor Theatre -- the venue for the production -- for the first time it was still under construction. It was painted black and there were no seating risers in the room. It was just a huge empty shell of a space and it was perfect. This drawing attempts to put the play into that big empty space. The Tree is clearly marked in the center of the oval, and there's a sense of how the audience is seated around the playing area (noted by percentages: how many people are sitting in which areas). "Tx" marks where other characters stand; they play SPOILER ALERT!!! a chorus of forest, communicating as echoes of the Tree through movement and sound. You'll see that the chorus surrounds the audience -- we've put the patrons in among the trees, deep inside the forest.

The drawing above is me trying to figure out how the Girl climbs the Tree. First I thought: ladders. But that didn't last long. Next I thought: a knotted rope like you find in PE gymnasiums that looks vine-like and is attached to the ceiling. That's what's going on in this sketch. We are not doing this either. Or not exactly. 

Note the date: 10/28/14: The production designs are well underway -- in my head anyway -- despite the fact that I didn't have a design team until early February. The sketch was made little over a year following the reading we did at Casa Polgar in September 2013, a mere three years after I wrote the first draft of the play (cough, cough; yes this production is a long time coming).

Along with the knotted rope idea came a possible solution for SPOILER ALERT!!! how to hang the hammock at play's end so the Father could lie down in it. The Tree stands on the left, the New Tree on the right and the hammock attaches to knotted rope vines at either end. 

We're not doing that either. Just another example of me working through possible solutions. I think we hit on a good one -- you'll see...

This last image is from a meeting with choreographer Toni Bravo last Friday (May 15, if you're keeping score at home). You'll recognize the oval playing area with the Tree inside, left of center (noted by the three little triangles and the arrowed lines spiraling around them). And now there's a spot the Girl keeps coming back to (the circle with the "A" in it).

As Toni and I talked SPOILER ALERT!!! I added some of the traffic patterns we want the performers to follow (the arrowed lines). Look carefully and you might see some of the actors' names among our perimeter forest chorus.

How much of this will wind up in the final version? Probably a lot, considering these ideas have been cooking for a long time and the creative team likes the direction the play is taking.

Still, I suspect we'll continue to make discoveries as we rehearse. Discoveries that affect the ensemble's movement and gestures and patterns, which will demand new attempts to figure things out with pencil and paper in rudimentary squiggles and doodles.

Let's be generous and call them sketches.

Learn more about The Tree Play or like/follow The Tree Play on Facebook.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Tree Play Explores Love, Conservation, Survival in the Amazon Rainforest

In writer/director Robi Polgar’s new play, a young girl befriends a tree in the Amazon rainforest. They forge a unique bond that leads the girl on a life-long quest to protect the rainforest, while awakening a new consciousness in the tree. The play’s environmental staging and exploration of movement bring audiences up close to the action. 

Austin, TX May 6, 2015 A short description can be found at the end of this post.

Premiering this August at the Ground Floor Theatre, The Tree Play is an original work for theatre by writer/director Robi Polgar that explores the relationship between man and nature and poses questions about survival, environmental activism and what it means to fall in love.

The Tree Play Workshop, 5/3/15.
More images can be found here.
The Tree Play tells the story of a girl who grows up in the Amazon rainforest and befriends a tree. Years later she returns to the forest as an environmental activist. When a logger threatens to cut down the tree she rises to its defense. The girl and the logger struggle and, as they do, something magical happens.

The play’s designs call for the Ground Floor Theatre to transform into the rainforest, where audiences get to experience the story up close in an immersive setting. Playgoers are encouraged to leave this uplifting new play with a renewed sense of mission -- to become better stewards of the Earth.

A Sensory Approach to Making Theatre
The play combines performance styles to complement traditional scenes that together tell the story of the girl, the tree and the people who influence the life of the rainforest. Actors use their bodies and voices to create the environment through a range of movement, dance, choral voices and sounds.

“I want to evoke a living, breathing forest, in which the audience is arrayed as if sitting under great trees in a far-away jungle, immersed in the environment and pressed close to the action,” says writer/director Polgar. “I’m especially excited to explore how the actors can expand the sense that we are in the forest through movement, sound and rhythm.”

One Girl and One Tree: A Microcosm of the Threat to Our Rainforests
Rainforests around the world are threatened by accelerated deforestation. According the World Wildlife Fund, approximately 17% of the Amazon rainforest has been lost in the last 50 years. The continued deforestation of rainforests around the world is having a catastrophic effect on life on earth, because these forests help mitigate climate change.

Additionally, environmentalists and others who are fighting to save the rainforest
have been targets for assassination, silenced to allow the wholesale destruction of the forest to continue.

The Tree Play uses the story of one girl and one tree to make the point that the stakes are high in the struggle to preserve the vital forests of the Earth.

“I felt compelled to write this play after reading accounts of environmentalists murdered for trying to protect the Amazon rainforest,” says Polgar. “It’s important to me that, despite the serious message of the play, audiences come to the theatre and have a lot of fun, get to experience the unexpected and wind up deeply moved. Hopefully they’ll be inspired to think a little harder about how they can help to protect their environment.”

>>Learn more about The Tree Play

Polgar Returns to Directing after 10-Year Absence
Robi Polgar is a writer, director and musician who lives in Austin, Texas. The Tree Play marks Polgar’s return to the Austin stage after a 10-year break. Prior to taking time away from the theatre, Polgar was perpetually active as a writer, director and producer, first as a co-founder and Artistic Director of The Public Domain Theatre Company on Congress Avenue in downtown Austin, and then as an independent artist. His work has been recognized by the Austin Critics’ Table and has won numerous B. Iden Payne Awards.

Short Description
What: The Tree Play is an agitprop folk tale for the theatre, provoked by the deforestation of the Amazon. Written and directed by Robi Polgar, The Tree Play tells the story of a girl who befriends a tree. Their unique bond leads the girl on a life-long quest to protect the rainforest, despite the ultimate personal cost.
When: Thursday, Friday, Saturday, August 6 - 8, 2015 (Five performances only: two performances on Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm and 9:00pm)
Where: Ground Floor Theatre, 979 Springdale Rd, Austin, TX 78702
Tickets for The Tree Play are $5 - $25 and will be available at the Ground Floor Theatre Box Office starting July 1.
Note: Recommended for ages 12 and older.

The Tree Play is being produced with the generous assistance of Hyde Park Theatre.

For more information, please contact:
Robi Polgar, Writer/Director
512  771  0051

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Source Material for The Tree Play

When I read this New Yorker piece by John Lee Anderson about changes to Brazil’s “Forest Code” I was dumbstruck by the overt, unpunished violence against people who were fighting to save the rainforest. I read on, compelled by the horrific account of state-sanctioned assassination, for what else could it be if everyone knows it’s going on yet no one in power raises a finger to do anything about it? 

This description in particular spurred me to do more research into the people who were (are) giving their lives to protect the magnificent Amazon rainforest:
With development fever spreading in Brazil, it seems to be open season not only on the Amazon’s forests but also on those people who try to protect them. On May 24th, the day the bill was being debated, news broke that a pair of assassins on a motorbike had ambushed Jose Claudio Ribeiro da Silva, an environmental activist, and his wife, Maria, and killed them. In the trademark style of contracted executions, the killers gave Ze Claudio, as he was known, and his wife coup de grace bullets to their heads and then removed an ear from each of them. Ze Claudio was a charismatic and outspoken opponent of land-grabbing ranchers and charcoal burners; last November, in a speech he made at a TEDx conference held in Manaus, he spoke of receiving death threats. When a legislator announced the news of the murders in Congress and called for an investigation, a round of booing erupted from the agribusiness-backed “ruralistas.” 
Three days later, in Rondonia, another front-line Amazonian state, Adelino Ramos, another prominent environmental activist, was shot dead in front of his wife and children. The next day, a few miles from where Ze Claudio and his wife were murdered, a young man named Eremilton Pereira dos Santos was gunned down, execution-style. His relatives said that he may have witnessed Ze Claudio’s killing. On June 9th, in the latest such incident, another peasant activist was murdered in Pará.
Below is a collection of my initial research into the assassinations of environmentalists, conservationists, local politicians, clergy and common folk, whose transgression against massive corporate greed led to their deaths. Also there's a cursory examination of deforestation, images of the rainforest under attack and, last (of course), some official efforts to combat the forces hell bent on destroying the forest for profit.

As I discover more source material, I will post it here. 

Or feel free to post links, descriptions, personal experiences in the comments below.

Murder in the Amazon
Jon Lee Anderson’s piece in the New Yorker (the inspiration for The Tree Play).
June 15, 2011.

Assassinated for Trying to Protect the Forest
“… more than 1,000 … have been murdered in the last 20 years …” ~Guardian story on retrial of murderers of Sister Dorothy Strang, 4/8/2009:

More than 1,100 activists, small farmers, judges, priests and other rural workers have been killed in land disputes in the last two decades, according to the Catholic Land Pastoral, a Brazilian watchdog group.

Of those killings, fewer than 100 cases have gone to court. About 80 convicted suspects were hired gunmen for powerful ranchers and loggers seeking to expand their lands, according to federal prosecutors and the watchdog.

About 15 of the men who hired them were found guilty but none of them are serving a sentence today.

Wilson Pinheiro (union leader)
Assassinated July 21, 1980.

Vicente Canas (a Spanish Christian missionary and Jesuit brother)
Assassinated April 6, 1987.

Chico Mendes
Assassinated December 22, 1988.

Sister Dorothy Stang
Assassinated February 12, 2005.

José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife, Maria do Espírito Santo'
Assassinated ~Tuesday 24 May 2011.

Adelino Ramos (president of the Amazon small farmers association)
Assassinated May 27, 2011.

Eremilton Pereira dos Santos (probable witness to shooting of da Silva and his wife)
Murdered ~May 31, 2011.
More on the Deforestation of the Rainforest

World Wildlife Fund on deforestation (global):
WWF Amazon background page:
Image of burning forest on the blog “Everything Beautiful”

Blog post on “Everything Beautiful”: Save the Amazon

Search “rainforest deforestation” (images results)