KCBX Arts Beat: Audio play 'Voices of the Earth' explores environmental writings through the ages

Apr 7, 2021

On April 22, 2021, Earth Day will celebrate its 51st year, but environmental pioneers and poets have been writing about the need to care for our planet much longer. A new audio production called "Voices of the Earth" presents thoughts about the environment from across the ages.

Rush Rehm, a theater and classics professor at Stanford University, worked with co-creator Charles Junkerman on this production for the Stanford Repertory Theater. Rehm said the play features staged readings by students and professionals.

“We decided that it wouldn’t be just about contemporary thoughts on the environment but to go back to ancient Greek and Sanskrit and to earlier societies,” Rehm said.

Rehm and Junkerman imagined the production as a celebration of environmental pioneers in an open-air theater, surrounded by trees on the Big Sur coast. The location, well known to nature lovers, is often considered one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

When the pandemic hit, Rehm and Junkerman reimagined the live performance as an audio play.

“It’s a narrative play on the environment, not as an original script but a compilation of great writing on the environment, of which there is an enormous amount,” Rehm said.

The audio performance brings to life the work of 60 writers who have, across centuries, contributed to our understanding of the natural world. The writings are by thinkers such as playwright Sophocles from ancient Greece; explorer John Muir, known as the Father of National Parks; and biologist Rachel Carson, who wrote about the damaging effects of pesticides.

The list also includes Native American voices, poets, politicians and activists.

The audio play illustrates the power of nature to inspire great writing, and also delves into the troubled relationship between humans and the natural world. Rehm said he hopes listeners will realize that environmentalism is not a new issue.

“One can find the roots of resistance to environmental deprivation and degradation from way, way back,” Rehm said.

The Henry Miller Library in Big Sur was the planned venue for the live performance. The library’s executive director, Magnus Toren, said the redwood canyon behind the library is a beautiful location for outdoor theater. He was pleased the group pivoted to an audio production and described "Voices of the Earth" as both inspirational and educational.

“As we all know, there are many, many challenges that we are facing, and in all of that we must never forget how exceptionally beautiful it is that we get to be here on Earth together,” Toren said.

Stanford Continuing Studies offers the "Voices of the Earth" script and materials to educators and non-commercial groups through their website, free of charge, with one request: To work together to save the planet.

KCBX is broadcasting three-minute segments of "Voices of the Earth" at 11:57 each weekday morning throughout the month of April. To access the full 85-minute program, a series of shorter audio segments, or the full, printed text of "Voices of the Earth," go to StanfordRepTheater.com

The KCBX Arts Beat is made possible by a grant from the Shanbrom Family Foundation.