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From One Island to Another

Equity in the Arts
A street in Puerto Rico lined on either side with colorful houses. In the background, a large, tree covered hill.

This is the fourth of seven blogs in Superhero Clubhouse's Building Bridges 
series, about the intersection of environmental justice and performance. This blog tracks the developmental journey of Superhero Clubhouse Fellows, Shy Richardson and Karina Yager, as they create a new performance piece responding to Hurricane Maria and its impact on Puerto Rico.


The new year brought major breakthroughs and inspiration for the 2018-19 Superhero Clubhouse Fellows who shared their progress last month at the SHC Salon. Spoken word poet Shy Richardson and climate scientist Karina Yager traveled from NYC to Puerto Rico to explore the resilience of the island during and after Hurricane Maria for the performance they are currently developing. With the help of a NET/TEN travel grant, the generosity of El Puente LCAN (Latino Climate Action Network), and Shy's family, the team spent six days on the island and met up with David Ortiz, the Program Director of El Puente Puerto Rico. A sister-hub of El Puente in Brooklyn, this branch of the social and climate justice organization had an important role to play in the aftermath of the storm. David explained that money was raised to buy and distribute thousands of solar lamps to Puerto Ricans, many of whom had to wait months for power to be restored after the hurricane. These seemingly small and simple tools became beacons of hope in the darkness.

In addition to El Puente staff and volunteers, the team also conducted interviews with Shy’s family members, climate experts, and other residents of the island. The team asked each one of their interviewees the question: What is your hope moving forward? They heard answers ranging from wishes for a more sustainable Puerto Rico as a whole to the very personal desire for family members to be alright in the aftermath. From the big picture of the island to the health of individuals, these hopes are connected.

What does this kind of collective well-being look like? For David, it wasn’t an image, but a sound. He told the team he first knew that everything was going to be okay after the storm when he heard balls bouncing in the street. Kids were outside playing again. Breathing, rebounding, yelling - sounds of life. “The hope brought back the sound,” David remarked. Soon, neighbors were coming out of their homes, sharing resources, and in some cases, meeting each other for the first time.

Shy and Karina are now in the process of taking the materials collected on their trip (hours of interviews and hundreds of pictures) and mixing them with their own text to create a performance piece. Shy is filtering the experience through her poetic skill, creating a series of poems capturing the displacement one can feel after a loss, whether it be of a home or a loved one. Much of the work has been colored by the recent passing of Shy’s beloved grandmother, Maria. In the poem “How to Make Pasteles as Per the New York Times,” Shy mixes the traditional recipe with memories of Maria preparing the dish. When the speaker remarks that you “assumed you’d have forever to learn” it aches with love and regret. It also drives home how the loss of a matriarch can shift your position in your family and your worldview.  

Karina is embarking on an additional trip that will also inform the piece. She’s traveling to the Andes region of South America to conduct glacier research where she studies the social and ecological impacts of climate change on mountain environments. Rapidly melting tropical glaciers affect pastoral agriculture and local indigenous communities. Though the glacier is literally thousands of miles away from Puerto Rico, Karina sees a connection through the global water cycle.  As she continues to unlock the narrative potential of how water moves through this system, Karina will also be examining larger themes of loss and change over time.

Shy and Karina left those who attended the last Salon sessions with a wealth of material from their travels.

The sound of a ball bouncing
The sound of a glacier melting
The sound of a story told
A recipe recited
An island honored
For every loss, a hope

What will Shy and Karina create from this thoughtful and intentional investigation? You’ll have to come and see.


Save the date! March 23, 3pm @ The Tank

The culmination of Superhero Clubhouse’s six-month paid Fellowship for environmental justice and performance will present Shy and Karina’s work, Trés Marias, a new performance work that explores climate justice, Puerto Rican identity, and hope after hurricanes. Weaving personal stories of loss and resilience that bridge New York, Puerto Rico, and the glacial Andes, Trés Marias is a love poem to the communities that emerge from the wreckage of displacement. Associate Fellows Aya Lane and Imani Dennison will show a multimedia piece, Drexciya, an underwater mythical resistance story honoring the black diaspora's complicated relationship to water. It seeks to question what can be done to help heal our relationship to water so that we don't lose it. Tickets are free! Make a reservation.

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