Geosciences Acting Out: Using Theatre to Understand Citizen Values and Concerns with Respect to Marcellus Gas Development

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Brian Orland, William J Doan, Susan B Russell and Andrew Belser, Pennsylvania State University Main Campus, University Park, PA, United States
Marcellus shale gas is being developed with unprecedented speed. The highly capitalized energy industry has influenced major changes in the regulatory framework at federal and state levels and entered into mineral lease agreements 100-fold bigger that previously seen in Northern Pennsylvania. At the same time, the technical and scientific issues at play from geology and hydrology through ecology and sociology effectively block local citizens from fully understanding and participating in decision-making about their own futures.

The Marcellus Community-Based Performance Program engages adult residents, landowners, and local decision makers in knowledge-generating performances made collectively with those most impacted by shale gas development. Unlike traditional proscenium stage theatre, community-based performance is a collaborative means for exploring a collectively significant issue or circumstance. The choice to use a community-based theatre method, which engages the spectators in the performance itself as a way of making meaning, was based on the following goals

  • to achieve good debate;
  • to engage community participants in discussion through the exchange of ideas, argument and counter-argument, in an effort to further the education of all;
  • to facilitate the perspectives of citizens in communities where different responses to the risk issues exist because of local economies and legacies with resource extraction.

The plays and performances, developed around the broad theme of Living with Risk and Uncertainty, use existing research, reports, newspaper articles, and interviews to present the range of perceptions, facts, and issues surrounding the environmental risks associated with natural gas drilling and focused on developing scientific understanding.

Performances have been assessed by seeking direct feedback from participants through pre-performance surveys, post-performance dialogues (talk-backs), and exit interviews. Participants have reported the highest levels of interest in performances related to the economy, health impacts of drilling, environmental impacts, and in learning from what other people have to say.