Because Earth is now considered by scientists to be in a “severe sixth period” of extinction, and Terry Glavin writes that we lose one species every 10 minutes and one language every two weeks, CCM grad Julianna Bloodgood and CEA Hall of Famer Michael Burnham address the issue together in next to not, their theatrical collage devoted to extinction. It’s an hour and 15 minute production — with choreography and live music — that explores loss, our world and how to exist within the two. You’d be right if you thought it sounds like a heavy endeavor.
With material culled from anthropologists, political activists, newspapers and Bloodgood and Burnham’s own poetry journals, next to not opens with facts about Earth currently undergoing the greatest period of mass extinction in human history. The two note that the only difference between this sixth extinction and the five previous cataclysms that have wiped species from world history is that this one involves humans. And, Burnham adds, “We’re not getting smarter with each generation — we’re losing knowledge.”
This analysis of loss touches on several angles — animal and plant species as well as personal relationships — and looks at both causes and consequences, from everything like cancer-causing biochemicals and paper bleaching to the only slightly more publicized gas corporations. At the heart of the production is the section on Harry Harlow’s isolation experiments with monkeys; some he kept in boxes for one year. At several times the dialogue comes back to Ah Meng, an orangutan in the Singapore zoo with whom you can pay to have tea for $95.
It’s easy to get caught up in the complexities of each segment’s subject. Thankfully, the monologues and poems are cut with songs and comedy. Burnham offers an audience member a paper with his phone number on it that also contains Bloodgood’s next lines, should someone have to help her out, just a few minutes before he cautions, “And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack/And you may find yourself in another part of the world,” and breaks out into Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime.”
Then there’s the unforgettable sequence near the conclusion of the performance when Bloodgood, in half of a monkey suit, starts in with “I Wan’Na Be Like You (The Monkey Song)” (from Disney’s The Jungle Book), and is suddenly accompanied by a seven-piece band that storms the venue (The Coffee Emporium on Central Parkway), circles the audience a few times and hijacks the clarinetist who has been underscoring Bloodgood and Burnham’s words — but not before showering the crowd with promotional confetti (catch the Queen City Zapatistas on Friday at The Comet).
Because it is so thought provoking, next to not might have had more impact if it had focused on fewer aspects of extinction. But Bloodgood and Burnham’s performances are heartfelt, and the Fringe is all the better for including this piece. They call on us to listen — to ourselves, each other and the Earth. Rather than talk about nature, talk to it, they urge. I leave enlightened and overwhelmed — and wondering whether it’s coincidence that I caught this production the same day I learned about the barefoot living movement.
— Jessica Canterbury