Making sense of climate change, with dragons

The Hamline University Theater department debuts its 88th season of “PETROLEUM,” commentating on the ever prominent dragon of climate change.

Olivia Koski, Reporter

When speaking about climate change, what comes to mind? Is it large industries pumping smoke into the atmosphere or melting polar ice caps? Is it uncaring, monopolistic corporations or are we, as individuals, climate change too? “PETROLEUM” presents an analogy to tackle the burden of visualizing such a broad concept.

A synopsis on Hamline University’s website explains, “In Myanmar there are many ‘do it yourself’ oil drillers. They often drill sites that large companies have abandoned. It is said that a dragon dwells underneath a volcano near these oil fields. This dragon can give and the dragon can take away. When the dragon gives, the volcano erupts, the earth shifts, and more oil is released. When the oil dries up, it is a sign the dragon has decided to take away.”

This idea of a climate dragon comes from “Slaying the Climate Dragon,” a folk tale written by Kate Marvel. Marvel is a climate scientist at Columbia University and researcher for NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Director Taous Claire Khazem constructed “PETROLEUM” surrounding this tale, bringing it to life through use of visual storytelling on stage. Abby Hesse, a freshman at Hamline who attended opening night, commented on the use of the dragon analogy.

“Dragons are the perfect illusion because they’re kind of like emitting gases out of their mouths and the power plants are doing the same,” said Hesse.

Portrayal of Marvel’s mystical narrative is contrasted with an educational exploration of the history of oil. A global perspective takes the audience from the legend of American businessman John D. Rockefeller, to the noble work of an environmental conservationist in the Republic of Congo. Alana Crawford, another Hamline freshman who attended the show, talked about the diverse cast of characters.

“I thought it was really interesting, because there were two oil giants. Then they had a conservationist that could get killed by protesting and then they had a regular guy who was from Minnesota,” Crawford said.

Do not be deterred from attending if history is not a favorite subject. “PETROLEUM” is able to present the long and ongoing story of oil in a way that is both informative and entertaining. A colorful cast of characters performs upbeat musical numbers to intense action sequences. There are moments for laughter, but also moments for deep thinking, as there is not only a look into the history of oil, but also its modern consequences.

The cast and crew of the production are composed of Hamline students, who have worked collaboratively to create unique costume design and interactive set design, along with musical and dance performances. All of this is wrapped into one hour out of an evening, so attendance will not take much time out of a busy schedule.

“I really liked how nobody has seen the dragons, so nobody knows if they’re real, because it was like, a lot of the time people don’t know what climate change is because they can’t see it,” Crawford said.

Hamline University’s Anne Simley Theatre will be showing “PETROLEUM” Mar. 7, 8 and 9 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the box office in the Drew Fine Arts Center at $2 for Hamline students, $3 for ACTC students and staff, $8 for adults and $5 for outside students and seniors.