The Song of the Reeds: rewilding drama
'Song of the Reeds' is an ongoing project that extends drama’s dialogue with urgent issues of conservation.
Exploring how playwriting can engage with climate change and our perception of nature, Dramatist and Professor of Scriptwriting Steve Waters research has focused on creatively examining the Wicken Fen and Strumpshaw Fen nature reserves in East Anglia. The findings into the founding figures and moments in the ecology of the region inspire and emerge as innovative projects that find new ways in which drama and conservation might speak to each other.
This summer, ‘Nature. Crisis. Drama.’, a two-day symposium in Norwich, ran in partnership with UEA, YNA Collective and the Norwich Arts Centre, brought together writers, academics, musicians, performers and conservationists to look at further ways of responding to the crisis in the natural world through the arts.
Project: Nature. Crisis. Drama.
This summer, ‘Nature. Crisis. Drama.’, a two-day symposium in Norwich, in partnership with Young Norfolk Arts Collective and the Norwich Arts Centre, brought together writers, academics, musicians, performers and conservationists to look at further ways of responding to the crisis in the natural world through the arts. Prof Waters performed extracts from his monologue Rothschild’s Walk, which explored how Charles Rothschild, scion of the famous banking family, is a forgotten pioneer of the nature reserve.
Following this, panel discussions featured experts from UEA and organisations and individuals who have contributed to the research - including Tangled Feet, the RSPB and the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust. Conversation focused on dramatising species loss and finding new audiences for nature writing. Poets, critics, musicians and other collaborators also shared their perspectives on the day, which culminated with a site-specific theatre performance of Waters’ piece Voices from the Reeds.
On 10 July, ‘Dodo, Phoenix, Butterfly: Dramatising the Climate Crisis’ saw the performance of three new works by Prof Waters, written in response to original research about the climate crisis. These scenarios of collapse and renewal examined species extinction, re-wilding and rising sea levels. The performances were followed by a dialogue between the writers, actors and the audience.
Song of the Reeds: Re-Wilding Drama
Saturday 9 July 2022
A symposium on drama, conservation and the climate crisis at The Enterprise Centre, University of East Anglia, Norwich Research Park, Norwich, NR4 7TJ.
10.15 – 11:00 Welcome and Keynote
Steve Waters, (Professor of Scriptwriting, UEA, author of Song of the Reed and The Contingency Plan) with performed extracts from his monologue Rothschild’s Walk.
11:00 – 12:00 Setting the Scene: Ecology, History, Geography
Jos Smith (poet and critic, UEA, The New Nature Writing, Subterranea); David Matless (Cultural Geographer, University of Nottingham, author of In the Nature of Landscape: Cultural Geography on the Norfolk Broads); Tom Williamson (Professor of Landscape History, UEA, author of An Environmental History of Wildlife in England and The Norfolk Broads: A Landscape History).
Chaired by poet and teacher Elizabeth Lewis Williams
12:00 – 13:00 Wild Tracks: Sounding Out Nature
Boz Temple-Morris and Al McGregor, Holy Mountain audio productions, producers of ‘Song of the Reed’ for BBC Radio 4; Karen Reilly and Jon Baker from The Neutrinos creators of Klanghaus; Polly Wright, composer and performer for Murmurations.
Chaired by writer, performer and producer Taylor Beidler
13:00 – 14:00 Lunch
14:00 – 16:00 Access all Areas: New Audiences for Nature
Tangled Feet on Murmurations; John Gordon, Reader in English Education, UEA on ’Voices Across the Reeds’; Members of Young Norfolk Arts Collective.
Chaired by independent creative producer Lucy Farrant
15:00 – 16:00 Waterlands: The Drama of Wetlands
Tom Fewins Head of Policy and Advocacy for Wildfowl and Wetland Trust; Sarah Smith, General Manager for Fenland, National Trust; Kate Carver project manager at the Great Fen, Wildlife Trust.
Chaired by actor Nayantara Nara
16.30 – 17:30 Bioblitz: Dramatizing Species-Loss
Matt Howard, poet, Douglas Caster Fellow of Poetry, University of Leeds, author of Gall; Tim Strudwick, Mid Yare Reserves Site Manager for RSPB; Sarah Woods, playwright, activist and radio dramatist, author of In the Shadow of Man for BBC Radio about Jane Goodall.
Chaired by doctoral researcher Andrew Burton
18:00 Reception, site-specific theatre piece with UEA Alumnus theatre company of ‘Voices from the Reeds’ directed by Molly Farley
Dodo, Phoenix, or Butterfly?: Dramatising the Climate Crisis
Three scenarios of collapse and renewal, based on research by Rupert Read, written by Steve Waters and directed by Kay Michael.
Sunday 10 July 2022, Norwich Arts Centre, 51 St Benedicts Street, Norwich NR2 4PG
EAST ANGLIA 2030 Collapse and/or transformation
The day will involve the staging of three original scenarios for the stage which examine possible futures in the climate crisis; the performances will be followed by a dialogue between the writers, actors and the audience.
9:45 Doors Open
10:00 – 10:30 Opening remarks – Rupert Read, Steve Waters, Kay Michael
Chaired by Andy Towler
10:30 Scenario One: InsectTinction – collapse of the pollinator – a 15-minute drama
11:45 Scenario Two: Saltwater Incursion – collapse of Broads as freshwater system – a 15-minute drama
13:00 – 14:00 Lunch
14:15 Scenario Three: Half-Earth – life in a 50% re-wilded, agriwilded East Anglia – a 15-minute drama
16:00 – 17:00 Plenary and closing remarks
Chaired by Rupert Read
‘Song of the Reeds’ is a constant attempt to reveal the hidden ethics of the way we live. It explores climate change through changing the conditions for making drama, developing relationships with non-theatrical venues and devising new theatre productions and companies.
'Song of the Reed' - Radio Drama
In 2021 a four-part radio drama for Radio 4 was written by Prof Steve Waters in collaboration with Holy Mountain. This was broadcast over the year at equinoxes and solstices, providing a near documentary account of conservation through the seasons.
‘The Race Against Time’ - Youth Project
A collaboration between the University of East Anglia and East Norfolk Sixth Form College saw young adults work with experts from the College and the University to produce a new site-specific performance about climate change at RSPB Strumpshaw Fen, Norfolk. The project was supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).
'Voices from the Reeds' - short films
Collaborating with partners, including the East Anglian Film Archive (EAFA) and Norfolk Record Office, Prof Waters wrote alternative voice-overs to films from EAFA’s collection representing East Anglia’s broads. He also shared a new monologue written especially for The Song of the Reeds.
Watch these narrated archive films that explore the region’s unique natural heritage, offering a glimpse of the unseen lives of flora and fauna that call East Anglia’s natural habitats their home.
'Murmurations' - theatre
A collaboration with Tangled Feet, this site-specific play focused on the centrality of nature, as we extricate ourselves from the pandemic.
The play used innovative headphone-based drama, entertaining physical theatre and highly visual methods to reveal the potential of reserves as drama venues. It synthesised the experiences and concerns emerging from the research, putting the reserves and their work into a larger public domain, animating their predicament in a mobilising fashion and modelling how theatre can be made in non-theatrical and non-urban settings.
The innovative activities at the heart of 'The Song of the Reeds' include community-based projects, unique public engagement events and a final professional project. All of them exemplify how drama can be used within conservation, and the importance of connecting the dots between artistic practice, academic research and local communities.
Alongside the aforementioned partners, the creative work has also supported Norfolk Heritage Open Days. These events cover the stories, sites, places and people that traditional history overlooks.
Steve Waters, UEA Professor of Scriptwriting
Professor Steve Waters is a political dramatist who focuses on environmental questions. His work has won many awards. World Music was joint winner of the Meyer-Whitworth Award. Fall of the Shah was runner-up to Best Drama Podcast of 2019 by British Podcasting Awards. The Contingency Plan, a diptych of two plays about climate change, was shortlisted for the John Whiting Award.
Prof Waters teaches undergraduates and postgraduates at the School of Literature, Drama & Creative Writing at UEA. He was co-convenor of the Writing and Science Project and now also convenes the MA in Creative Writing: Scriptwriting programme and supervises PhD students. Teaching and writing have always been linked in his work.