“On the Lawn,” a production put on by the Georgetown University theater and performance studies program, inventively highlights issues of climate change, ecological conquest and land transformation through contemporary musical theater. The show is an artistic, experimental 90-minute examination of the physical presence of the lawn in American culture and its role in our relationship to the Earth.
“On the Lawn,” which is running from November 14 to the 16th, was co-created and co-directed by two members of the New York-based LubDub Theatre Co., Geoff Kanick and Caitlin Nasema Cassidy (COL ’11), in collaboration with Georgetown’s theater and performance studies program. “On the Lawn” was brought to the Davis Performing Arts Center by Maya Roth, artistic director of the center, as part of the 2019-20 season of student-focused productions, which incorporates students from all walks of life and passions.
In May 2019, Georgetown students began working with LubDub Theatre Co. and brought the play to Georgetown in August 2019, directly incorporating the voices of students, faculty and local designers in each aspect of the production. The co-creators have remained at Georgetown since rehearsals began on October, constantly working with the community to craft this theatrical experiment.
The students provided distinct views on their perception of grass and backyards in the writing of the play, which created a platform for the entire Georgetown community to reimagine its relationship with lawns. The play highlights students’ individuality throughout every scene while connecting viewers through the lens of climate activism.
The production’s cast and crew include Georgetown students of all ages, backgrounds and academic paths and not necessarily actors, united by a common interest in this innovative call for awareness, according to Cassidy.
“Students are rolling up from baseball practice and football games and coming from the School of Nursing,” Cassidy said in an interview with The Hoya. “And that is how we want to make the work: that kind of collaboration and with people coming from lots of different angles and places and practices.”
“On the Lawn” was developed as an urgent response to the climate crisis. In an effort to integrate climate change issues into daily lives, the directors wanted to explore backyards. Eventually, the creators focused on the tangibility of lawns and their potential as a spark for widespread personal connection, according to Cassidy.
“People were bursting at the seams to talk to us about their lawns,” Cassidy said. “It was like everyone had a story, and even if they didn’t have a lawn they had grown up by a park or a forest.”
The ubiquity of lawns in the imagery of Americana made the random topic an ideal space to spark a societal discussion, according to Cassidy.
“The most exciting thing about lawns for me is because they are everywhere in this country, they are a site for major potential change,” Cassidy said.
The power of “On the Lawn” resides in its ability to transform an object as simple as grass into a medium for complex issues. The minimalist set, focused solely on grass, acts as a canvas for the cast’s forceful display of music and dance.
The artistic elements transport the audience into the life of the lawn, examining its transformation throughout history and establishment as a landmark feature of suburbia. The actor’s movements on the stage create a sense of dynamism and drive the play, while emphasizing the remodeling of the traditional depiction of a lawn, from a facet of American culture into a model for activism.
In these performances, the audience witnesses the human desire to possess land, often in excess, and the history of the exploitation of nature. The production’s intensity promotes critical thinking and encourages an emotional response deeply rooted in awareness and perspective. “On the Lawn” proves that an examination of the physicality of grass, particularly its simplistic nature, can lead humans to inspect their own roles as passive witnesses to anthropogenic issues, even if the premise seems outlandish.
The presentation at the Davis Center is a draft, as the directors plan to expand “On the Lawn” outside of Georgetown. In spring 2021, the play will have its off-Broadway debut, allowing an even larger community to unearth their connection to the planet by redefining the concept of lawns.
“On the Lawn” showcases the fluidity and collaboration of the modern theatrical process, as the play’s constant evolution will mirror societal responses to current and future ecological issues, especially in relation to climate change in the backyard, the aspect of society most clearly seen by everyday Americans.