Play seeks common ground in West
SUMMIT COUNTY – Land issues are an often controversial subject in the West, and, as many in Summit County can attest, those controversies can become emotional.
A theatrical performance might help opposing parties find common ground.
It might seem like an unusual path toward resolution, but Dr. Florine Raitano, executive director of the Colorado Rural Development Council (CRDC) in Dillon, said a play can work.
“WEED: A One Act Play About the Modern West” is a performance about land issues written for the Colorado, Utah and Idaho rural development councils.
The play features a rancher, his wife and his foreman, a county commissioner (who also is a raft guide, owns a cafe, and is a part of the search and rescue team), a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) district manager and her secretary, and an environmentalist.
The three rural development councils asked Idaho playwright Micki Pantajja to write the play after the success of her play “Opening Windows” – about rural issues such as substance abuse, teen health and pregnancy – which she wrote for the Idaho Rural Development Council several years ago.
“Micki has a gift for really writing these plays from a neutral vantage point,” Raitano said.
Pantajja spent a summer travelling around the West, meeting with the various parties involved in land issues and controversies – ranchers, county commissioners, environmentalists, rafters and others.
Her play “WEED” was written from a vantage point so neutral, Raitano said, the audience can alternately sympathize with and dislike each character at some point in the play.
“It gets you to suspend your own belief system – put your ideological defenses down and put them aside,” Raitano said.
And it works, she added. When Raitano saw the play in Cortez, the head of the Cattleman’s Association, the state director of the BLM and an environmentalist were among those in the audience with her. After the curtain dropped, both said the play had precisely captured their position, but also had allowed them to understand the other side, too.
“In this play, nobody wears the white hat, nobody wears the black hat,” Raitano said. “That’s the magic.”
That’s also when the most meaningful and productive discussions can take place about sensitive issues, she said.
“Once you do that, then you can see real progress made dealing with tough issues – outside of a courtroom,” Raitano said.
This opportunity for dialogue is not coincidence.
“This isn’t just for entertainment value,” Raitano said. The intent of is to lower defenses, help people sympathize with opposing views, and have a discussion about the issues, she added.
Each performance of “WEED” is followed by a facilitated discussion. A handbook with questions and guidelines is available to assist with that dialogue, Raitano said.
The CRDC is not a theater group. It has hired a group from Denver to perform the play in Colorado. The group’s role is to facilitate solutions in rural Colorado, “helping communities come to their own comfort zone with the issues,” she said.
“We’re trying to get everybody to call a cease-fire – to find a common ground and move in the same direction.”
“WEED” is not yet scheduled to play in Summit County, but Raitano said she hopes to see it performed here.
“It just needs a champion in a community,” she said, adding she’s already been contacted by the BLM in Rangely, and it is scheduled for a show at the CRDC’s 10th annual convention in Greeley.
For more information on how to host “WEED: A One Act Play About the Modern West” in your community, call the Colorado Rural Development Council at (970) 262-2073 or visit its Web site at http://www.ruralcolorado.org
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