‘Ocean Filibuster’ to take audiences under the sea at American Repertory Theater


Performing artist Jennifer Kidwell plays both Senate leader Mr. Majority and The Ocean. Photo by Ryan Collerd, courtesy of The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

Brenna Thornton, news correspondent

A one-of-a-kind experience that explores the intersection of theatre, climate justice and augmented reality, “Ocean Filibuster” will premiere Feb. 24 at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge. Created by artistic team Katie Pearl and Lisa D’Amour, known as PearlDamour, the piece immerses audiences in a not-so-distant future where a politician proposes a bill to end the existence of the ocean. 

Originally set to debut in September 2020, the show’s journey to production was impeded by COVID-19. Though virtual rehearsals and limited audience interactions aren’t ideal, they have fortunately served to underline the show’s important themes.

“COVID brought more attention to the environment,” D’Amour said. “It has really heightened our awareness of how we’re interconnected.”

Performing artist Jennifer Kidwell plays both Senate leader Mr. Majority and The Ocean; her simultaneous portrayal of the two characters highlights the connection between vastly different life forms. 

“Using the device of personification, we can start to understand that there’s no division between humans and ocean,” Kidwell said. 

This is the motto of this dynamic production, which aims to increase awareness of the climate crisis through hands-on audience engagement.

“There’s something about just reading about an issue that puts you at a certain distance from it,” Pearl said. “In theatre we’re including the audience as a sort of storytelling member and casting them in the world.”

Audiences of “Ocean Filibuster” will not remain isolated from the issues it addresses. The show utilizes music, video, and interactive mini-labs, which are 3D augmented reality, or AR, experiences that audiences can access at intermission, to immerse audiences  in what it’s like to journey to the ocean floor. 

Pearl explained that a major goal of the technological aspects of the production is to foster a sense of connection to otherwise foreign parts of Earth’s ecosystem. 

“The AR specifically is designed to give our audience access to things they’ll never see otherwise,” Pearl said. 

In exposing viewers to the wonders of the ocean floor, “Ocean Filibuster” lays a foundation for measurable impact long after the curtain closes.

D’Amour said her ultimate ambition for this production is to create an educational tool for environmental awareness and inspire real action.

“My goal is that this piece continues to tour and that everyone who sees it decides to engage with ocean and air initiatives in their community once a week,” D’Amour said.  “It is so hard to get people to do things just once a week.”

The tour, funded by a Kickstarter campaign, will create a localized experience for the communities it visits. These funds ensure that the show’s dynamic set can adapt to different venues and will support partnerships with different climate advocacy organizations in each city. 

For its run at the American Repertory Theater, “Ocean Filibuster” is collaborating with the Conservation Law Foundation, Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Programs and Mass Audubon to provide resources that will further enrich the audience’s understanding of local marine ecologies. 

This uniquely crowdsourced initiative will make “Ocean Filibuster” accessible to bigger, younger audiences, D’Amour said, and further spread its call to environmental action. Kidwell shares the same hopes that it will increase accountability and inspire people.

“We hope to shift perspective about personal behavior and remember how impactful all of our choices are,” Kidwell said.

“Ocean Filibuster” is a unique, integrated theatrical performance that intends to bridge the gap between humankind and the natural world. It will run at the American Repertory Theater until March 13 before embarking on its national tour. 

“Caretaking the ocean and the air is caretaking ourselves,” D’Amour said.