By Covi Loveridge Brannan
As I write to you from a small nature reserve in the Atlantic Rainforest of Brazil, I find my mind aflutter with semi-formed thoughts. It is hard to recall any place more spectacular than the one I am currently spending my time in. I’ve seen bioluminescent mushrooms decorate the nocturnal forest floor; I’ve fallen into a pond searching for tree frogs no bigger than my thumb; I’ve seen a butterfly fall fast asleep perched upside-down.
Here in the southwest of São Paulo state, I’m surrounded by locals who know the rainforest by birth, and biologists who know it through extensive study. Even the other volunteers — nature photographers, biology students, cannabis growers — seem eco-experts through my novice eyes. I try to shrug off the feeling of imposter syndrome as I respond (in heavily-accented Portuguese) to the seemingly simple question of what I do outside of this isolated, natural paradise: “Eu sou atriz”.
“I am an actress” is a gross simplification of what I do. If I were able to articulate myself properly, I would explain that, in addition to performing, I also write plays, and produce them, that I have a masters degree, that I consider myself a real-New-York-theatre-professional. I would go on to explain that for the past few years I’ve been interested in this thing called “eco-theatre” and getting some hands-on experience at Instituto de Pesquisa da Biodiversidade seemed like a great way to give myself some credibility when it comes to the “eco” part. Behind all these accreditations and explanations, however, the truth is — despite all my post-graduate studies, despite all I’ve accomplished so far — I came here searching for the answer to a deceivingly simple question: “How do I do this?”.
When you get into theatre, whether as a kid or an adult, the phrase “use what you know” is often repeated by your teachers. Theatre artists are storytellers above all else, so what better “way in” than to share with the audience what you yourself have experienced. Somehow, through trial and error and tricks of the imagination, “using what you know” becomes enough to embody Shakespearean fairies, Australian war lieutenants, and post-apocalyptic aristocrats. You can extrapolate what you know so far as to write plays about human-ghost romance, self-help cults championed by John Denver, suburban housewives succumbing to Cold War paranoia, or closeted, 20th century lesbians. Yet somehow, when it comes to talking about nature, about the Climate crisis, about why it matters to care for the soil and plants and animals that keep us alive, your mind draws a blank. A judge creeps into your inner monologue and chuckles, “Who are you kidding, Covi? You don’t know anything”.
I know this isn’t true, but a lot of the time it feels true. What is it about nature that feels so foreign to my 21st century person? The truth is, consumerism, capitalism, conololism, and white supremacy have spent over a century ensuring this is so. Teaching inhabitants of Western Civilization that to be close to nature is to be “uncivilized” or “barbaric” is a key tenant of justifying the exploitation of peoples and extraction of resources that have allowed our modern day society to reach this point of industrialization. I know the history of this lie, I know the deception which has taken place, yet somehow, emotionally, I still fall for the trick.
The more I think about how divorced I feel from nature, the more infuriated I get at the conditions that have made it so — the more I feel like a teenager, filled to the brim with passion, emboldened to rebel against the lies society taught me. I want to scream it in the streets and share it in my songs — well, plays — lest future generations be subjected to the same untruths I was.
And so, I continue the task of reclaiming my proximity to nature. For me, that could mean something as “exotic” as digging through Brazilian bird poop looking for fruit seeds (in the name of science), or as close to home as feeling the sand between my toes on a Southern California beach. As I investigate this relationship, I do my best to share as I go. I have yet to write my first “eco-play,” whatever that means… I’m much too scared. But in the end, aren’t we all part of the same global ecosystem as the butterflies and the sandcrabs and the seedlings? Why should my story be so different from their story? Why should any of ours be?
Covi Loveridge is an actress, playwright, creative producer based out of NYC and LA. As a practitioner, Covi is committed to producing and pursuing sustainable and eco-socially conscious work. She believes human stories and ecological stories are intertwined and values work that embraces this shared legacy of life on Earth.
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