PLAYWRITING AS CIVIC INQUIRY: Chevron vs. Steven Donziger (DRA4026.01) (cancelled 12/1/2022)

Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig

… the [Living Newspaper] seeks to dramatize a new struggle – the search of the average American today for knowledge about his country and his world; to dramatize his struggle to turn the great natural and economic forces of our time toward a better life for more people.”

— Hallie Flanagan, National Director of the Federal Theatre Project.

This spring we will resurrect the spirit of the Federal Theatre Project and serve as a cohort of researcher-playwrights working for the Living Newspaper, a theatrical form that emerged in Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution which sought to produce informative and entertaining plays on pressing social issues to a popular audience.

We will task ourselves with researching and developing plays in a variety of genres and theatrical forms that explore the intimate and epic dimensions of Chevron’s decades long legal fight with human rights and environmental attorney Steven Donziger, which began after he won a $9.5 billion settlement against Chevron on behalf of tens of thousands of farmers and Indigenous peoples in Ecuador, due to the oil company’s pollution of the Amazon rainforest.

We will spend the first half of the semester doing intensive background research into our assigned topic and digest this research through a dramatist’s lens, mining information that will help us build the settings, worlds, characters, theatricality, visual metaphors and dramatic action of our plays. We will seek to understand the ways corporate power operated in this case, paying special attention to the roles of corporate lawyers, judges, publicists, lobbyists and consultants. We will also look at the ways major oil companies including Chevron engage in “art washing” – donating to cultural institutions to improve their public image. The second half the semester will be spent (1) reviewing ways dramatists have engaged similar themes and power operations in scripts for the screen and stage and (2) developing and workshopping short plays inspired by our collective research.

Learning Outcomes:
By the end of this course students will have gone through a research-to-performance model of new play development and have a working model of how they can bring this mode of civics-based playwriting engagement to future topics of their own choosing.

Delivery Method: Fully in-person
Prerequisites: Spend time researching Chevron’s prosecution of Donziger and Chevron’s history polluting the Ecuadorian Amazon to make sure you are sufficiently interested in this topic to devote a semester to exploring it through a dramatist’s lens. Email the instructor ( (1) Two writing sample of any length and (2) Your response to the following questions: What draws you to this course? What relevant experience and interests do you bring to it?
Course Level: 4000-level
Credits: 4
W 2:10PM - 5:50PM (Full-term)
Maximum Enrollment: 12
Course Frequency: One time only

Categories: 4000 , Advancement of Public Action , All courses , Drama , Four Credit , Fully In-Person , Updates