'Longitude' Turns the Coming Climate Hell into Digital Theater

'Longitude,' part of LIFT 2014, explores the murky dealings of fresh water profiteering in an age of climate change.

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Jun 14 2014, 1:00pm

As part of this year's LIFT, a theater festival that turns London into a stage, the Elastic Future group continues its experiments in "digital theater" with the climate-focused Longitude

As with Peek a Boo (also co-commissioned by LIFT), the San Francisco-based theater troupe is again harnessing the power of Google Hangouts to film live theatrical performances. Written in collaboration with playwright Tim Wright, and designed by artistic teams working in Barcelona, Lagos and London, Elastic Future's Longitude wades into the murky global market struggle over fresh water in this time of climate change.

The first episode was broadcast live on June 9th, and the second airs June 16th, followed by the third and final episode on June 23rd. Each episode clocks in under twenty minutes, fusing elements of film, theater, and digital media into a unique and thought-provoking whole. Longitude's aesthetics may not be spectacular (it uses Hangout's live feed after all), but it's conceptually engaging. 

Episode 1 follows city analyst Nerida Thomson, who believes that Lagos, Nigeria, ravaged by the effects of climate change, could use billions of gallons of water. Nerida is working with the Academy of Water and Spiritual Healing (AWASH), a mysterious and somewhat cultish group that spouts mantras like "I am water" and "a life of water".

These partners want revitalize the region by working with a local Lagos resident named Amenawon for private, for-profit distribution. Amenawon is the winner of AWASH's 20 Billion Gallons campaign by claiming he would distribute the water for Lagos' citizens for every day use.

The plan is a bit suspect. AWASH and Nerida want to essentially ship water from Antarctica to Lagos on a super tanker every month for ten years. Nerida and AWASH call the strategy "business model innovation." How they will pull this off is anyone's guess. In a way, AWASH and Nerida's plan to ship melted glacier water internationally echoes Greenland's fresh water as export commodity.

But, in Longitude, no one trusts anyone. Nerida is a bit skeptical of AWASH, which has "eyes in Lagos" to keep watch over Amenawon (remember: he's Nigerian), who doubts the entire enterprise. But, he functions as stand-in for an entire region in desperate need of international aid. The personification of a region whose collective voice that barely registers on the international stage. 

Google Hangouts' glitchy delays pop up here in there. Instead of creating distractions, they lend an air of menace to the proceedings. Hangout's grainy live video feed also serves Longitude well: with truth and clarity so variable, there should be more than a little static to the story. On a more general level, it's great to see socially-engaged theater exploring the backroom dealings of water commodity profiteering.

Those who tune into Elastic Future's Longitude can interact with AWASH's Twitter account, where they can post photos and videos depicting signs of climate change. They can also visit AWASH's website, which urges people to "Become the wave, a molecule in a sea of consciousness," and share their story. The Longitude performances are also supplemented by a gallery installation by Hellicar & Lewis at Watermans Gallery from June 11 to July 13.