Five months post-Hurricane Maria, ‘Katrina Project’ proves touching, timely

Over twelve years ago on August 23, 2005, Hurricane Katrina, a category 5 storm, blew through New Orleans, Louisiana, one of several cities most affected. Days into the aftermath of the storm, Michael Marks and Mackenzie Westmoreland started talking with those who stayed in New Orleans. They collected their experiences of those who could not leave in order to give a voice to one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history.

Marks and Westmoreland’s interviews turned into “The Katrina Project: Hell and High Water,” a play dedicated to those who lost their lives, loved ones or were otherwise impacted by the storm. The play, which follows a diverse group of characters as they experience the devastation, will come to life this weekend, Friday through Saturday evening, in the Arnold Hall Auditorium courtesy of 3rd Act Productions.

The show’s director, fourth-year performing arts student and “native Savannaian” Claire Price, is no stranger to her material. She starred in the show when she was a freshman at the Savannah Arts Academy, and that production traveled to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland.

“We had to do the show now because there is so much political relevance, it’s almost difficult to watch at certain points,” Price said following a rehearsal run of the show. “This show was like a piece of my soul. I knew I wanted to direct, and I knew I wanted to direct something riveting, something that reflects what we’re all going through [with] the political climate of the country right now. Overall I think the show is honest and you can’t deny that.”

The Katrina Project: Hell or High Water SCAD 2018

The cast of “The Katrina Project: Hell and High Water” performs an early “pre-storm” scene in the show. Image credit: Emilie Kefalas.

With the help of 30 students making the project possible, Price said her cast of exactly 16 actors consists of invested performers, some of whom have never before been onstage. Price also pointed out the monologues featured in the show are real, not fabricated for playwriting purposes.

“They’re really from the hearts and souls of these survivors and from those who perished, so we get to see different perspectives,” Price said. “The more we shed light on it, the more we give support to the voices that we don’t usually get to hear. Maybe there will be a ‘Maria Project’ one day and we can hear voices from the Puerto Rico side of things. I feel that there seems to be a recurring political negligence to leave specifically minorities in the dark.”

For Price, the show especially hits home mostly because her downstairs roommate is from Puerto Rico. Price said she discussed the show with her roommate and decided to include a table in the Arnold Hall lobby to collect donations supporting Somos Una Voz, an alliance of artists working to provide food, shelter, medicine and power to those in need from the effects of recent natural disasters, including Hurricane Maria.

“I wanted to shed light on what’s happening and I also wanted to directly positively impact it,” Price said. “All of Puerto Rico doesn’t even have power yet. That is really concerning just for me as an outsider, but I can’t even imagine how my downstairs roommate feels, being someone who’s from there and has family there.”

The Katrina Project: Hell or High Water SCAD 2018

First-year student Jordan Yowell plays Jackie Bolton, a resident of New Orleans’s Ninth Ward who evacuated to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Image credit: Emilie Kefalas.

Aside from getting the opportunity to direct a show she’s been involved with before, Price said the most rewarding part of her role as a director is learning from those she leads, specifically her actors.

“I teach outside of school,” Price said. “I’m always in a leadership role, and I am continuously finding that I learn so much as a person not just in balancing the needs of people, but also as an actor. I know that an actor’s work is never done. [Directing] teaches me new things every time. I’m just humbled to work with [this cast]. It’s all about them. That’s the most rewarding thing for sure.”

Price encouraged students and other members of the SCAD and Savannah communities to come support the show because it is politically relevant and it is also performed in under an hour with no intermission.

“I know we’re approaching finals, but it’s 45 minutes long,” Price said. “It speaks for itself. It’s riveting.”

“The Katrina Project: Hell and High Water” opens Friday, March 2 at 7 p.m. in the Arnold Hall Theatre. The show also has two performances Saturday, March 3 at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Admission is free and open to the public.

By Emilie Kefalas.