Play Contemplates Impact of “Fracking” on Family

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Hydraulic fracturing, a method of natural gas extraction that has raised environmental concerns, has been the subject of state and national news almost daily.

Jeremy Sony, a third-year M.F.A student at Ohio University, examines the topic from a new angle in his thesis play Frackture.

Sony’s play focuses on Mitch and Zack Walston, brothers from a small Ohio town facing emotional turmoil after the loss of their older brother.

The two try to decide what to do with the vast expanse of their brother’s land left to them.

If they choose to “frack” (a colloquial term for hydraulic fracturing), they will sell the land to a large corporation for a big payday, but possibly at the expense of the environment.

Sony received a Trisolini Fellowship from the Ohio University Graduate College to develop the play.

Awarded through a competitive nomination process, the award provides $14,488 plus a full tuition scholarship for fall and spring semesters.

Although Sony’s previous plays have explored topics as varied as science, the newsroom and even the afterlife, his work is unified by a common theme.

"At my core, no matter what the backdrop, be it fracking, space, physics, politics, I write about families—brothers, fathers and daughters, husbands and wives, best friends— and how loss can pull them together or tear them apart," Sony said.

The inspiration for the Walston family came from Sony’s previous work in Midnight Madness, a weekly show produced by students in the M.F.A playwriting program. Madness requires the playwrights to write a play based around a theme over the course of a week and then stage it on Friday night.

He developed the characters over three pieces for Madness, including a monologue written from the point of view of Frackture’s protagonist, Mitch. When contemplating a new idea for a play about hydraulic fracturing, he decided to call on the brothers to tell the tale.

The characters may be fictional, but they face a problem based very much in reality. Fracking has triggered a national debate. Advocates of the process argue that it’s an economically viable way to access domestic natural energy resources.

Critics express concern about possible environmental and public health consequences of the process. As a result, Ohioans are making tough decisions about whether to lease their private lands for fracking, Sony said. He hopes that his play can help humanize the issue.

"I want people in my audience to see themselves on that stage," he said. "If they can see themselves in whatever situation I dramatize, and I can get them to wrestle with the hard choices my characters are facing—to care about them, to root for them—then I feel I’m doing my job."

Sony has been working on Frackture since the end of the last school year. He calls his writing process the "Battle Plan." He starts by writing about his characters and final intent, and then outlines the play. After that comes dialogue.

Frackture was recently read and workshopped by Sony and his fellow M.F.A playwrights. Sony feels that he benefits not only from the feedback of his peers, but also from hearing his play read aloud.

"I get to hear how an actor’s going to process a line, how an actor is going to process a character," he said.

The ultimate goal, besides a finished thesis, is to have the play produced and published. Sony will continue to develop Frackture through a series of workshops this year. It will be staged at the university’s Seabury Quinn, Jr. Playwrights’ Festival this spring, as either as a reading or a studio production.

Article courtesy of Ohio University Research Communications.