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Zeit: ART + ISSUES: Down to the last drop

Red Shuttleworth
Courtesy of Red Shuttleworth

A few years ago, playwright and poet Red Shuttleworth, a former Las Vegan — he was in UNLV’s first MFA playwriting class, graduating in 1991 — wrote a prescient play about water scarcity and privatization, High Plains Fandango. Late this month, as the scorching drought and fears of water shortages give the play a heightened relevance, it’s being published in paperback and Kindle versions by Humanitas Media Publishing.


It’s a huge issue now, but what did you see back when you were conceiving Fandango that made you think water scarcity and privatization would be a compelling subject for a play?

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Robert D. Kaplan, in  The Coming Anarchy, wrote, “Water will be the liquid of the 21st century.” Kaplan predicted that there would be resource scarcities, and those scarcities would lead to international strife. Like anyone seriously interested in foreign affairs, I read a lot of Kaplan. Also, when, out of curiosity, I did very basic research on water, on the huge Ogallala Aquifer (beneath the Great Plains), I learned that privatization of water sources had already begun, with investments by Calvert and Pepsico, oilman T. Boone Pickens and others.


How did you go about turning a hot-button environmental issue into a work of art?

When Tom Loughlin, theater department chair at SUNY-Fredonia, learned I was going to retire from teaching, he asked what sort of play I might write next. I told Tom that my interest in the high plains (depopulation of rural counties, the future of the Ogallala Aquifer) was probably going to predicate my direction. So, quite bravely, since I had not written a scenario or prospectus of any sort, Tom commissioned a play for the 2012 theater season. I left teaching a semester sooner than I had planned to, and I sat down and banged out  High Plains Fandango, relying heavily (to make composite characters) on people I’d known in my Nebraska years, throwing them against the approach of water privatization. All the characters believe they are involved in doing good, or at least that they are involved in actions worthy of their talents and entitlements.

(Editor's note: Scott Dickensheets no longer works for Nevada Public Radio)