Hurricane Katrina Drama Ensemble

Just thought I’d post a task I have given to my Year 12 Drama students today for a performance activity in groups. Feel welcome to comment on the task or use it with your own students if you wish. While there are many scenes in this ensemble task, several of the smaller ones can be performed swiftly.

Hurricane Katrina

Setting
United States. 2005 and the present day. New Orleans and other locations.

Performance Style
Non-naturalism, with aspects of Epic Theatre.

Theatrical Conventions
Transformation of character, place and object, disjointed time sequences, pathos.

Stagecraft Elements
Props, costume, multimedia.

Dramatic Elements
Tension, language, contrast, mood, symbol.

Background
In August 2005, the greatest natural disaster in American history flooded an estimated 80% of New Orleans, leaving tens of thousands homeless and nearly 2,000 people dead. One of the most powerful hurricanes ever recorded, Katrina swept a path of devastation through New Orleans and surrounding areas. But political red tape and an inadequate government response hampered rescue efforts at the local, state and federal level, resulting in unnecessary grief, loss of life and lawlessness. Why did a first world country leave thousands of its citizens to fend for themselves for days and weeks after the disaster?

Plot
Note: all of the following scenes must be performed. One or more scenes must be performed out of chronological order to address the theatrical convention of disjointed time sequences.

Scene 1: August 23
Officials at the National Hurricane Centre in Miami discover an unusual weather pattern off the southeastern coast of the Bahamas, causing considerable concern for forecasters.

Scene 2: August 26
Governor Kathleen Blanco declares a state of emergency for Louisiana.

Scene 3: August 27
a) Louisiana Governor Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin hold a joint news conference calling for a ‘voluntary evacuation’ of the city.

b) Later that evening, Blanco considers ordering a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans, but does not do so, fearing potential litigation against the city from local businesses being forced to close trading.

Scene 4: August 28
a) At 8am officials at the National Hurricane Centre formally upgrade Hurricane Katrina to Category 5, the strongest possible rating for a hurricane.

b) At 9.30am Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco hold a news conference announcing a mandatory evacuation of the city of New Orleans, less than a day before landfall.

c) During the day, Governor Blanco orders the mobilization of most of her available troops in the Louisiana National Guard to prepare for possible Hurricane Katrina duties. Because nearly 40% of her troops are on duty in Iraq, she has less than 6,000 available.

d) After requesting 700 buses from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for evacuations on the coast, officers at the Louisiana National Guard headquarters wonder why 600 of the buses simply didn’t arrive.

e) Many of those who are able, pack their motor vehicles and travel on one of the interstate highways, which are now clogged with vehicles heading out of New Orleans on both sides of the road. Others head on foot to the Superdome, a designated relief area.

Scene 5: August 29
a) During the morning, the city of New Orleans is lashed by severe winds and pelting sheets of heavy rain. The darkened sky is filled with random sheets of metal, cars are overturned on the streets and trees are uprooted everywhere. The hurricane lasts for several hours. Citizens struggle to survive during the onslaught. Many lose their lives.

b) By 3pm the storm subsides, but city officials now realize the levee at the 17th Street Canal has been breached by the hurricane. It is one of several levees that have failed to keep the water out of the city. At 6ft below sea level, New Orleans is now being flooded by water in several directions. The 17th Street Canal breach is estimated to be 200ft wide. The Army Corp’s Al Naomi informs officials in the state capital Baton Rouge of the impending catastrophe, but his warnings go unheeded.

c) By evening, President Bush makes a speech in California, making no reference to Katrina. No one at state or federal level appear to be aware of the crucial 17th Street Canal levee breach.

Scene 6: August 30
While some people in New Orleans are waving desperately at Coast Guard helicopters from building rooftops, down below others are busy looting stores, some for food, and others for non essential items such as plasma TVs. The looting quickly becomes widespread across the city. Anarchy and lawlessness set in and crimes are rampant. The police become powerless to control the situation.

Scene 7: August 31
a) In the Superdome are an estimated 25,000 people. The situation is becoming desperate. The roof is leaking from the effects of Hurricane Katrina, the toilets have stopped working and the heat is unbearable. Crimes are being committed in front of people, the stench from the toilets and piles of garbage are becoming intolerable. People are becoming distressed and anxious and conditions are claustrophobic. The three days supply of food from the federal government is beginning to run out and the city outside the dome is still flooded. New Orleans has inadvertently become a part of nearby Lake Pontchartrain. People have nowhere to go. Health risks are high.

b) Two and a half days after Hurricane Katrina first hit land in New Orleans, President Bush makes his first public statement of the disaster. His speech is filled with government propaganda about the number of federal resources that have been deployed to the affected areas.

c) Meanwhile, Mayor Nagin has no choice but to order the city’s 1,500-strong police force to abandon all search and rescue efforts to fight the out-of-control crime occurring in and around New Orleans.

Scene 8: September 1
a) In hurricane-stricken New Orleans, officials fumble. There appears a clear lack of decision-making and little direction. Between the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Homeland Security, the National Guard and local relief efforts, confusion reigns as to who is in command of various disaster operations?

b) Later that day at a press conference, Homeland Security secretary Chertoff tells the nation all is under control in New Orleans. But at the same time on CNN, New Orleans Mayor Nagin is pleading desperately for assistance, stating the situation in the city is grave.

Scene 9: September 2
On the tarmac of New Orleans airport, President Bush
invites Louisiana Governor Blanco onto Airforce One for a meeting. Tensions are high. Bush is candid with Blanco about her open pleading via the press earlier that day for more relief equipment specifically from the federal government. He is concerned Blanco may have embarrassed his government, implying they are not doing enough for the people of New Orleans. Bush asks Blanco to hand over all disaster relief to him, officially making it a federal issue. Quietly suspicious that this move will enable the federal government to later blame problems on the state of Louisiana, Blanco says to Bush she will think about it. The next morning she declines Bush’s offer, constitutionally prohibiting active-duty troops from maintaining law and order in the city.

Scene 10: September 3
a) In New Orleans, the last of the people housed in the Superdome are evacuated onto waiting buses. Some of these people have been cramped in the dome for a week now.

b) Meanwhile, federal officials from various government agencies spend most of the day dodging political bullets from the world’s press concerning the apparent lack of coordination and time it took to evacuate New Orleans citizens. The press paint a dark picture of relief efforts over the past few days.

Scene 11: September 4
Hundreds of firefighters from across the country, earmarked for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, are lounging around telling stories and playing cards in an Atlanta hotel. They have been there for several days awaiting official orders from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who couldn’t determine exactly where to deploy them.

Scene 12: September 5
National Guard troops undertake relief efforts in New Orleans. It is a ghost town of water, floating bodies and destruction of property. Some of the guards are overcome by what they encounter. Others stop work to pray and think of the many that have lost their homes and lives in the disaster.

Scene 13: The Present
Some years on, construction workers in New Orleans, helping rebuild the city’s infrastructure, encounter a gruesome find. While excavating, workers unearth dozens of dead bodies under the soil of a building site. They are met by a visiting party of city, state and federal officials, touring New Orleans to determine whether the city has moved on since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina?

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2 Responses

  1. Justin Cash says:

    Thanks Jennifer. I’ll have to check out The Katrina Project. Didn’t know it existed! I’m glad people are writing works on significant events such as this.

    Most of the scenes in my Hurricane Katrina ensemble structure are 100% factual. I felt like a researcher for a few weeks preparing the task. A little bit of innocent fiction is weaved in here and there, but in total, about 95% real events.

    I wrote a similar structure last year for my 2007 senior Drama class on the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. It ended up being such a success (most importantly, in that the students enjoyed all aspects of the task – from the heavily prescriptive scenes, to the seriousness of the subject matter), that I was inspired to write a similar task this year, and will do so in the future. You can read about the Chernobyl performance task on this blog, if you like. Just type in ‘chernobyl’ into the search box on the right side of the blog.

  2. Jennifer says:

    Have you read The Katrina Project: Hell and Highwater by by Michael Marks and Mackenzie Westmoreland? You should check it out at playscripts.com –really nice play. It follows some of the same structure you have come up with here. I think it’s wonderful that you are exploring the topic with your students on the other side of the world. Where did the ideas for each scene come from?

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