“We Fight Isolation With Community” Josh Fox’s The Truth Has Changed
Josh Fox burst into wider American consciousness with his 2010 documentary Gasland, about fracking, and expanded his reach and activism with subsequent films like How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change; and Awake, A Dream From Standing Rock. It’s less well known but before his work as a filmmaker, he directed more than 30 theatre pieces as founder and artistic director of the International Wow Company. His triumphant return to the stage, The Truth Has Changed, arrives at the Wexner Center on Friday, September 14, the same week as it’s New York debut at Town Hall.
Fox said of the transition, “The documentaries came about out of political necessity; they were very similar in a lot of ways to the plays I was making with International Wow Company. I founded International Wow in 1996 with a bunch of actors. We created these huge, epic cycle plays that went all over the world. That was my most passionate life’s work. The plays focused on globalization, economics, the Iraq War, all the epic, global stories we could find from our personal lives.”
“Gasland was a side project that led me to make four straight documentaries about the environment. Returning to the theatre has been quite nice, but we’ve been doing plays the whole way; we’ve been keeping the tradition alive, but certainly not as much as before the films.”
Fox talked about that parallel stream of work. “In 2014, we mounted a huge production called Solutions Grassroots which featured some of the real people who were in Gasland – John Fenton and his son – plus Vanessa Bley from the jazz band Twin Danger and 30 actors in a story of fracking and climate change all over the world. It was really a teaching play for people to learn about renewable energy. It was a wonderful thing and it toured throughout upstate New York.”
The idea percolated for The Truth Has Changed in Fox bringing his films to the public. “On tour, I do an enormous amount of public speaking, Q&A sessions, stories, a lot of performance. And that’s sort of my tradition of doing a one-man show.”
“Sheila Nevins at HBO commissioned [The Truth Has Changed] and the piece really evolved over 15 months of workshops and development. I’ve been performing it for the last seven or eight months. I’ve been performing the piece as it evolved since September but the tour [in its final form] has been going since May – LA, San Francisco, Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans.”
Talking about the differences in performing a one-man show, Fox said, “Yeah, it’s interesting – International Wow Company’s work was huge, huge plays with 25 or 30 actors. [The Truth Has Changed] is a huge, huge play with 30 pieces to it: they’re just all done by me. The storytelling is just as epic, just as grand, and it goes through many different permutations. It’s just a different feeling because it’s not ‘dance routines’ and interactions: it’s me relating to this arc of history.”
“I love it. I’ve been a one-man show on the road since Gasland came out – I’ve done 500 tour dates – so I have a relationship with my audience that is really deep. While we’re doing this, I’m talking to people on the Fracking movement, I’m talking to people on the Bernie campaign, people working on issues of progressive politics. Interestingly, this combines elements of my life and my work. It’s a conversation that’s having its next chapter.”
Asked if there’s still an element of his own education in this project, Fox said, “Absolutely. Every single day. Gasland taught me an enormous amount about talking to people. We find commonality where we all want our children to have a good future: to not drink poisoned water, to not have ruined land and polluted air, and the health problems that come from all those things. When we’re talking about oil companies or fracking or injustice or climate change at a very deep level, there’s common ground. And there’s a commonality in the language we use. We’ve seen a movement wake up on the environment bringing in people from relatively conservative backgrounds.”
“It’s exciting to be awake and alive right now. These tours are always listening tours as much as speaking tours. In Columbus, we’re going to have all these activist groups speaking. When I toured my films, the tours were always community-sponsored. So we had co-sponsorships with local organizations we’d bring up on stage at the end of the movie. These films addressed situations of emergency. Your community’s about to get fracked, you got hit by level five hurricanes in a row, you’re in the throes of fighting a pipeline under your that’s an emergency. What’s the best way to fight an emergency? Work with local organizations.”
“[The Truth Has Changed] addresses the emergency of people tampering in our democracy and the emergency of journalism and fake news. So what do we need to do? We need those community leaders in the room. [In that spirit,] this is a three-act play: I do act one and two and the third is the community. What do we want focused on now? There’s an opportunity at the end of the show – which goes on as long as it wants to – for the community to come out and speak. And that’s the most important part for me because I get to listen.”
“We fight fire with water. We fight isolation with community. We fight lies with truth. We fight the big forces with local action. That’s always been the case but it’s even more clear here because it’s a performance. I’ve just spoken for two hours. Now, instead of a Q&A with me, it’s time to hear other voices. It’s wonderful because we really get to have a discussion“.
“We have a slogan at the end of the show: Truth is Organizing. It’s a double-entendre: the way out of all this is out-organize. It empowers people. As you give people awareness about something horrifying – and this subject matter usually is: climate change, fracking, psychographics, and disinformation; if you don’t give them something to do, you’re leaving them in a state of depression and paralysis. The only way out of this is to activate yourself. When you activate yourself you start to feel better. Feeling better is part of the thing but having better communication, better communities, are what we can all work toward from that.”
There are additional media elements to The Truth Has Changed. Fox said, “The book happened because Dan Simon from Seven Stories Press came to see one of our workshop performances and said ‘This would make an amazing book.’ And it’s beautiful, I’m super happy, and I’m super in love with it.”
Tying it in with his wildly successful documentaries, Fox said, “This was always intended to be a film. Originally we were going to do this at the Public or somewhere in New York City, we’d run it, we’d run it, we’d shoot it, and it would premiere on HBO. Things have changed around HBO; there are still great people at HBO and I’m definitely making another film with HBO whether it’s this one or not. But for this performance, we’re filming it on our own. We may do a whole series of these monologues at 30 minutes each. We may do a series of interactive short pieces. We’re not sure of the final form but we’re definitely making this as a movie.”
The Truth Has Changed takes place at the Mershon Auditorium Stage on September 14 at 8:00 p.m. For tickets and more info, visit wexarts.org/performing-arts/josh-fox.