Students adapt Tibetan play for Earth Month

The wife of Laksmin Srijata, played by Hannah Hardley, cries during a scene of “A Courtroom Drama of Rebirth” Thursday evening in Downing University Center Auditorium.

Anna Anderson

Downing University Center’s Auditorium was filled with the monotone droning of Tibetan Buddhist chanting on Wednesday, April 11, as part of the soundtrack to a performance hundreds of years old.

Taylorsville senior Joel Fickel, who goes by the stage name Joel Sena, adapted and directed the play titled “A Courtroom Drama of Rebirth” from the 2005 English translation of The Tibetan Book of the Dead.

Fickel worked with his group called the Corporate Surrealists of America and a few friends, to put on the show performed Wednesday and Thursday nights.

Fickel said the script, taken from a section of the book titled “A Masked Drama of Rebirth,” has been performed for centuries in Tibet and among other Buddhist communities.

Yet, he said this adaptation might be a little different — Fickel’s version was set in the Appalachian Mountains of Eastern Kentucky undergoing mountaintop removal.

Fickel said Buddhism often promotes environmentalism, so it wasn’t a far stretch to apply the ancient text to current ecological concerns.

“I saw something powerfully contemporary about it, and I saw something powerfully Kentucky about it,” he said.

The result was a mixture of Tibetan and Appalachian sensibilities, in which the Buddhist chanting gave way to rhythmic banjo picking.

Images of mountaintop removal by John Cox, a University of Kentucky professor, provided the backdrop.

The plot focuses on the trial of two men after their deaths, where Buddhist deities decide their fates. One man exploited the environment, while the other tried to take only what he needed.

The court’s debating and final decision result in each man being reborn into a new life.

Hannah Hadley, a 2009 graduate of WKU, played the wife of the second man. The 25-year-old, who currently works for The Public Theatre of Kentucky, said she was familiar with Fickel’s shows but had never been able to participate.

Hadley said she disagrees with mountaintop removal.

“People do some horrible things for money,” she said.

Fickel, who had wanted to do something with “A Masked Drama of Rebirth” for a while, said he started officially working to put a show together at the beginning of this semester.

He joined the WKU GreenToppers in February and was eager to incorporate his play with events the group was planning for Earth Month.

“It’s important for artists and activists to be talking right now,” Fickel said.

Lexington senior Morgan Mickelson, the acting president of the GreenToppers, said she agrees with Fickel.

“There’s always strength in numbers,” she said.

While studying abroad in Germany in the spring of 2011, Mickelson said she became more interested in sustainability after seeing how environmentally conscious Europeans were in contrast to Americans.

“We definitely live in a society where it’s out of sight, out of mind,” she said.

After she returned, Mickelson became active in the GreenToppers and has helped the group plan events to take place during Earth Month.

The GreenToppers invited members of Krochet Kids International to make a presentation on Wednesday in Mass Media & Technology Hall at 7 p.m. There will also be two performances of The Lorax that day.

On Friday, the WKU Earth Day Festival will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the DUC Courtyard. More events are planned in the Bowling Green community for the weekend.