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NPR Marries Theater and Journalism in “Water +/-”

The touring show stopped by the Newseum Saturday night.

The cast of Water +/- at the world premiere in New Orleans. Photograph courtesy of NPR.

This weekend, NPR brought its “NPR Presents” series to the Newseum with Water +/-, a live performance that combines theater and journalism to create a new form of storytelling. The DC stop was the second on the show’s eight-city tour, which continues across America this month.

Tony Award-winning director Kenny Leon, writers Arthur Yorinks and Carl Hancock Rux, and actors Anika Noni Rose, Michele Shay, Jason Dirden, and Lucas Caleb Rooney joined NPR science correspondent Christopher Joyce and WAMU’s Kavitha Cardoza, who served as hosts.

The subject of the night? Water—as life source and killer, as basic necessity and symbol of privilege. Each definition was illustrated through personal accounts, most taken from NPR’s national and local news coverage and brought to life by the actors, some as monologues and others incorporating the cohosts. One account involves a man explaining what it’s like to be homeless in New York with no hot water to shower with. He views water as a source of dignity. In another, a woman talks about the changing landscape in New Orleans, where rising sea levels wipe away the marshes. Water influences everyone’s life in some way, but the range of experiences described in one evening’s performance was eye-opening.

Music played a large part in driving the narrative. Violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain’s original score reflected the tone for each story; some segments were accompanied by fast, pulsing sounds, while others required a more soothing tune.

At face value, the program may seem a bit dull—but after spending a little over an hour watching such personal stories come to life, it’s impossible not to consider the subject in a new light. In Western society, many people take running water for granted; this performance reminds that it is a luxury for some, even in America. Water +/- will leave you pondering both the role the substance plays in human existence—and the part we play in its preservation.

More information and the full touring schedule for Water +/- is available online.

This post has been updated from a previous version.