Marine Ecologist Carl Safina, Public Health Professor David Abramson, Playwright/Director Leigh Fondakowski discuss Deepwater Horizon disaster, its impact on Gulf Coast life, and SPILL on March 18

From left, Carl Safina, Leigh Fondakowski, and David Abramson

From left, Carl Safina, Leigh Fondakowski, and David Abramson

On March 18, following the 2:00 PM matinee performance of SPILL, the compelling new drama by Leigh Fondakowski, Carl Safina, Professor for Nature and Humanity at Stony Brook University and author of A Sea in Flames: The Deepwater Horizon Oil Blowout; David Abramson, Clinical Associate Professor and Director of the Program on Population Impact, Recovery and Resilience at New York University; and Leigh Fondakowski, author and director of SPILL, will gather for a lively discussion of the social, scientific and political issues the play addresses about risk, technology, the tension between industry and nature, and the impact of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on the wildlife and people of the Gulf Coast. EST/Sloan science advisor Stuart Firestein, former Chair of the Department of Biological Sciences at Columbia University and author of Failure: Why Science Is So Successful, will moderate the discussion.

Created from over 200 hours of interviews with industry experts, surviving crew members, environmental scientists, families of the victims, fishermen, and cleanup workers, SPILL uses the techniques Fondakowski pioneered with The Laramie Project to dramatize the story of what happened on board the Deepwater Horizon oil rig on April 20, 2010 when an explosion killed eleven crew members and triggered a massive 87-day oil spill, the largest in American history. No previous treatment of this event has covered the complete spectrum of the disaster, from the stories of the eleven crew members who died – and those who survived – to what went on before and during the explosion – to the hearings about its causes – to first person accounts from fishermen and the people engaged in the cleanup on the impact of the spill on the coastal community and wildlife.

The New York Premiere of SPILL is being produced as part of The EST/Sloan Project, a twenty-year-long partnership between The Ensemble Studio Theater and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation dedicated to developing new plays "exploring the worlds of science and technology."

About the panelists

Carl Safina is the first Endowed Professor for Nature and Humanity at Stony Brook University, where he co-chairs the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science and runs the not-for-profit Safina Center. He hosted the PBS series Saving the Ocean. His writing about the living world has won a MacArthur “genius” prize, Pew and Guggenheim Fellowships; book awards from Lannan, Orion, and the National Academies; and the John Burroughs, James Beard, and George Rabb medals. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, TIME, Audubon, and on the Web at National Geographic News and Views, Literati Magazine, Huffington Post,, and elsewhere. Among his seven books are A Sea in Flames: The Deepwater Horizon Oil Blowout (2011), Song for the Blue Ocean (1998), and, most recently, Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel (2015).

David Abramson

David Abramson is Clinical Associate Professor and Director of the Program on Population Impact, Recovery and Resilience at New York University. Following the Deepwater Horizon Spill, David spearheaded several studies, including an NIH-funded study, WATCH (Women and Their Children's Health) in collaboration with Louisiana State University, and the foundation-funded Gulf Coast Population Impact project in order to determine the impact of the spill on children living along the Gulf Coast. From this research covering the Florida panhandle to Louisiana's western border, Dr. Abramson was spurred to found a youth empowerment project, SHOREline (fostering Skills, Hope, Opportunity, and Resilience through Engagement) for high school students in the Gulf Coast and in New York City. Prior to entering the field of public health in 1990, Dr. Abramson worked for a decade as a national magazine journalist, having written for Rolling Stone, Esquire, Outside, and the San Francisco Examiner, among other publications.

Leigh Fondakowski

Leigh Fondakowski wrote and directed SPILL, this year’s featured EST/Sloan drama about the Deepwater Horizon disaster. A veteran member of Tectonic Theater Project, she was the Head Writer on The Laramie Project (2000), about the murder of Matthew Shepard; an Emmy-nominated co-screenwriter for the adaptation of The Laramie Project (2002) for HBO; and a co-writer of The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later (2009). Her original work as writer/director also includes The People’s Temple (2005) about the Jonestown massacre (which led to her book, Stories from Jonestown (2013)), and I Think I Like Girls (2002). Leigh is a 2007 recipient of the NEA/TCG Theatre Residency Program for Playwrights, a 2009 MacDowell Colony Fellow, and a 2010 Distinguished Visiting Chair at the University of Minnesota, where she lectured and developed Casa Cushman, a work-in-progress about nineteenth-century American actress Charlotte Cushman. She is currently a teaching artist at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and Naropa University. You can read an EST Blog interview with Leigh about SPILL here.

About the moderator

Stuart Firestein

Stuart Firestein is the former Chair of Columbia University's Department of Biological Sciences where his laboratory studies the vertebrate olfactory system, possibly the best chemical detector on the face of the planet.   Aside from its molecular detection capabilities, the olfactory system serves as a model for investigating general principles and mechanisms of signaling and perception in the brain.  His laboratory seeks to answer that fundamental human question: How do I smell? Dedicated to promoting the accessibility of science to a public audience, Firestein serves as an advisor for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s program for the Public Understanding of Science.  He is the author of Failure: Why Science Is So Successful (2015) and Ignorance: How It Drives Science (2012).

SPILL began previews on March 8 and performances continue at The Ensemble Studio Theatre through April 2.