Ocean Filibuster Resource Guide

FEB 28, 2022

Evan Spigelman and Jennifer Kidwell in Ocean Filibuster.

Inside the Senate chamber of a global governing body, Mr. Majority introduces an “End of Ocean Bill” designed to shrink Earth’s oceans into a more manageable (and marketable) collection of inland seas. When the floor is opened for debate, the Ocean arrives to speak in their own defense…and so begins an epic Human-Ocean showdown. A world-premiere, genre-crashing music theater experience, Ocean Filibuster fuses myth, song, video, stand-up, and science to explore the vast depths crucial to our daily survival.

This Resource Guide provides suggested readings, tools, and discussion questions for teachers, students, and other curious audience members to deepen their understanding of the climate and environmental issues explored in the production, as well as the creative challenges of this uniquely told story. Educators and audience members are encouraged to dive into the topics and discussion points that best suit your group’s age, interests, and depth of study. After the show, be sure to contact the Education & Engagement Department at A.R.T. at to share your thoughts about the performance and the ways it has inspired you to take action in your community!

Learn about the Show

Cooking with Good Ingredients

Sxip Shirey, the composer for Ocean Filibuster, demonstrates the instruments and ideas animating his score for the piece.

Discussion Points

  1. Katie Pearl says that in deciding to create a piece of theater about the ocean, she and Lisa D’Amour figured, “Well, we don’t know anything about the ocean, so let’s do a piece about that.” How might creating a piece of theater about a topic be a great way to learn about it? What’s something you don’t know much about but that you might enjoy exploring through an art-making process?
  2. Professor Daniel Schrag of the Harvard University Center for the Environment believes “that the arts will play a central role in confronting our environmental challenges.” The A.R.T. strives to do this, in part, by the embrace of regenerative practice, a commitment to promoting the health and vitality of our planet, our organization, and each other.
    1. Visit the Public Health page on the A.R.T.’s website. In addition to the environmental themes in the productions the A.R.T. programmed for 2021/22, what initiatives and practices the theater has undertaken to live out this value, both in its operations and approach to theater-making? What challenges might a large performing arts organization encounter in its effort to make theater in a more environmentally-conscious way?
    2. In what ways are the health of the environment and the health of human beings linked? How does your own well-being intersect with natural places and spaces?
    3. What initiatives has your school or district undertaken to promote and protect the health of its community and the surrounding environment? What challenges have arisen and how have these been addressed? What regenerative practices would you like to see instituted?
  3. In the video, Sxip Shirey describes himself as “an object-oriented composer” and demonstrates the way that everyday objects can be transformed into what he calls “sound objects” to create the music of an environment. What kinds of sounds do you associate with the ocean? What everyday objects around you could you use to replicate these oceanic sounds? What sounds are essential to the environments you inhabit? For example, when you think of the hallway at school, what sounds come to mind? How could you use unexpected objects to orchestrate the soundtrack of these spaces?

Local Activism

A.R.T.’s Partner Organizations

Ocean Filibuster uses satire, science, and the convention of a political filibuster to explore the ways that climate change impacts the ocean and presents a possible future in which the ocean is no more. While it’s true that every individual person has a role to play in preserving the environment for future generations, systemic change is also needed to keep Earth’s oceans alive. The A.R.T. is partnering with several organizations to provide education, awareness, and opportunities to get involved on the local and national levels.

  • Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) forges lasting solutions for New England’s most critical environmental challenges, using the law, science, and the market as tools for advocacy. With the preservation of New England’s deep connection to the ocean as one of its primary focuses, the CLF offers a variety of ways to become an activist. They recommend checking out these resources to learn more:
  • Bow Seat Ocean Awareness empowers youth to connect, create, and communicate for our blue planet. Working at the intersection of ocean science and arts education, Bow Seat uplifts diverse youth voices to advance dialogue and participation in ocean conservation. They empower young thinkers and creators to be active and ocean-conscious global citizens, starting in their local communities and watersheds. For Ocean Filibuster, Bow Seat is curating an art collection that will be on display in the A.R.T.’s lobby, which will include opportunities for audiences to engage with issues and actions depicted in the artwork.
  • Mass Audubon is the largest nature-based conservation organization in New England and is on a mission to protect the nature of Massachusetts for people and wildlife. Through their guiding strategies of conservation, education, and advocacy, they make meaningful impacts every year.

Discussion Points

  1. Where do your elected representatives stand on climate issues? Visit the CLF’s Action Center for template emails you can send to legislators, or use as inspiration when drafting an original message of your own, to advocate for the systemic transformation needed to fight climate change.
  2. Learn about Bow Seat Ocean Awareness’s 2022 Ocean Awareness Contest: The Funny Thing About Climate Change. Which of the Questions to Guide Research & Spark Inspiration or Brainstorming Ideas inspire you? Choose 1-2 questions or ideas to explore in your own work of art. Submit it to the contest by June 13, 2022.
  3. Mass Audubon maintains more than 60 wildlife sanctuaries across Massachusetts. Which sanctuary is the closest to where you live? Would you most like to explore a sanctuary in a wooded area, a mountainous region, or along the coastline? Why?
Jennifer Kidwell shouts and points her finger in the air in rehearsal.

What Is a Filibuster?

The United States Senate defines filibuster as an “action designed to prolong debate and delay or prevent a vote on a bill, resolution, amendment, or other debatable question.” The term is derived from a Dutch word for “freebooter” or “pirate” because the speaker is essentially hijacking the Senate’s proceedings. A talking filibuster is one in which an opponent of a bill stands on the floor of that legislative body and engages in a lengthy speech to prolong the debate on the legislation and prevent a vote from occurring for as long as possible. The speaker cannot take a break to use the restroom or eat; If the speaker steps away or sits down, they are considered to have yielded the floor. In some circumstances, the speaker may be required to stay on-topic and only speak about subjects related to the bill or measure under consideration. At other times, the speaker can talk about whatever they want for as long as they can. In the United States Senate, a filibuster can only be stopped if a supermajority of 60 senators vote to end the debate process. This is called cloture.

While the filibuster is often assumed to be an original constitutional Senate procedure, it actually originates from an early change to Senate rules. In 1806, the Senate decided to eliminate a rule that automatically cut off debate when a motion was made to vote on the previous question. An unexpected side-effect of this decision was that it allowed senators opposed to a bill to simply continue speaking indefinitely, thus halting forward progress. However, the filibuster was not actually exercised until 1837, and since then, has become a frequently used tactic of minority parties hoping to stop the majority from taking action. John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, a pro-slavery senator, was one of the early Senate’s most prolific invokers of the filibuster and 10 of the 40 earliest filibusters targeted legislations focused on racial legislations. In the twentieth century, it was often used to delay or stop Civil Rights legislation. The cloture rule, when originally added in 1917, required that two-thirds of the Senate to vote in favor of ending debate. In 1975, this number was revised to three-fifths of the Senate, or 60 out of 100 senators.

In Ocean Filibuster, the Ocean appears in a personified form to filibuster the End of Ocean Bill, which, if passed, would reduce the remaining ocean water by extracting the “sick water” and divide the ocean’s remnants into seven smaller bodies, “The New Seven Seas.” Once the Ocean declares their intention to filibuster the End of Ocean Bill, Mr. Majority issues a reminder of the rules: “ONE you must speak continuously without leaving the podium TWO you must stay on topic meaning speak ONLY about matters relating to this bill THREE you must speak with no assistance – you may not ask for help in any way. If you break any one of these rules, you will be issued a reprimand. After three reprimands, you will be removed from the floor.”

Discussion Points

  1. In Ocean Filibuster, Mr. Majority tells the Ocean they have 15 hours and 15 seconds to speak, which to the Ocean, is not a very long time at all. What are some of the longest filibusters in the history of the US Senate? What kinds of bills and measures were the speakers attempting to delay or prevent? What were the outcomes of those filibusters?
  2. As of the writing of this guide in December 2021, the filibuster remains a controversial procedure in the United States Senate. How is it currently used and, according to some members of congress, abused? What proposals have been put forth to reform the filibuster?
  3. Filibustering is often thought of as an obstructive act, but the Ocean’s efforts are linked to self-preservation. After seeing the production, consider: What specific outcomes does the Ocean want to see result from its filibuster of The End of Ocean bill? Do you feel that the Ocean was successful in achieving these goals?
  4. What is something that is so important to you that you would do a talking filibuster? How long can you imagine yourself talking? What would you say?

Visualizing the Impacts of Climate Change

More than 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered by the ocean. “This great reservoir continuously exchanges heat, moisture, and carbon with the atmosphere, driving our weather patterns and influencing the slow, subtle changes in our climate” (NASA). Learn more about climate variability and the dynamic relationship between the ocean and Earth’s climate via these resources from:

Rising sea levels are just one of the results of climate change and the one to which coastal communities at low elevations are most vulnerable. Use these interactive tools to explore the variety of ways in which climate change is already impacting local, regional, national, and international locations, and what the future could bring. Note that both The Boston Globe and The New York Times offer users access to a limited number of free articles and a subscription may be required.

Discussion Points

  1. As a coastal city, Boston is particularly vulnerable to climate change’s impact on the ocean. What oceanic effects do Boston and surrounding communities experience when severe storms impact the region?
  2. The Green New Deal is one of the most well-known proposals at the federal level to combat climate change. What policies are being considered or undertaken by the state of Massachusetts to combat climate change?
  3. During her campaign for Mayor of Boston, Michelle Wu received the endorsement of the Environmental League of Massachusetts. Wu advocated for a city-level Green New Deal that combines policies on housing, food justice, workforce development, and transit justice in an effort to mitigate the threat of climate change. What specific proposals are included in this document’s Local Blue New Deal section, which is focused on the responsibilities and resources that are specific to Boston as a coastal city? Why are the Boston neighborhoods of Dorchester and East Boston particularly vulnerable to flooding and other impacts of climate change?
  4. The impacts of climate change are felt more significantly in some Greater Boston communities. For example, the city of Chelsea faces significant public health burdens caused by disproportionate environmental risk factors. Research the work being done by GreenRoots, Inc., a Chelsea-based nonprofit working for social and environmental justice. What initiatives has this organization undertaken to improve air and water quality for this city on the Boston Harbor waterfront? How are they advocating for more open green spaces, food justice, and transit justice?
Jennifer Kidwell in Ocean Filibuster pointing to projections on the walls.


Some of the most striking visual images in Ocean Filibuster involve bioluminescent creatures. Bioluminescence is the production and emission of light by a living organism and is caused by a chemical reaction. Although the creatures depicted in Ocean Filibuster are found in deep parts of the ocean, it is not a trait limited to deepwater organisms and has been found in a wide variety of marine habitats. Sharks, squids, jellies, and other varieties of fish possess bioluminescent traits, as well as corals and plankton. Although most bioluminescent creatures are found in the ocean, there are a few examples on land, such as fireflies, insect larvae, and some fungi. Most bioluminescent creatures only glow in brief bursts of light. Learn more about bioluminescent creatures and their chemistry:

Discussion Points

  • Different species express their bioluminescence in different colors. Choose a few different bioluminescent species and consider: What purpose does bioluminescence serve for this creature? What internal chemistry causes the specific color of its bioluminescence? What purposes do the glow and the specific color of the bioluminescence serve for this organism?
  • What bioluminescent species can be found in the waters off the New England coast?

Harvard Research

Ocean Filibuster was commissioned and developed through a collaboration between the American Repertory Theater and the Harvard University Center for the Environment (HUCE). HUCE’s mission is to “encourage research about the environment and its many interactions with human society.” It provides grants and fellowships to a diverse array of scholars throughout the university, from undergraduate students to senior faculty, to support them in collaborative exploration of environmental research, policy proposals, and generating best practices for how human beings can engage with the natural world around us. Many members of HUCE’s community come from scientific fields, but it also includes students, fellows, and faculty with backgrounds in areas such as Art History, Architecture, Music, Languages, and Literature.

Discussion Points

  1. Browse the HUCE Course Guide, a compilation of the Harvard courses most relevant to environmental studies. Were there any that you were surprised to see on the list? What is the value of this kind of interdisciplinary learning?
  2. Watch the March 29, 2018 lecture titled “Ocean Acidification and Marine Phytoplankton,” found in the HUCE Events Video Library. In this lecture, François Morel, the Albert G. Blanke, Jr., Professor of Geosciences at the Princeton University Environmental Institute, explains the science behind ocean acidification, which is increasing rapidly due to CO2 emissions in the atmosphere. This phenomenon is also described in the “baby crab” section of Ocean Filibuster. In his lecture, Morel explains that thousands of papers have been published about this topic in recent years. Why do you think this topic has so captivated the scientific community?
  3. In addition to Ocean Filibuster, the A.R.T.’s 2021/22 Programming included another production focused on climate change, WILD: A Musical Becoming. What other theatrical works that you’ve seen or read about focus on environmental issues in their storytelling? How has exposure to those theatrical works impacted the way you think about the environment or interact with the natural world around you?

Interdisciplinary Artistic Collaboration

PearlDamour, the company that created Ocean Filibuster, is an Obie Award-winning collaborative team who create performances in both traditional theatrical spaces and nontraditional settings not originally intended for performance. Composed of artists Lisa D’Amour and Katie Pearl, PearlDamour is known for large-scale performances that mix theater and visual art installations, and intimate performances designed for small audiences. Over their 20-year history of making work together, PearlDamour has devised a body of work that digs into the performer-audience relationship and searches for new approaches to narrative through the accumulation of text, image, physicality, and architectural elements. They want audiences to feel like they are inside of an experience, rather than watching something happen “over there.” In their work, PearlDamour strives to create room for the audience to feel like they have slipped into the private headspace of a performer or character: an intimate, associative, surprising place. Ocean Filibuster brings together spoken words, video, ocean science research, and music from a variety of genres (including choral music) to tell its story. PearlDamour is the recipient of the 2011 Lee Reynolds Theater Award given to women theater artists who effect social change.

Discussion Points

  1. Why might interdisciplinary storytellers such as the collaborators behind PearlDamour be uniquely well-suited to tell a story about the environment and the impacts of climate change?
  2. How might co-creators collaborate together on a single theatrical project? Would there be clear roles such as one person to write the script and the other to direct the performance, or would there be sharing of responsibilities and overlapping of the work? Research what Katie Pearl and Lisa D’Amour have said about their creative process. Who are the other artists with whom they collaborate and what are their creative specialties? If you were working with one or more collaborators on a single creative project, how would you approach the work?
  3. Researchers work using the scientific method, a process of making observations, creating and testing a hypothesis, drawing conclusions, and refining the hypothesis before beginning the cycle over again. How does the process of developing a new theatrical work mirror the scientific method?
  4. Ocean Filibuster will be performed in the Loeb Drama Center, a venue traditionally used for live theater, but PearlDamour’s work is often presented in spaces that were not originally intended for that purpose. After attending the performance consider: How did PearlDamour use the Loeb Drama Center in non-traditional ways? In what other locations can you imagine this production being performed?


English Language Arts

Attendance to Ocean Filibuster supports development of skills and abilities identified in the Massachusetts English Language and Arts Literacy Framework, College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening [SL] and [SLCA] for grades 6 – 12 (e.g. [SL.6.1-6] and [SLCA.12.1-6]).

Attendance should be paired with analysis and discussion of the multiple perspectives and arguments which the show presents, aligning with Standards 1-3 (Comprehension and Collaboration). Student projects in response to the themes and ideas, such as theater or activism projects, align with Standards 4-6 (Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas).


Attendance to Ocean Filibuster supports development of skills and abilities identified in the Massachusetts Arts Framework, Theatre Standards (p. 50 – 58). Attendance may be paired with discussion of the show (Standards 7-11, Responding & Connecting, e.g. [T.Co.11]) or practicing theater based on the show (Standards 1-6, Creating and Performing, e.g. [T.P.04]).

History and Social Science

Attendance to Ocean Filibuster may be part of, or inspire, student-led civics projects to support the development of civic knowledge, skills, and dispositions as defined in the Massachusetts History and Social Science Framework. See the Civics Project Guidebook for more information.

Science and Technology

The content of Ocean Filibuster closely aligns with ESS standards such as ESS3-Earth and Human Activity. Attendance to Ocean Filibuster supports development of Science and Engineering Practices as identified in the Massachusetts Science and Technology Engineering Framework (grades 6-12, pages 51 and 72). Attending the show closely aligns with practices 1, 7, and 8.

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