Nearly 1,000 Cornellians, Ithacans and activists converged on Bailey Hall Friday night for The Truth Has Changed, a monologue performance by Emmy-winning, Oscar-nominated director of Gasland and prominent anti-fracking activist Josh Fox.
The roughly two and a half hour performance was filmed as part of Fox’s upcoming feature film by the same title originally commissioned by HBO, to be released next year. It was also one of many stops on a nationwide tour of politically focused events.
“We’re touring this piece all across the nation in support of progressive candidates in the 2018 midterm elections. When I go on tour with a new piece, whether that’s a film or something like this, what we do is we put out an email to our list, which is 250,000 people, and we say, ‘who wants us to come?’” Fox said.
Fox’s performance was a potpourri of political activism, climate advocacy and entertainment organized by Cornell Environmental Collaborative and Climate Justice Cornell and sponsored by 39 groups from Cornell and the local community.
According to Fox, one of the primary drivers behind the visit to Cornell was to support local efforts by No Fracked Gas Cayuga, a recently formed group that opposes the burning of fracked gas from Pennsylvania in the Cayuga Power Plant.
The monologue covered a diverse range of topics, with Fox unfolding the narrative from a plain wooden desk strewn with papers at the front of the stage, controlling a wire-tangled, antique-looking amplifier with his left hand.
Fox’s story was as unmoored to chronological order as it was to any single topic. From family history to 9/11 to his adversarial relationship with the fracking industry, Fox discussed his work and subsequent media efforts to discredit him.
“All of a sudden I’m no longer ‘PA’s favorite son come to save the water,’ but the bespectacled New York Jew liberal come to tear apart your lottery ticket. For the very first time I gained the moniker ‘Hollywood Director,’” Fox said in reference to coverage by industry outlets like naturalgasnow.org and energyindepth.org.
Fox, born in Pennsylvania and a student of theater at Columbia University, made his ancestry a key part of the narrative, weaving the holocaust and gas chambers thematically with the story of America and natural gas extraction.
Taylor Brorby, a writer and English teacher from Iowa State, sat in the front row as a special guest invited to the event by organizer Sandra Steingraber. Much of Brorby’s writing is concerned with natural gas drilling and fracking, and he was arrested while protesting the Dakota Access pipeline in 2016.
“This [monologue] is different [from Gasland] in really articulating how [Fox is] getting followed, getting harassed, but also this link to the Twin Towers, the link to his personal family history, that hasn’t really come up in his work before,” Brorby said.
Aidan Kolodziej ’21 said the talk inspired him to action and that he hoped that the message would reach other Cornell students.
“This talk tonight with Josh Fox was an inspiring and eye-opening performance, which I think really calls to anyone to engage locally with what’s going on and not let issues like global climate change go unknown,” Kolodziej told The Sun.
While some in the audience were new to Fox’s work, some veterans in the fight to restrict fracking in New York State were also in attendance.
Buzz Lavine, an anti-fracking activist from Dryden, spoke with The Sun at a reception at the Big Red Barn following the show. Lavine said that he, along with eight other people, were the original creators of the Dryden Resource Awareness Coalition, which worked to ban fracking in Dryden.
The town of less than 1,500 provided a template for others to follow that would eventually prove instrumental in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s statewide ban issued in late 2014.
“Really, what we started here in Dryden and Ulysses ahead of us was the foundation for the state’s eventually banning fracking. So that was just a small group of people working with the town board,” Lavine said.
Anti-fracking in upstate New York initially provided the grass-roots support for a now mainstream environmental cause. Parts of Gasland were even filmed in Ithaca, and Fox, recognized as a central figure in the anti-fracking world, proved a magnet for like-minded activists with his performance Friday night.