Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

"A Natural Disaster" - a Skit

tangerines's picture

When Apo first suggested the idea of a skit to our class, I wanted to work on it because I think these "web events" give us the opportunity to avoid writing a typical (and may I say, somewhat boring?) paper. Our first meeting was almost an hour long, as we discussed characters, the setting, and where we wanted the skit to go. We wrote independently, and met twice more to discuss the direction of the piece. The collaborative effort has been pretty rewarding; I've learned a lot from working with Apo and I hope she feels the same. Especially because Apo and I come from two different educational backgrounds (I'm a newly-declared bio major, she is majoring in sociology), we each brought different priorities to the table and learned to compromise and work together efficiently. Below are the fruits of our labor.



by: Sadie Mahmoud & Apocalipsis Rosario


MARK, early forties Social scientist; sociologist & psychologist

PEDRO, late thirties Life scientist; geologist

MARY, mid twenties Informational scientist; librarian

DAVID, early fifties Humanist


Online video chat, taking place 5 days after the tsunami and earthquake in Japan. Each character interfaces with a screen, on which he/she is able to see and interact with the other characters.


DAVID: I'm glad everyone was able to log on. Although it seems like an unusual way to meet, under the circumstances we need to get this task force up and running as soon as possible. I believe we may be the first task force to meet via online video chat to discuss the tsunami and earthquake in Japan. I sent around informational packets to get everyone up to speed on the situation. I’ve invited you to lead different sectors of this task force because you are the leading experts in your respective fields. I’m sure everyone is now familiar with each other through email. To recap briefly, our task is to make a list of three recommendations for the allocation of our resources. To begin, let’s all state our main goal or area of concern.

PEDRO: Our first priority must be to immediately begin inspecting the sewage systems as well as all major forms of transportation, such as roads, airports, and railways. The 9.0-magnitude earthquake has damaged at least 50 sewage treatment plants and a major dam. 17 bridges have been washed away, and dozens of roads are closed due to landslides, debris and flooding. The north-eastern coast has seen some of the worst of the damage; an estimated 18 miles of coastal road have been washed away.

DAVID: Due to these transportation issues, displaced people waited for four days before the Red Cross was able to deliver aid to Sendai, one of the worst-affected areas. However, given our limited resources, I ask again that we create a list of priorities.

MARY: David, although I agree with Pedro that we should be analyzing how to rebuild dams and major modes of transportation, we need to get human aid and services there now. With a total population of 128 million, we already have an estimated death toll of 18,000 and over 17,300 people reported missing as of 10 a.m. today. These numbers are still rising.

MARK: We should also closely study how the country is coping. As you said, people were waiting four days for basic supplies, and what truly amazes me is that the displaced people are remaining calm and orderly. Most importantly, we'll need to set up programs to help people locate loved ones where counselors can help them cope with the aftereffects of the tsunami.

MARY: The Daiwa House Industry Company and others are working to rebuild the areas which suffered the most damage, along with Save the Children, the Red Cross, and UNICEF. Those organizations are already on the ground providing medical care and other services. I think our main priority should be to begin preserving and cataloging news and information. This would consist of protecting any physical texts and digitizing them.

PEDRO: You want to prioritize cataloging information when the infrastructure has yet to be rebuilt? That's ridiculous! We need to focus on infrastructure, rebuilding communities at higher elevations so that we’re more prepared in the future. This is the second earthquake since the disaster in 1995 – we need to learn from the past!

MARY: Exactly. But, we can't understand what happened or how to cope with situations such as these if we don’t secure our informational databases. If we had preserved more information from the earthquake in ’95, we could have had the foresight to build new structures on higher ground.

MARK: What use is infrastructure if the people and their communities are vulnerable? The Japanese people have been able to remain calm in the face of a terrible disaster because of their social structure, but if that falls apart it will delay reconstruction. People require services to help them deal with the crisis so they can work together to rebuild

DAVID: Okay, we have several good ideas on the table for the allocation of our resources: reconstructing the infrastructure in Sendai and preserving physical information by converting it into digital media. Providing counseling alongside with community-based aid to the people is also important. But I still think we're missing the bigger picture here.

MARK: You’re right. What we need to consider are basic human needs, such as food, shelter, and medical assistance. These issues need to be addressed, so it goes without saying that

PEDRO: No one's debating the need for food, shelter, and medical care. However, we need to recognize the fact that we can't get food and aid to people quickly enough if there are no roads. Currently we're forced to use elevated areas as landing strips! Again, it took the Red Cross four days to deliver a shipment of supplies to a single shelter. That is unacceptable when you consider that there are nearly 3,000 people who are injured, and those are only the ones who are accounted for! There are more than 17,000 people who are still missing.

MARY: Where did you get those figures?

PEDRO: The informational packet, I'm sure you got one.

MARY: I did, Pedro. My point is that you were able to receive those figures because of informational outlets that have been on site polling, collecting data, and running numbers. If that information were not available to us, we would be completely in the dark as to where we should begin sending our support.

MARK: But surely if we are receiving this information, then there isn't a need for us to expend more money to get someone to catalog it in Japan? We can do it remotely from here.

MARY: That's not anywhere near enough. Stop forgetting all of the physical texts in the various centers for art, culture, science, education, and religion that are at risk for all kinds of damage, including water.


[PEDRO, MARK, and MARY begin to speak at the same time.]


DAVID: Settle down everyone! This isn't getting us anywhere. Time is crucial and we have to allocate our limited resources as fairly and objectively as possible. That goal will be impossible if you squabble like children.

MARK: Look, we're not getting anywhere by talking over each other … Do we all agree that we should focus on food, shelter, and medical supplies?


[Everyone nods and murmurs assent.]


MARK: Well, in that case, that's our first recommendation. Now we just need to hammer out two more propositions.

PEDRO: Infrastructure. Without roads, we cannot deliver supplies, and without a repaired sewage system, the already-limited sources of drinking water will be contaminated and people will become vulnerable to disease, requiring further medical supplies.

MARK: Very well. I can agree with that.

MARY: I can too, especially since we need these supplies to get to various data preservation sites.

DAVID: Great, then –

MARK: But I would suggest that we should also provide counseling services to those in shelters-


[In the distance, we hear the breaking news from a television in the background of one of the character's video calls. A female voice begins, “In breaking news, it has just been reported that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is experiencing serious damage in the wake of the deadly earthquake and tsunami as three of the station's reactors meltdown. U.S. nuclear experts are on site providing technical support and assistance. They are reportedly working closely with Japanese officials to control any nuclear radiation emissions from the plant. As the world waits to learn whether the nuclear power plant is safe, the death toll continues to rise. The most recent report estimates that 18,400 people have died.]







aybala50's picture


I found your project very interesting. I think it's great that you guys chose to work together. This is, I believe, the first project that has been a collaborative one in this class. I read your introduction before reading your paper and what I found interesting amongst other things is that you met to write this paper, while in your skit the characters meet to discuss a natural disaster on a virtual space. How do you think the project would have differed if you had chosen not to meet in person at all? Or if instead of making up these characters, you both took on the persona of 2 of the characters each (as in the panels), and just had a chat online representing your characters...maybe something informal and just copied and pasted this conversation as your project? 

Overall, very nice project, it was a joy reading it!

Anne Dalke's picture

critical theater

Apo and tangerines--
my first reaction is one of pleased delight, both that you decided to work on this project collaboratively, and that you chose the format of an interactive dialogue rather than a conventional webpaper. My second reaction is: how interesting could a play be, if all of the characters are sitting in front of screens? Why would an audience be interested in watching that dynamic?? My third, and most substantial, question is this: what CRITICAL POINT is this creative exercise demonstrating? Your commentary talks about the pleasures of the process, and the satisfaction you got from working together outside the boundaries of a conventional academic exercise.

But this needs to be conversation to some end. How does this play contribute to the ongoing conversations we’re having in class and on-line about gender, information, science and technology? Are there any gender dynamics in this play? Is this structured as a debate between information and infrastructure? (Are you “arguing” that information IS the primary and most necessary infrastructure?) What does it “mean,” for example, that the humanist is running the meeting? What does that say about his expertise? Are you saying that the investments of scientists, social scientists, humanists and librarians are irreconcilable? That those irreconcilabilities pale, beside the enormity of the disaster, for which none of their tools are adequate? (that’s my interpretation of the final move of the play….)

Anyway, let’s meet and brainstorm together where you might go w/ this project—I think it’s well worth working on some more!