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August 29, 2013

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Storyteller Jim Pfitzer reprises role as Aldo Leopold

A while back, I wrote a documentary, “Green Fire,” on the life and philosophy of Aldo Leopold, one of our country’s first, and arguably most influential, conservationists.

The film itself was an informative and engaging part of a larger story, one that tells of a love for the wilder parts of the country and values the unique and fulfilling relationship man shares with the natural world. It was a wonderful film, an experience that also came with a free copy of A Sand County Almanac, Leopold’s seminal work, a thoughtful and beautiful piece of writing that still sits on my shelves. At the time Jim Pfitzer, well-known local storyteller and the man responsible for bring “Green Fire” to Chattanooga, was working on a one-act play based on Leopold’s life and work. This play, entitled “Aldo Leopold—A Standard of Change,” has now been performed more than 30 times to enthusiastic audiences, including members of the Leopold family. Pfitzer is bringing his play to Barking Legs Theater as part of the “Cinematters” series on August 31, at 7 p.m.

Cinematters is a series organized by Lisa Holt of LifePoint Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine that that uses film, theater, books, essays and other media as a catalyst to provoke thought and discussion on the subject of conservation. Past subjects have included fracking, peak oil, and soil—all areas of grave concern for those that want to protect the world we live in.  Pfitzer’s play is the first theater production in the series. Pfitzer says that the show “definitely takes the series in a little bit different direction, not only in that it is a live performance, but also that it is a story that leaves the audience with more questions than answers.” He calls “A Standard of Change” “perfect for conversation material.”  

The play discusses and informs the audience on the land ethic theory Leopold was famous for, as well as the more personal journey Leopold took to reach his audience. According to Pfitzer, “ [it] is a one-man, one-act play about Aldo Leopold, famed conservationist and author of A Sand County Almanac.  Set today in and around the small shack and farm that inspired much of the “Almanac,” the play opens with Leopold walking down the path and pausing to listen to the call of sandhill cranes—birds greatly beloved by Leopold that were nearly extinct at the time of his death in 1948. The cranes kick off a series of discoveries and memories that lead Leopold to pondering many of the influences that led to some of his most important essays and his own legacy. At the heart of the play is Leopold's relationship with Albert Hochbaum, a graduate student and friend who pushed Leopold to reconsider how he engaged his readers and challenged him to write one of his most beloved essays.”

Pfitzer describes his first encounters with Leopold’s work as “a bit of a religious experience” that “explained with great eloquence many of the deep feelings [he] had been experiencing throughout [his] youth regarding where [he] fit in the natural world.”  These feelings ultimately were the impetus behind “A Standard of Change.”  “I knew for 20 years that I wanted to tell a story about Leopold, but was never able to nail down just what the story would be,” Pfitzer says. “Then, two-and-a-half years ago, I was asked to recite one of Leopold's essays for a conservation event.  Following that recitation, a series of events, including several trips to the Leopold Center in Wisconsin and a night spent in the historic Shack, revealed not only the story but the reality that this story would be a one-man play.”  After more than 30 performances and countless rehearsals, Pfitzer feels that the play is just as fresh and engaging as ever. “I have not grown the least bit tired of performing the show,” he says. “It is just as exciting today as it was when I debuted it 18 months ago at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre. The most exciting parts of performing the play are all about the audience.”

Aldo Leopold was ahead of his time in a lot of ways, especially regarding the way that man should care for the world around him. His writings spurred a revolution in conservation. “We have still not caught up today with Leopold's thinking at the time of his death 65 years ago,” Pfitzer says. “He is hands-down the most important conservationist of the 20th century, yet very few folks have ever heard of him. I chose to tell a part of his story because the world needs to hear it.” 

“Aldo Leopold—A Standard of Change”

7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 31. Barking Legs Theater,

1307 Dodds Ave. (423) 624-5347, barkinglesg.org.

$10 general / $8 students  

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August 29, 2013

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