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a documentary play × with music × ABOUT OIL


Tar Sands Songbook is a documentary play about our unseen relationships with oil. 

Written, conceived, produced and performed by tanya kalmanovitch

 An illuminating work of documentary theater, The Tar Sands Songbook asks us to reconsider our unseen relationships with oil. Creator Tanya Kalmanovitch knows these relationships all too well. Born in Fort McMurray, Canada, near the site of the Athabasca Oil Sands, the world’s largest bitumen reservoir, she made her decision to become a musician as a teenager because “it had nothing to do with oil.” Fort McMurray has since become a flashpoint of international clashes over energy, the environment, and the economy. Kalmanovitch's polyphonic piece weaves together a chorus of actors' voices with an original, improvised score. The words of indigenous activists, engineers, heavy equipment operators, elders, oil patch workers, scientists, and those of her own family fuel discussions of our past and the powerful forces that shape our future.


Written, composed and performed by Tanya Kalmanovitch.


About Tanya Kalmanovitch

Tar Sands Songbook Trailer


"When I was fourteen years old I decided to become a musician because it had nothing to do with oil."

TAnya Kalmanovitch on the story behind the Tar Sands Songbook




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Creator/writer/performer Tanya Kalmanovitch a musician, writer and ethnomusicologist. Trained at the Juilliard School, her work as a violist bridges classical, jazz and experimental improvised music and has been profiled in Jazz Times, DownBeat, the Globe and Mail and the New York Times. Kalmanovitch’s research in theoretical psychology and ethnomusicology has explored the history of science, postcolonial identities and musical globalization and has been published in The American Psychologist, World of Music and New Sound. She is an Associate Professor at Mannes School of Music at The New School, Affiliated Faculty at the Tishman Environment and Design Centre and a 2017-2018 GIDEST fellow. She performs and teaches regularly in North America, Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia, and also serves a faculty member at Boston’s New England Conservatory in Boston. Her most recent recording, Heart Mountain (with fellow violist Mat Maneri) is available here.

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Writer, director, and collaborator CECILIA RUBINO has created, devised and directed theater pieces recently performed at at Lincoln Center’s Bruno Walter Theater, The New Victory @ 42nd Street, Jefferson Market Playhouse in Greenwich Village, the New York Fringe and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. She is currently completing the documentary Remembering Shakespeare, which explores new ways of thinking about memory and Shakespeare’s words in our digital age where memory itself is at risk. She recently directed Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde and her own adaptation of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at Jefferson Market Playhouse and a Lang Theater production of Twelfth Night at the Irondale Theater Center. Rubino wrote and directed From The Fire, which won the UK/Music Theater awards for best music, best production and best new musical at the Edinburgh Fringe Theater Festival. She is Director of Theater at Lang College, The New School.



Keepers of the Athabasca

Tishman Center, The New School

Graduate Institute of Design, Ethnography and Social Thought, The New School

New England Conservatory's Faculty Professional Development Fund




Come see the Tar Sands Songbook live.


APRIL 19, 2018, 5 PM

Reading with Tanya Kalmanovitch, Jennifer Van Dyck and Frank Kimbrough, Wollman Hall, The New School. Free and open to the public. Presented by the Tishman Environment and Design Center as part of The New School's Earth Week.

March 1, 2018, 6 PM

Workshop Performance and Panel Discussion. Tishman Auditorium, 63 Fifth Avenue, New York NY. Tickets are free, reservations recommended. Performers: Jennifer Van Dyck, Peter Fernandez, Evan Allen, Tanya Kalmanovitch. Discussant: Dr. Radhika Subramanian

Presented by the Tishman Environment and Design Center as part of The New School Curriculum Disruption Week: #DisruptClimateInjustice.

OCTOBER 5 & 6, 2017, 7:30 PM

Workshop performances, Ernst C. Stiefel Hall, The New School. Free and open to the public. With Jennifer Van Dyck, Darian Dauchan, and Frank Kimbrough. 



The resources listed below are a few that I’ve found helpful in the process of coming to grips with the intellectual, technical and practical issues raised by this project. It is an incomplete list,


Tishman Environment and Design Center, The New School

Pembina Institute. Research and analysis on Canadian energy policies and practices. 

Richard A. Frank et. al., "Profiling Oil Sands Mixtures from Industrial Developments and Natural Groundwaters for Source IdentificationEnvironmental Science and Technology., 2014, 48 (5), pp 2660–2670

Environmental Defense Canada's report: Alberta’s Tailings Ponds. One Trillion Litres of Toxic Waste and Growing.

Kevin P. Timoney, The Peace-Athabasca Delta: Portrait of a Dynamic Ecosystem, University of Alberta Press (2013).

Imre Szeman, Ruth Beer, Warren Cariou, Mark Simpson, Sheena Wilson, “On the Energy Humanities: Contributions from the Humanities, Social Sciences, and Arts to Understanding Energy Transition and Energy Impasse”, SSHRC Imagining Canada’s Future initiative Knowledge Synthesis Grants: Energy and Natural Resources (2016).

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, “An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States” (ReVisioning American History, Beacon Press, 2015).

Clyde Woods, “Katrina’s World: Blues, Bourbon, and the Return to the Source”, American Quarterly 61(3), September 2009. 

Sarah Quick, “The Social Poetics of the Red River Jig in Alberta and Beyond: Meaningful Heritage and Emerging Performance”, Ethnologies 30(1), 2008, 77-101.

Hope and Action

Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities. Haymarket Books, Updated edition (2016). 

Rebecca Solnit. "Protest and Persist: Why giving up hope is not an option." The Guardian, 13 March 2017.


StoryCorps: Interview Guide generator An invaluable resource on recording, editing and producing documentary radio.

HowSound. Transom's podcast about podcasting.



Contact Us

If you'd like to contribute to the Tar Sands Songbook by giving an interview, please fill out the form below. If you're interested in booking a performance of the Tar Sands Songbook, booking Tanya Kalmanovitch for a speaking engagement, or licensing portions of the work, please indicate this in your message. 


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