Tar Sands Songbook

“Stories trap us, stories free us, we live and die by stories.”


Rebecca Solnit, “Hope in the dark”


How we work


“When I thought music had nothing to do with oil, I thought climate change was something that was happening to someone else, somewhere else. Now I see that it’s the story of my life.” — Tanya Kalmanovitch

The stories we tell about oil shape how we see its challenges and imagine their solutions. In a politically divisive field, in an emotionally charged context of climate crisis, Tanya Kalmanovitch performers her reckoning with her implication to what The Guardian called “the largest — and most destructive — industrial project in human history.” With a pianist on her right and a single laptop computer filled with the images and voices of Fort McMurray on her left, the first-hand stories, visuals, and field recordings place audiences at the epicenter of a disaster they would never otherwise see, but that has everything to do with how they live today.


Tar Sands Songbook was developed and workshopped with local partners, Indigenous and NGO groups in Fort McMurray andFort Chipewyan, Alberta; Mackinaw City, Michigan; Halifax, Nova Scotia; and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Project partners include The New School and En Garde Arts, a leading producer of site-specific theater.  This piece is designed to be performed in community centers, living rooms and small theaters along the pipeline and rail routes carrying Alberta crude throughout North America. Its staging is intentionally simple.


In performance, Kalmanovitch is a researcher, a storyteller and a musician. Along the tour routes, we will interview key community members and host post-show conversations where people can share stories of their own relationships to oil. By capturing these conversations and making them accessible through our website, we will build a repository of stories deepening and humanizing the conversation around oil.