THE FUTURE IN OUR HANDS
Settled in the foothills of the Upstate with the Blue Ridge in the background, Clemson University is approximately 250 miles away from the South Carolina coast. Many of the town’s residents make that four-hour commute to spend summers with their toes in the ocean. Yet in the off-season, it’s easy to forget the feeling of sun-kissed skin and the tide rolling in.
For many who attended, Something Very Fishy served as a reminder that our oceans aren’t dispensable, and to the children, that they can change the course of climate change for the better.
“I had a parent come up to me and say, ‘I wanted to be a marine biologist when I grew up, but I never did it. Now, I’m so inspired. I want to do something right now — seriously, right now. Today,’” Prosser said. “That was something I kept hearing from students, parents and teachers, alike: ‘We really want to do something; we didn’t understand; we knew it was a problem, but we didn’t know we were contributing to it.’”
Another parent told the story of her son, who had repeatedly asked her to use reusable shopping bags at the grocery store, yet she didn’t understand why such a simple change was necessary until Something Very Fishy depicted the problem of plastic pollution in the ocean.
“She told him after the show: ‘As soon as we get home, I’m changing that, and I’m never using a plastic bag again.’ And she thanked me because she didn’t realize what she was doing was hurting her son’s future and the state of the ocean,” Childress said.
“The plastics in the ocean seemed to particularly affect the children,” Prosser added. “When we asked them what they had learned from the show, they let us all know that there are issues with the environment and that there were things they could do to help, specifically to reduce, reuse and recycle.”
And just as the Something Very Fishy team hoped for, the children were hyperaware of the careers represented by the Clemson student docents who guided the kids throughout the center.
“Every day, I asked what the children wanted to be when they grew up, and they answered in a pattern that kind of changed from day to day,” Prosser said. “The first day, it was a scientist. The second day, many of them wanted to be veterinarians. Another day, they wanted to be actors or coral biologists — the point being that many of them wanted to go into careers they had seen highlighted in the program, which is exactly the result we were hoping to achieve.”.
While Prosser found success with the original Something Very Fishy production in Australia, the U.S. version of the play stands as proof that when science is made to be fun and creative, its message can resonate across audiences.
Surveys given to the children before and after the 2019 performance are now being analyzed to gauge the impact of the exhibit on how children view the ocean and themselves. Moving forward, the team plans to expand the reach of Something Very Fishy by including hands-on activities in the classrooms of participating schools. For now, both the Childress Lab and Prosser give thanks to one another for making the show possible.
“It was great to see that people at every level — parents, children, teachers, volunteers, university students — are concerned about the environment, and that they do want to help,” Prosser said. “At the end of the day, that’s what we need if we want to sustain the Earth.”