"I am driving on I-5 going South and the pavement gets pulled out from under me," Shoba Satya says, pantomiming driving a car. "The Fremont Bridge will curl like a snake."

Satya is not afraid to take the audience to the peak of hypothetical anxiety as she describes what will happen when the predicted earthquake hits Portland in her play, The Big One, which premiered Tuesday night as part of the Fertile Ground Festival.

When the July 2015 New Yorker article by Kathryn Schulz came out, Pacific Northwest residents responded in a number of ways. We could either brush it off as journalistic sensationalism and hyperbole, make jokes to cover our very real fear or prepare with neighborhood response teams and seismic retrofitting. Satya, an actor and acupuncturist, decided to create a play.

She begins with a physical copy of the New Yorker issue, opening it up to a stark red illustration of the Pacific Northwest being wiped out, and asks audience members to raise their hands if they've seen the article. Her tone is conversational through the 45-minute piece, which feels more like a motivational talk and safety lesson than a play.


When I first saw the article, I responded in the same way I did to a documentary about the Jonestown Massacre: sucking in information in an anxious, terrified haze, unable to look away.

Watching The Big One was just as gripping. I sat, mouth open, as she told us it will take two weeks to get from the east side to the west side, how chimneys will fall through roofs and how more than 15,000 people are predicted to die.

It would be easy to dismiss Satya's play as shock factor, except that she actually gives solutions on how to quell anxiety and be prepared. Get yourself a red construction helmet and a guide on treating trauma from your Neighborhood Emergency Team, she says.

As an acupuncturist, Satya's calming energy spills into the audience. She taps the top of her head, the sides of her hands and her collar bone, an anti-anxiety technique. When acting out what happens to buildings in earthquakes, she calmly stretches as if she's in a yoga class.

If that "Big One" does hit, I want to be on Satya's side of the river.

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