Filmmaker, playwright and activist navigates truth in the “fake news” era

In late summer 2001, Josh Fox was working on a play called “The Bomb” for his New York-based International WOW Company. He'd purchased respirator masks from Home Depot — “cool and scary” additions to the costumes for the production.

Days later, he and his colleagues were wearing the masks in the streets after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

That compelling scene of Fox carrying boxes of Joe's Pizza to first responders is one of many in his new book, The Truth Has Changed, released not-so-coincidentally on Sept. 11. His one-man show of the same name visits the Wexner Center for the Arts on Friday, Sept. 14.

“This story is specifically about an insight that I have into what's happening in America right now,” Fox said in a phone interview. The filmmaker, playwright and environmental activist highlighted the dangers of hydraulic fracturing in 2010's Emmy Award-winning “Gasland.” He worked with Sen. Bernie Sanders during the 2016 presidential campaign and captured the Dakota Access Pipeline protests at Standing Rock.

Fox said the smear campaign he faced at the hands of the oil and gas industries and some media gave him an understanding of “misinformation techniques” influencing the public in the current political climate.

“The story is ostensibly about some of my experiences, but really it's like a murder mystery,” Fox said. “Who killed the American democracy? And how did that happen? And how is it continuing to happen?”

“With fracking, you can measure the chemicals that are in the ground,” Fox said, citing an example of how to determine what is true in our world of endless information and curated newsfeeds and search engine results. “No amount of opinion, no amount of pro-gas drilling blogs or right-wing, conservative blogs saying it's not true will make it not true. You have to rely on the scientific and empirical information.”

Written like a monologue, Fox's book translates easily to the stage production, which will also be made into a film. And he's intentionally performing the show before the midterm elections to mobilize people and “provoke a conversation among the community,” he said.

“If you don't know what's true on your newsfeed, part of the problem is you're isolated in a room staring at a glowing machine in the palm of your hand and ignoring the rest of the universe,” he said. “If you want hope and if you want encouragement in America, you've got to show up in those rooms where people are working on hope and working on encouragement.”