Climate Change Theatre Action

By Zachary Sheridan

Climate Change Theatre Action (CCTA) 2017 is a collaboration between the Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts, NoPassport Theatre Alliance, The Arctic Cycle, Theatre Without Borders, and York University, and is supported by the Comptom Foundation, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and a York University Canada 150 Grant.

It is a worldwide series of readings and performances of short climate change plays to coincide with the COP 23 United Nations Climate Change Conference. Fifty playwrights from around the world were commissioned to write one-to-five minute plays about an aspect of climate change. These plays were made available to producing collaborators interested in presenting an event during the project’s time window.

I made the decision to create a once-off podcast relating to Perth, Australia, and the performing arts in the context of climate change.

With peers, we read plays including New Michael by Stephen Sewell, Magical Vagina by Catherine Léger, and The Penguins by Elspeth Tilley.

I would also like to thank composer Azariah Felton for allowing me to use his work ‘Sister’ (https://soundcloud.com/azariah-felton) as well as Greencard Wedding, Jodie Christopherson and Ryan McCurdy for use of their song ‘Infinite Water.’

Throughout the play readings, the discussions that followed, and conversations with Noemie Huttner-Koros, Riley Spadaro, and Alexa Taylor, I learned a few things.

I thought it would be best to detail some of these lessons here as notes, so that they too may spark ideas or prompt further discussion.

  • Climate change impacts upon every part of our lives. As one of the CCTA organisers, Chantal Bilodeau, writes, ‘No part of our lives remains untouched. Our economies, infrastructures, political systems, environment, societies are all being effected.’
  • As such, performance works that do not overtly concern climate change still do. Because climate change is a symptom of various interlocking systems.
  • There are many practical ways of fighting climate change outside the content of the work. For example, LED lighting, theatres run by solar panels, vegan foods on menus, scripts made from recycled paper, etc.
  • But also important, along with practical measures, is making new work that responds to this crisis.
  • ‘Preaching to the choir’ is a good thing. We can build strong communities ‘of love, spirited moments of resistance.’ (Read more here: https://harpers.org/archive/2017/11/preaching-to-the-choir/)
  • Indigenous modes of knowing – knowledge that has sustained country for tens of thousands of years – are critical. There is massive room for learning in this respect.
  • Doing something in a radical way means deconstructing the power dynamics inherent to that situation. We can enact change upon institutions.
  • Theatre and the rehearsal room is a microcosm of culture.
  • The individual, little acts are vital in tackling climate change. As Ruth Little of Cape Farewell wrote to me earlier this year, ‘My own feeling is that art (in partnership with science) can help us to think ‘with’ rather than ‘about’ universal, complex processes like climate change. Until we understand the contingency of all things, until we really feel what it means to be fully interdependent with natural and manmade processes, materials and patterns that we can design and influence but not, in the end, control, I think we’ll continue to behave as though our own individual actions are either irrelevant or insufficient in relation to climate change. But they’re not. We become a system by the accumulation of and feedback from individual acts, just as a hive or an ant colony do, and our technologies make possible very rapid cultural shifts in new directions. Art can push new metaphors, iconographies and social behaviours out into the world in inventive, playful and affective ways, but climate change isn’t a ‘thing’ to be observed and described; it’s a myriad of human choices reflected in behaviours around food, finance and fuel, as well as our relationships with non-human beings.’
  • And finally, a quote about the beginnings of CCTA taken from: http://howlround.com/nurturing-local-seeds-into-global-vibrancy-climate-change-theatre-action
    ‘Theatre is a mighty tool. The only thing small about it is the vision of those who don’t know how to harness its potential. This season four women theatre artists with no money whatsoever, are, in effect, creating a global movement. Through sheer force of will, and many hours spent at the computer and Skyping across time zones, we are planting, one by one, a series of local seeds that have the potential to affect our economies, political systems, environments, and cultures. And if they are nurtured right and the gods smile on us, these seeds will grow into a vibrant explosion of echoing voices worldwide. Is this not an apt metaphor for how we need to handle climate change?It is always tempting to trust that others—with more time, more knowledge, more resources—will do the work that needs to be done. But theatre cannot wait for sluggish institutions to take the lead, just like climate change cannot wait for governments to regulate or big corporations to smarten up. We each have a responsibility to plant and nurture our own seed. And with some luck, a neighbor might be inspired and also plant a seed. And so, might the neighbor’s neighbor. And soon, we will realize that the music carried by the wind is actually a harmony of global voices fighting for the right to enjoy a healthy and sustainable planet.’

The Blue Room Theatre will be hosting their own Climate Change Theatre Action night on November 6. Click here for more information.

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