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Local artists put climate change on stage for Paris talks

Act I: A well-dressed man in his gleaming, luxury bathroom curses his waterless tap. Act II: A Michelin chef serves…

By Lauren Kaljur , in Environment Feature story , on November 25, 2015 Tags: ,

Clockwise from top left, Sam Bob, Amanda Paul, Annabelle Paul and Dmitri Paul, cast of Savage Society Production’s Original Fire, smile after their successful performance.
Clockwise from top left, Sam Bob, Amanda Kenoras, Perseis Paul and Demetrius Kenoras-Paul, cast of Savage Society Production’s Original Fire, smile after their successful performance.

Act I: A well-dressed man in his gleaming, luxury bathroom curses his waterless tap. Act II: A Michelin chef serves up jellyfish to a table of salmon-deprived customers. Act III: A chorus of mediocre excuses for climate inaction leaves the singers gasping for air.

These were just a few of the 14 short plays a savvy group of Vancouver artists performed Sunday to engage the public on climate change.

Fourteen theatre companies performed the plays in a packed Granville Island theatre to evoke a visceral awareness of environmental issues in the lead up to the Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 UN climate talks in Paris.

This by-donation event was just one of 108 Climate Change Theatre Actions taking place in 20 countries, from Lithuania to Panama, from now until Dec. 30.

Two of the women playwrights who founded the Climate Change Action Theatre, Chantal Bilodeau and Elaine Avila, are Canadian.

This summer, they made a call out to playwrights around the world to create one- to five-minute pieces of theatre. Since then, songs, poems and plays by writers from six continents have been made freely available to collaborators worldwide. “I can’t believe it, it started out as a small idea, and people ran with it,” Avila said.

Avila said the theatre action project came from the realization that climate change was not yet felt by the public. An intellectual understanding of the scientific facts was not enough. To effect meaningful change, the founding artists explain, “We needed to engage the other side of our brains.”

Co-founder of Climate Change Theatre Action Elaine Avila stands in front of Granville Island’s STUDIO 1398 after the event.
Elaine Avila stands in front of Granville Island’s STUDIO 1398 after the Nov. 22 Vancouver theatre action event.

The Climate Action Theatre Network has registered its events with ArtCOP21, an organization running alongside the UN climate talks that collects and connects hundreds of thousands of people through major artistic climate actions around the world. It is part of a broader movement utilizing creative direct action to provoke change.

Audience member Shauna Griffin said she was amazed by the diversity of the performances and the people. “I love how accessible the plays are,” she said, noting GlacierNoo, a child-friendly puppet show telling the story of a baby iceberg separated from his glacial parents. The play was written by Dene/Inuk Reneltta Arluk, founder the North West Territories’ only professional indigenous theatre company.

The cast of the theatre company Savage Society performed their inaugural play Original Fire by Governor General Award-winner Kevin Loring. Actor Sam Bob said he looks forward to participating in future climate action theatre events.

The artistic director and organizer of the Vancouver event, Kendra Fanconi, said that while not all artists can participate in climate negotiations, they all need to be part of the conversation.

“We want to activate as many artists as possible,” she explained. “It’s time for artists to step up on climate change because it’s a difficult issue to communicate around.”

Fanconi said the reception from all those involved has been hugely positive. “People have felt called to do this.”

Fanconi’s own company, The Only Animal, is continuing with its own climate theatre actions inspired by the Vancouver event.

Ten “radical immersions in nature” will be performed in the Sunshine Coast forest to raise awareness of local logging threats to a fragile ecosystem. Describing her mantra, she said, “Do everything you can, this is the only approach to climate change.”

Graduates of Langara College’s professional theatre program, Studio 58, were inspired to found a new environmentally focused theatre company. That company, Slippery Styx, performed Sixty-Three People in 4 days by Jordan Hall, a satirical play on the arrests of pipeline protesters on Burnaby Mountain in 2014.

Organizers say more events are coming.

“This is just the start of something, not the finish,” said Mark Vulliamy, the co-ordinator for the Vancouver event.

For Jennifer Allan, a University of British Columbia researcher on social movements and global environmental negotiations, public actions on climate change matter.

“We know Paris won’t save the world,” Allan said. “It is only the beginning.” For this reason, “the actions by those outside of the UN are maybe more meaningful than those in the UN.”

For Fanconi, “It’s about innovative ways to make a revolution, because artists are innovators.”

The co-founder of Climate Change Theatre Action, Elaine Avila, speaks to fellow artists after the Vancouver theatre action.
The co-founder of Climate Change Theatre Action, Elaine Avila, speaks to fellow artists after the Vancouver theatre action.