The intent of Theatre from the time of the ancient Greeks was to mirror society, its virtues and its vices, its principles and beliefs, through dramatic action. In both comedy and tragedy the dramatic action revolves around a story with a central conflict. As the conflict is played out, an audience sees itself portrayed, its emotions become engaged and it is challenged to reflect on the action. Whether the play ends with an answer or only unanswered questions, the best theatre elicits a response. At its very best, theatre changes the way we think or feel or act.
Today, we are confronted with the most dramatic conflict that exists – one that threatens our lives and the future of life altogether. Climate Change is the fundamental conflict of the 21st century.
While the science was clear many years before, new dramatic works about the Environment and Climate Change began to appear only in the early 2000’s. Fortunately, however, today momentum is building and notable plays are being written and performed around the globe as playwrights, directors and theatres coalesce around the problem of the environment and as some concerned individuals take theatre into their own hands.
Prominent plays produced in the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia about the environment since 2000 are: The Weather by Claire Pollard, The Ice Breaker by David Rambo, We Turned on the Light by Caryl Churchill, The Crown Prince by John Godber, Andrew Bovell’s When the Rain Stops Falling, Steve Sewell’s It Just Stopped, Nicholas Billion’s Greenland, The Word for Snow by Dom De Lillo, The Contingency Plan by Steve Waters, Mike Bartlett’s Earthquakes in London, Simon Stephens’s Wastwater, Between Two Waves, by Ian Meadows, Steven Carlton’s The Turquoise Elephant, Tomorrow Come Today by Gordon Dahlquist, The Heretic by Richard Bean, Nick Payne’s, Grasses of a Thousand Colors by Wallace Shawn, Kill the Climate Deniers by David Finnegan, The Great Immensity by Steve Cosson and Michael Friedman, Coming Up For Air by Cassandra Medley, Cynthia Hopkins’s This Clement World, The Way the Mountain Moved by Idris Goodwin, If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet by Nick Payne, Treefall by Henry Murray, Arctic Requiem: the story of Luke Cole and Kivalina by Sharmon J. Hilfinger, The Breathing Hole by Colleen Murphy and Caridad Svich’s The Way of Water and Orphan Sea.
When the Rain Stops Falling:
The Great Immensity:
Several scientists and performers have produced their own one-man/one-woman shows:
– Ten Billion is a one-man show on the environment written by Stephen Emmott, a computational scientist at Oxford who wrote about the overpopulation of the earth.
– Sea Sick by the science writer Alanna Mitchell is a monologue about the effect of climate change on the ocean.
– A Sense of Wonder – written by the actress Kiulani Lee’s is a one-woman show that brings Rachel Carson to life and has been performed to acclaim all over the world.
Perhaps no other playwright and activist has done more to spread the word about Climate Change than Chantal Bilodeau. In 2015, Bilodeau began Climate Change Theatre Action, a worldwide series of readings and performances plays presented to coincide with the United Nations COP meetings. Fifty playwrights are commissioned to write short plays – the plays are sent to “presenters” across the globe and selected for performances. The playwrights are from every continent and over 25 different cultures. In 2015 and 2017 the Climate Change plays were presented in 30 countries and on every continent. Bilodeau also founded the international blog Artists and Climate Change and curates Theatre in the Time of Climate Change for HowlRound, an on-line journal platform. She is the author of The Arctic Cycle Plays.
The Superhero Clubhouse, founded in Brooklyn in 2007 by Jeremy Pickard is a community of artists, scientists and environmental professionals invested in a long-term experiment to understand how theatre can help shift consciousness in the face of global climate change. One of departments is the Big Green Theater, a program that combines environmental education with an annual theatre festival where middle grade students are guided in writing their own eco-plays which are later staged with adult actors and produced at the Bushwick Starr Theatre during Earth Week with sustainable design.
Climakaze was founded by Elizabeth Doud, a writer, arts organizer, performer and educator, in collaboration with FUNDarte. It is a community platform in Miami, Florida that mixes live performances in a multi-lingual festival format focused on Climate Change.
Cherokee playwright Mary Kathryn Nagle in Fairly Traceable tells the romantic story of two environmentalists fighting to save their communities from human-induced environmental catastrophe.
EMOS’s (Earth Matters On Stage) on-going New Play Competition was founded in 2004 by Theresa May and Larry Fried to spur playwrights to submit new plays for an Eco Playwrights Festival.
In the Caribbean, a long-running radio drama called “Callaloo” was used to build resilience to climate change in a story-telling radio program, My Island-My Community, in partnership of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States. Their aim was to “re-script” the narrative about a broad range of topics to promote the environment, conservation and climate change in 15 island nations by educating and entertaining.
The Amazing Stars Arts Academy (ASAA) an arts theatre group in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe has, in partnership with the Zimbabwe Development Democracy Trust, participated in a climate change advocacy project. Through their dramas they have reached out to citizens of all ages and walks of life at public venues, passengers at bus terminals traveling to their rural homes, as well as social media users. They plan on taking their dramas to schools in the future.
The Tashinga Nherera Nutrition Farmers’ group in Mbire, Zimbabwe act out dramas at The Learning Center. The farmers create the drama and use the local language to get across the messages of how to use farming techniques to manage the climate related problems they face. The Learning Centers are a partnership with the United Nations, The University of Zimbabwe and The Soil Fertility Consortium for Southern Africa.
In 1986 in Orissa, India, a theatre village called Natya Gram, and a theatre company called Natya Chetana was founded by Subodh Patnaik. In a poor area, Natya Gram was envisioned as a non-profit making, socially committed organization. Patnaik’s goal was not to imitate European theatre that never reached the majority of Indian classes, or touched on their social-economic reality. Rather, plays are inspired by Indian traditional, folk, and puppet theatre with the mission to help social changes related to real conflicts of villages including climate change. Natya Chetana is an open air theatre, as well as a mobile “cyco-theatre” where players travel on bicycles to villages far afield bringing what Pattanaik calls “Intimate Theatre”. In 2018, bicycle expeditions performed plays about The Forest Rights Act and the problems faced by tribal people. In 2019 the theatre hopes with donations to be able to do their annual 5-day Festival – this year about “environment and education” with performances by school children and plays incorporating mythology where the importance of environment is highlighted.
Under the Sal Tree Festival – Inside a Sal Forest in Assam’s Goalpara tribal district in India, a series of plays in a 3-day festival is held every year in December. A unique format of contemporary theatre in India – it is an eco-friendly idea where artists work in harmony in nature. One underlying reason for the festival was to preserve the forests of Sal Trees which are slowly being cut down to make way for profitable rubber trees. Hundreds of people from nearby villages and far away attend the Festival. The vision of Director, Sukracharjya Rabha, the festival was designed to educate the community and to help preserve the environment and changing landscape.
In rural Pakistan actors perform dramas in an open-air theatre in poor fishing and farming communities in Badin, Sidh province, Pakistan. The brainchild of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, an NGO in Karachi that works for the economic welfare of vulnerable communities, the plays are used to educate the illiterate rural population about the impacts of climate change, and to bring new ideas. The plays raise awareness about floods and drought and to drive communities to a decision-making position to come up with solutions. For example, a result of these dramas, some farmers are no longer using genetically modified seeds which will not fare well in extreme weather.
The Lab Teater Ciputat in Jakarta, Indonesia works with the inhabitants of the City Forest, Sangga Buana on the edge of the Pesanggrahan River. The theatre company built an on-going Theatre Lab in the Forest. The actors became fully immersed in the community doing theatre and collaborating with citizens on good environmental practices and mapping solutions to problems with forest management.
In East Sepik Province in Papua New Guinea an area vulnerable to flooding of its 61 rivers due to rising ocean waters, people come to listen to the local community theatre group called SCRUCANO that uses drama to educate the population about the importance of their mangroves as part of an effort by the government to strengthen its policy for climate change adaptation.
The Bennude Natale Theatre Group ResourceAfrica UK initiated a community theatre project in Bennde Mutale in the Limpopo province in the marginalized northeastern area of South Africa suffering from the effects of climate change. Its mission was to support village scenario planning by raising awareness of the impacts of climate change and facilitate discussion. As a result of the Theatre Group, the Climate Conscious program came about and the work of the theatre toured neighboring villages and then nation-wide and in 5 different languages for 2 years leading up to COP17.
In Bangladesh The Kriyative Theatre is a group that has been using theatre to educate people about crucial issues. Their play Carbon Cake revolves around global warming and was written after 3 years and extensive research. It attempts to communicate the causes and impacts of global warming and highlights the responsibility and ownership of mass migration as a result of it.
The Asia-Pacific Global Network for Global Change in Japan has produced a Facilitators Guide to developing theater and drama entitled Drama In Climate Change/Implications On Biodiversity. “Engaging youth in biodiversity conservation is vital to ensure availability and security of natural resources for the next generation. The manual provides some practical activities on creating climate change dramas and conducting community drama performances for awareness raising and generating meaningful discussions.”
In 2012 The Ethiopian Journal of Environmental Studies and Management EJESM Vol. 5 no.4 published the COMMUNICATING CLIMATE CHANGE IN AFRICA THROUGH THE THEATRE FOR DEVELOPMENT PROCESS. “This is a treatise on a practicable model on the utilization of the theatre for development methodology in communicating the perils of climate change and environmental deterioration in the African continent. Its successful implementation points to the fact that it is possible to implement a well-planned process of employing the medium of theatre in communicating for a change from the attitudes that cause climate change and environmental degradation in the African society.”