Does theatre have a role in climate change awareness? 

Convener(s): Ella Fowler

Participants: Josh Neicho, Alkiki Chapple, Kieran Hurley, Alex Bran, Jack Klaff, Tom Hughes, Lennart Pasch, Ben Well, Julia Taudevin

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

We discussed the breadth of the topic, the difficulties to break down and what particular aspects to focus, our conversation went in many directions (I hope this attempt to record the conversation will some of the really interesting things that came up!)

We started with audience expectations, the influence of ‘escapism’ within theatre, audience’s reasons for attending the theatre, do people want to hear about issues of reality/changing their perception of the world in the context of theatre? This lead us to discuss the kind of spectators which live theatre attracts opposed to film/television. The film ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ was discussed, it may have attracted large numbers of viewers, however, did it effect people’s actions? Does the fear and terror featured in the film in actual fact reassure an audience of their current safety and distance with the issue?

The vastness of the issue – ‘global scale’, how can it be localized? The stage is localized and immediate yet the issue is global and distant (to some). How do you translate this into theatre which an audience can empathize with? Can comedy be a device to present the facts in a non-didactic manner?

The importance of ‘aftercare’ of the audience and companies, will people suffer from climate shock/depression? It is currently a ‘hot topic’ in the eyes of the media, are ‘green issues’ being used for short term marketing ploys? 

Do we need to be looking at a longer term plan for development? How do we care for our audience? Are theatre companies who produce a play about climate change responsible for their audiences’ subsequent actions? Do we actually create theatre about coping with the climate shock rather than the facts we already know? The role Q&A sessions can play; the importance of answering audiences queries and to directly engage with them - Ugly by Red Ladder theatre company were an example this. This could ease the helplessness people may fill after receiving an overload of information – to answer the question of ‘What do we do now?’ However, is it theatre’s role to provide answers of what we do now?

The more manageable question seems to be - What can I do as theatre maker? Should theatre companies be more concerned with building a sustainable practice? Adapting a  frugal approach to theatre can be the solution. However, what impact would this have on the industry? In particular design, would sustainable theatre design consist of remnants of our past? The importance of methods of production teamed with audience reception.  Theatre can be an exemplary practice, this lead us to discuss different kinds of engagement. The methods employed have to be imaginative. The form and structure is equally important to the content. People have access to the information surrounding climate change: the challenge is to find new ways to approach the subject.

However, are we still fighting the notion of ‘believing’ in climate change? Sir Paul Nurse recently discussed the question of science and believability - the role journalism and the media has to play in the public opinion on scientific matters. The idea of adapting for climate change defies our current lifestyles. It is within the human condition to be ultimately selfish, it makes us consider we do turn the heating up and put the lights on it the dark? It is in our nature to put our immediate comfort first.

The Dark Mountain Project – They believe the focus should be on adjusting our lifestyles opposed to finding alternative fuel sources. They create new storytelling methods and myths based on the belief that capitalism is crumbling. Therefore, is climate change awareness a fight against capitalist lifestyles? Yet can people change capitalism? Surely, this is an impossible task. This lead us to discuss theatre and protest and whether theatre can have a place in direct action.

To sum up – I think we all agreed theatre can have a role in climate change awareness: responsible methods of production along with a dose of imagination to engage a contemporary audience!