This week on HowlRound, we continue our exploration of Theatre in the Age of Climate Change, which began last April with this special series for Climate Change Week NYC. How does our work reflect on, and responds to, the challenges brought on by a warming climate? How can we participate in the global conversation about what the future should look like, and do so in a way that is both inspiring and artistically rewarding? While surfing the Internet one day, I came across the spectacular trailer for the opera CO2. Since I couldn’t drop everything and fly to Milan, I asked librettist Ian Burton if he would share his experience with me. What he writes gives us a sense of the ambitious scope of this project. —Chantal Bilodeau
I started writing the libretto for Giorgio Battistelli’s opera CO2 in 2013, commissioned by La Scala Milan. I was given a generalized briefing of structuring an opera around the theme of Global Warming. I remember that my first concern was whether such a thing had been attempted before.
A number of films, documentaries, plays, and performances dealt with some aspect of the theme. Knowing that Giorgio Battistelli would have the orchestra, chorus, and great soloists of the most famous opera house in the world at his disposal, I wanted to provide him with a text that would both inspire him musically and give him maximum scope for vocal and orchestral expression. For example, big chorus scenes would allow him to show off the vast and brilliant orchestra to the full, while powerful, lyrical and exciting arias, duets (and, in the event, octets) would highlight soloists.
Giorgio and I previously worked together on a production of Richard IIIcommissioned by the Opera of Flanders in 2005. Subsequently, the opera toured in Ghent, Dusseldorf, Eindhoven, Strasbourg, Geneva, and in Turin the next year. For Richard III, I abbreviated Shakespeare’s longest play looking for its most sing-able moments. Then, I composed three big chorus scenes of coronations, which were not in the original play.
When thinking about CO2, I went back to Joseph Haydn’s two great dramatic oratorios, The Creation and The Seasons, for inspiration. Before specifying the disastrous impact of Carbon dioxide emissions, I needed to the wonder and glory of the miraculous design and diversity of our planet, its seasonal changes, and its biological variety. Haydn did something similar by using Biblical texts and James Thomson’s poems.
Ensemble of CO2. Photo courtesy of Teatro alla Scala
Initially, I wanted to divide the piece into twelve sections to represent the months of the year, the Zodiacal signs, and the hours of the day. Within these twelve sections, I would deal with twelve different aspects of the theme, such as Creation; the Kyoto Conference; food miles and supermarkets; CO2 emissions and air travel; tsunamis; hurricanes; the Apocalypse; bio-diversity; and the Garden of Eden—a nod to Haydn’s Creation.
Although thematically satisfying, the twelve sections proved a bit too lengthy and unwieldy. So, I cut my piece to nine scenes on different aspects of climate change with a prologue and an epilogue. The central character David Adamson is a climatologist, sung by baritone Anthony Michaels-Moore, who introduces the project in a rather dry lecture on Global Warming. His lecture is constantly interrupted by trigger words like “creation,” “Kyoto,” “tropical cyclone,” and “Eden.” He also states, “All my life I have wanted to tell the story of an atom of carbon.” We are then taken into outer space, a beach in Thailand, a supermarket, an airport lounge, Eden, and so on.
The frequent interruptions of the lecture are theatricalized with the use of video provided by Tony Award winner Finn Ross, film of Ed Burtynsky’s amazing photographs, and choreography devised by Marco Beriel. Meanwhile, David attempts to discuss sustainability, deep ecology, practical environmentalism, and tropical cyclones. He also discusses the metaphysical and poetic definitions of the Seasons and James Lovelock’s “Gaia Hypothesis,” amongst other things.
In addition, director Robert Carsen and designer Paul Steinberg came up with a device inspired by the Apple Mac computer, which David has at the beginning of the piece. The computer becomes “a stage within a stage” on which all of the sung and danced action of the opera takes place as if it’s on the Internet.
Structurally and textually, I thought of the libretto as a Postmodernist poem where images, ideas, and themes bounce off each other, provoking new trains of thought and generating new imagery. Different languages like Latin, Ancient Greek, Sanskrit, Arabic, English, Russian, and Japanese mirror the global and timeless aspect of the theme. Then, quotations from various sources, such as Shakespeare, James Lovelock, Rachel Carson, and Alfred Russel Wallace along with the Psalms, the Vedic scriptures, the Homeric Hymn to Gaia, and the Kyoto Protocol add layers to the voices in the opera.
Ensemble of CO2. Photo courtesy of Teatro alla Scala.
Once I structured the scenes, the characters came quite easily. For example, an offstage chorus of boys recite Psalm 18: “Caeli enarrant gloriam Dei.” The audience is also present at the beginning of Creation when the four Archangels Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, and Uriel fly in from the heavens, hovering above a group of four scientists whose texts derive from a variety of twentieth century sources. They first appear when David is talking about the pre-Socratic philosophers Thales, Anaximines, Theophanes, and Heraclitus. Thus, we have an octet of voices, plus a boys’ chorus, singing of the wonder of Creation.
In the airport scene, angry passengers briefly talk on their mobile phones, while David talks to his research assistant about figures and data relating to CO2 emissions from air travel and private jets.
Other characters emerge from the different scenes, including Mrs. Mason whose brother-in-law drowned during the Tsunami of 2004; Thai hotel manager Mr. Changtalay who works on a beach in Phuket; and Adam, Eve, and the Serpent in Eden. Finally, Gaia, the goddess of the Earth, sings her threnody on the disaster Man has caused on the Earth, in the environment, and in the atmosphere.
When David steps forward at the end of the opera, he is in absolute silence as the house lights come up. He speaks the final lines: “If this is not my planet, whose is it? If this is not my responsibility, whose is it? If I am the cause, am I not the cure?” These are some questions I want audiences to leave asking themselves.
My 2014 exhibitionFOODshed: Art and Agriculture in Action originated at Smack Mellon in Brooklyn, NY. An updated version was recently on view in August/September 2015 at CR10 Arts, a few miles south of Hudson, NY. It was always my goal to travel the show to the Hudson Valley since many of the artists in the show live and work there as well as grow food on their own small farms.
CR10 Arts is in Columbia, County, an agricultural region with the now flourishing small town of Hudson where art, culture and food are thriving. CR10 is housed in a re-purposed 15,000 square foot concrete block building, constructed in 1954 for agricultural storage. Installing the show in this enormous space was a challenge for the artists since there is very little usable wall space, the building is mostly windows. But the exposed barn beams and simple wooden floors made a great backdrop for this show which was focused on sustainable agriculture, entrepreneurship, and artists’ use of food as subject matter or medium.
The exhibition features artworks and inventive projects around agriculture and food that address farming as both activism and art form. Many of the artists in this exhibition are known for bringing community-specific issues into their work and are exploring the real-world implications of small-scale farming and raising community awareness about our food systems. The artists advocate for an organic, regional and local approach, which they are manifesting in their own lives and where the boundaries of real world and art completely disappear.
The Black Currant Jam by Joan Bankemperis an organic farming project at herBlack Meadow Barn in Warwick, NY to produce black currant jam. When Bankemper acquired the farm in 2008 there were 150 overgrown black currant bushes. She spent five years farming, pruning and learning the nuances of sustainably cultivating these “super food” plants. Black currants have the highest amount of antioxidants found in any fruit.
SHEEP FARM by Dan Devine is a living, self-sustaining installation exploring the issues of local production, bio-technology and questionable commercial practices. It began with five Rombouillet sheep and a shed enclosed in an electric fence with all the accoutrements and activities of a working farm. It will continue to develop and function as a living artwork and a studio in which new ideas will develop.
Ecoarttech (artists, Leila Nadir + Cary Peppermint) presented OS Fermentation: Collaborative Hacks with Fruits, Vegetables, and Microbes, part of the artists’ new series of social sculptures, titled EdibleEcologies, which works collaboratively with local communities (human, bacterial, and ecological) to resuscitate historic food practices and facilitate recovery from a cultural memory disorder they call “industrial amnesia.”
Joy Garnett’s “Piss & Vinegar (art and ferment)” includes bottles of Garnett’s home-fermented red wine vinegar, labeled with an adaptation of a bee logo by Garnett’s maternal grandfather Dr. A.Z. Abushady (1892-1955) an influential poet, physician, bacteriologist, beekeeper, inventor, litterateur and publisher of an array of scientific, cross-cultural and poetry journals who lived and worked in England and Egypt.
Hudson Valley-based artists’ collective Habitat forArtists installation, A Necessary Re Course was one of its signature, temporary, reusable art studios. The studio was a growing shed for edible hydroponic greens and seed propagation, partnering with organizations including the Hudson Valley Seed Library, Obercreek Farm CSA,and Green Up.
Lenore Malenpresented her 3-channel video installation, I Am The Animal,2010, which was filmed on site in the Hudson Valley. It features 9 beekeepers who have devoted their lives to their colonies. Their interviews are intercut with historical and found footage providing a crucial context for how we understand our relationship to these social insects.
Kristyna and Marek Milde presented a new installation titled Salt over Gold.The project adopts the esthetic and corporate language of an official VIP celebrity entrance with red carpet and a step and repeat wall to examine the key elements of the process that produces our daily essentials in contrast to pop and corporate culture. The artists interviewed local organic farmers to learn about their perspectives and the key elements of farming that the average consumer is unaware of Taxonomy Transplanteda film by artist Peter Nadin created at his Old Field Farm in Greene County, NY. It was inspired and facilitated by the farm’s plants, livestock, products, activities, and landscape. Since he started farming in 1989, Nadin’s art practice has increasingly overlapped with the day-to-day responsibilities of the farm.
Earth Totems, First Swirlings, 2015, by Andrea Reynosa was a living permaculture earthwork, focused on spiral pattern forms in nature. These spirals inform the economy of design for the many dynamically productive Herb Spiralsshe has constructed on her SkyDog Farm in Narrowsburg, New York.
Jenna Spevack’s InsideOut House: Sonic Farmscape is a binaural audio installation embedded with sounds recorded by the artist while planting or harvesting food on her land in the western Catskills. Using simulated blindness to enhance the aural sense, visitors will hear pollinators, water, wind, and other important environmental collaborators needed for food production.
E.O.E for HUDSON: Equal Opportunity Eating, drawings by SusanLeibovitz Steinmanilluminate recent research for developing community-participatory EOE projects for Hudson’s public spaces to preserving the history of apples and apple trees in the Hudson Valley, and their importance for jobs, food, and fighting global warming and to develop low cost, creative and viable cottage industries based on local agriculture; and based on Permaculture design and philosophy. The apple is NY’s official state fruit. NY is the US second largest producer of apples.
Elaine Tin Nyo presented a video, JFK, 2014, a brief story from an American-born Basque farmer about her son’s understanding of the cycle of life. Life Is a Plate of Cherries, 2014 is an ebook presentation documenting Tin Nyo’s decade long project during the month of July, when she has been making sour cherry pies for her friends every day and sending messages to her Pie List about who ate them each day.
Since 2009, Tattfoo Tan has developed a series of activities to engage his local community on Staten Island and in greater New York City through sustainability actions that acknowledge the shortage of food on a global scale. S.O.S. stands for Sustainable Organic Stewardship, a pledge that Tan has taken to live more sustainably through hands on gardening, seed saving and sharing, and raising his own chickens. His art is a form of education of self and community through eco-actions that anyone can replicate. Ecoartspace has published his S.O.S. Action Guide.
Linda Weintraub’s installation Let Us Eat the Colors of Nature’s Spectrum consists of 56 foods harvested from her gardens in Rhinebeck NY and preserved through canning and arrayed according to the color continuum they suggest. Weintraub invites viewers to expand their interaction and consider that each of these alluring colors originated in the imperative of survival. Each tone and hue is resonant with energies from the sun, rain, wind, and soil. They were activated by bacteria and fungi, and crafted with enzymes, sugars, oils, minerals, and salts.
The Hudson Valley region stretches for 200 miles, from Westchester northward past Albany towards the upper part of the Hudson River. In 2007 the region had 5,326 farms operating 1,325 square miles of farmland. Nearly all of the region’s farms were owned by families and iniduals. There are now more farmers, especially more women and younger farmers, and more small farms than in 2002.
Recent years have seen an awakening to the importance of food and agriculture. The general public—and national media—are responding to the message that a consolidated, industrialized food system is detrimental to local economies, to natural resources, to public health, and to the quality of our food and our lives. The result has been a surge of interest in supporting regional, sustainable food systems that prioritize food quality, nutrition, environmental stewardship, and fair returns for farmers and farm workers. Access to farm-fresh products is indeed increasing: The numbers of CSAs and farmers markets have surged, and more mainstream distributors, retailers, and food service companies have begun to carry locally produced food. The central role of food in health—human, environmental, and community health—is being emphasized by educational projects across the country. More and more community groups are finding that food and farming are useful tools for empowerment. Federal, state, and city governments have noticed and are responding. We have a White House garden, First Lady Michelle Obama is promoting healthy food and local produce, the USDA created a Food Atlas to give researchers access to food-related information, “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” is a farm-to-plate initiative of the USDA, and farms are being included in the America’s Great Outdoors initiative. New York State has a Food Policy Council, and New York City has become a leader and a hub of food-related advocacy. All of this activity creates a unique opportunity for farmers in the Hudson Valley. We are situated between two major metropolitan areas that offer rich policy arenas and robust markets. New York City is considered by many to be a global “food capital,” and many consumers in the New York metropolitan area are willing to pay more, if necessary, for high quality regional food. motion. This groundswell in public and policy activity gives the Hudson Valley a critical foundation on which to build an effective, enduring regional food system. (information from data thanks to Glynwood Farm, Cold Spring, NY)
ecoartapace ecoartspace is a nonprofit platform providing opportunities for artists who address the human/nature relationship in the visual arts. Since 1999 they have collaborated with over 150 organizations to produce more than 40 exhibitions, 100 programs, working with 400 + artists in 15 states nationally and 8 countries internationally. Currently they are developing a media archive of video interviews with artists and collection of exhibitions ephemera for research purposes. Patricia Watts is founder and west coast curator. Amy Lipton is east coast curator and director of the ecoartspace NYC project room.
A project of the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs since 1999
Sanctuary 2015. Noon 26th- Noon 27th September. Murrays Monument, Galloway Forest Dark Skies Park, A712, Nr Newton Stewart. DG8 7BL. A 24 hour public art laboratory experimenting with new ways of using technology to explore darkness, light and place.
“In the future we imagine a need to designate places where we are free from being tracked, traced, and our data mined via our devices. Who will come to such places and what will happen there?” Sanctuary 2015
The Galloway Forest Dark Skies Park is a place within which darkness is protected. Within this remote Park, access to communication networks is limited and at Sanctuary we have extended the notion of darkness to include electronic or digital darkness and created an event that provokes responses to the all-pervading nature of communication technology and electric light. This remote place can be considered a Sanctuary from both light pollution and worldwide connectedness. A temporary escape into digital darkness where we can explore our relationship with all kinds of technology, take control and use it in experimental and creative ways, or disengage with it entirely and create new behaviours, liberated by the knowledge that no-one is looking.
Sanctuary has become a place for new ways of experiencing, exploring and connecting with landscape and place. How can we read the landscape viscerally, visually and conceptually? How do we experience the world through the lens of technological devices and how do they mediate our experiences? Sanctuary is not rejecting the digital age – there are artists creating digital artworks and networks on site – rather it aims to interrogate the meaning, uses and implications of technology and the ownership and agency of the devices and networks that now connect us. And in the realm of dark and light, in this, the International Year of Light, there are experimental artworks that both examine and play with light and its significance across the visible and also the non-visible spectrum.
Sanctuary creates a new public space – one that is created by its participants (both artists and visitors). It is place where new conversations can happen and experiments conducted. This is exemplified by The Dark Outside FM, an annual site specific radio broadcast of previously unheard sound, that has gradually gathered the Sanctuary public laboratory around it. It exists temporarily as a deep part of the environment, then disappears without a trace, deleting its content as it goes.
Other artworks include:
Entropy Lure (Graham Rooney and John Wallace) using thermo graphic cameras to capture every visitor’s unique heat signature (something they can never shed)
SUMA ( Zoe Irvine and Kuchke) A sound walk with radio transmission, singing and the sounds of the woodland, taking its inspiration from Balkan songs of trees and forests
Murmurate (Tim Shaw and Sebastien Piquemall) Incorporating synthesised sounds and field recordings from the immediate surroundings to be processed, organised and performed through a local network of the audiences mobile devices.
Nightlight-2 (Unicorn Diagram) a shadow catcher, capturing a multitude of brief moments in time.
Eternal Silence (Jamie Clements and Nick Millar) using morse code to beam final messages to the universe in a maximum of 140 characters.
These works and the many more at Sanctuary, involve the audience in investigations of both where we are and who we are. It is part of an ongoing creative exploration of place and environment, a space for new work and conversations, new concepts and synergies.
ecoartscotland is a resource focused on art and ecology for artists, curators, critics, commissioners as well as scientists and policy makers. It includes ecoartscotland papers, a mix of discussions of works by artists and critical theoretical texts, and serves as a curatorial platform.
Arcola is in the running for £12,500 funding towards the expansion and integration of our Carbon Neutral heating and cooling systems. We also hope to install improved control and display systems to better engage our audience with innovations in building management.
We plan to install innovative sustainable building management – linking our biomass heating and natural ventilation systems to create a carbon neutral system for our theatre and rehearsal spaces. The innovative mechanical and electrical integration, control and communication system will tie together presently unconnected existing renewable energy and energy management systems in order to increase reach, improve useability, maximise carbon savings and effectively communicate the benefits of the system to users and visitors. Existing systems include:
Thermostatically controlled space heating, fired by a waste-wood biomass boiler
Thermostatically controlled assisted natural ventilation system which draws coolth from the cellars of the building to cool the auditoria without the need for chillers or large air-handling units.
Solar Thermal hot water and space heating to support biomass boiler system, especially for hot water in summer when the boiler is inactive.
Solar PV array which powers office equipment and LED lighting via DC Microgrids (a precursor to the Tesla Powerwall)
The systems have been installed piece-meal on very tight budgets and consequently we have not been able to link them or include sufficient displays to communicate the benefits. In the case of the heating system, the pipe network does not extend to some of our community spaces.
We plan to install:
Thermostatically controlled space heating: cost-effective radiators, Thermostatic Radiator Valves, piping connected to the 60 kW SOLARFOCUS Pellet and Log Therminator II (already installed)
Innovative thermostatically controlled natural ventilation system, uniquely designed by Arup: novel acoustically damped low carbon ventilation and cooling system for theatre spaces utilising coolth from the light well through louvered vents around the building perimeter.
Community benefits of Carbon Neutral Arcola:
Greater thermal comfort for Creative Engagement groups, many of whom are elderly: this will be achieved by thermostatic management of spaces through the use of thermostatic radiator valves and system level monitoring and control
Demonstration to our local community and visitors of practical, affordable sustainable energy solutions in action – clear explanations of carbon neutral building control, in a welcoming and inclusive space. We welcome 10,000s of visitors a year. We aim to promote sustainable behaviours in everyone who accesses Arcola Theatre through key signage and display systems
Greater budget to provide bursaries and production budgets for Creative Engagement groups, through savings on electricity bills
This week on HowlRound, we continue our exploration of Theatre in the Age of Climate Change begun last April with this special series for Climate Change Week NYC. How does our work reflect on and respond to the challenges brought on by a warming climate? How can we participate in the global conversation about what the future should look like, and do so in a way that is both inspiring and artistically rewarding? As the director of the Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts, Ian Garrett has been an inspiration for years. He is a pioneer in the field of sustainability and the arts and has been extremely active in that arena, speaking, publishing, organizing conferences, and devising new ways of working. He is also an artist who is not afraid to think big thoughts. —Chantal Bilodeau
I should have had a tale to tell of hardihood, endurance, and courage.—Robert Scott, Antarctic explorer
Imagine a place without war. A place where the environment is fully protected. A place that is dedicated to new discovery and scientific research. That near-utopian ideal is present in Antarctica, where the Antarctic Treaty has insured international cooperation and stewardship for decades. Theatre should also serve this purpose. There are a number of ways in which climate change is being addressed through theatre and the arts. But as Antarctica captures the imagination and shows us what can be done in the most extreme conditions, I propose that we adopt an ambitious agreement modeled on that success to aggressively address the urgency of climate change now. Will you be party to the Sustainable Theatre Practice Treaty?
Many countries claim parts of this icy continent, though these are not universally recognized. There is no government or permanent population of Antarctica, and all claims have been suspended since the adoption of the Antarctic Treaty System in 1959. When the treaty was agreed to, all of Antarctica became “a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science.” The effectiveness and longevity of the Antarctic Treaty System, which includes the original treaty and a number of related agreements, is impressive. However, this seeming utopia may only be possible at the ends of the earth because it is so inhospitable and incapable of supporting anything but the most dedicated research. But it does provide a case study on human cooperation and stewardship, and that should give us hope.
I feel similarly about theatre. Practically, it depends on human cooperation. It creates social dialogue that is a form of stewardship for our communities. Though as a faculty member at a research university who studies the sustainable impacts of theatre at the core of my research, research may not be its main purpose. What I have found is that theatre as a collective activity is often environmentally, socially, and economically positive. It, and other shared arts experiences, are some of the best drivers of a sustainable society. That should also give us hope.
In the course of my research, I have come across a number of commendable certifications, agreements, and plans. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) has a checklist for buildings and facilities. The Arts Earth Partnership (AEP) offers a green business certification for small theatres and galleries in Los Angeles. The Broadway Green Alliance offers tips and leadership advice to advocate for green change on the Great White Way and beyond. Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company created the Green Theatre Choice Toolkit,Julie’s Bicycle in London offers the “Industry Green” IG Tools. Recently, I’ve been discussing a new option with some sustainably oriented colleagues to develop something they call the EcoScene pledge for designers. It would ask those taking the pledge to commit to a variety of practical efforts in their practice and to serve as an advocate in their work. They would also use a mark like that of a union or professional association’s designation on their documentation.
These are all great initiatives and opportunities. I recommend you consider them all for your buildings, companies, and studios. These can all contribute to a more sustainable theatrical field and have significant positive results with regard to our contribution to climate change.
What if we thought bigger? Like Antarctica big. Could we model our commitment to sustainable practice in the theatre the way nations have been cooperating since 1959 to conduct their shared relationship with our Southern-most continent?
What are the articles of the treaty? First of all, Antarctica is to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes; military activities are prohibited. The treaty guarantees continued freedom to conduct research. It promotes international cooperation and requires that research findings be made freely available. It also provides that no activities will affect previously asserted territorial claims, and that no new claims can be made. It prohibits nuclear explosions and the disposal of radioactive waste. It provides for inspection to ensure the observance of, and compliance with, the Treaty. And it requires parties to give notice of expeditions; provides for periodic meetings; puts in place a dispute settlement procedure; and a mechanism to amend the Treaty.
Importantly, the Treaty also contains an ambitious environmental protocol. It commits the parties to “comprehensive protection of the Antarctic Environment.” It designates Antarctica as a “natural reserve, devoted to peace and science.” It sets out the principles for environmental protection. It bans all commercial mineral resource activities. It requires an Environmental Impact Assessment of all activities before they are allowed to go ahead.
Is it foolhardy to think that we can practice theatre as though we’re moving towards utopia? This past June, I attended a talk by Mike Pearson, a professor of Performance Studies at Aberystwyth University and an archaeologist turned site-specific theatre luminary. He has also spent time in Antarctica. In his research, he has considered the impact of changing climate conditions upon performers and audiences. In the presentation, we could consider numerous examples of polar imagination expressed through theatre and performance such as Hugh Broughton Associates, designers of the Halley VI research station; Chris Rapley’s performance of 2071 at The Royal Court, written by Duncan Macmillan and director by Katie Mitchell; and Mariele Neudecker’s scale models of the Halley VI, Some Things Happen All At Once. This work demonstrates how influential that vast and frozen place, and the spirit of inquiry and research it inspires, can be.
It is Lucy + Jorge Orta’s Antarctic work that I feel gets closest to the idealism of Treaty. In 1995 they presented the Antarctica World Passport at the Biennale di Venezia. And in 2007, they traveled to Antarctica to install an Antarctic Village and raise the prismatic Antarctic Flag, a “supranational emblem of human rights.” The flag was late reinstalled at the Southbank Centre in 2012 as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The Antarctica World Passport is a “universal passport for a continent without borders, and the common good of humanity” since “climate change has no borders.” One can sign-up for the passport online and commit:
To act in favor of sustainable development through simple, daily acts
To defend natural environments under threat, as a global public resource
To fight against climate change generated by human activity
To support humanitarian actions aiding displaced peoples of the world
To share values of peace and equality
To impart this charter to future generations
Taking this as inspiration, can we look back to the root of international cooperation and utopian ideals of sustainability to change how we work? To ambitiously address how we make performance? I believe so, and would ask that you be a party to the Sustainable Theatre Practice Treaty, based on the Antarctic Treaty System. Would you be willing to join me in a similar agreement for your theatre practice?
Numerous examples of the work of polar imagination expressed through theatre and performance demonstrates how influential that vast and frozen place, and the spirit of inquiry and research it inspires, can be.
Let us consider that the articles of the Sustainable Theatre Practice Treaty:
stipulate that theatre is to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes; provide a forum for mutual understanding and be created to be inclusive and accessible; prohibit activities that reflect antagonist aggression in symbol or practice;
guarantee continued freedom of artistic expression;
promote international artistic cooperation including the exchange of models and personnel, and require that results and outcomes of this cooperation be made freely available;
set aside potential for disputes between treaty parties by providing that no activities will enhance or diminish previously asserted positions with respect to shared artistic ownership;
prohibit toxic materials and the disposal of harmful waste;
provide for inspection by observers, designated by any party, of studios, theatres, and equipment to ensure the observance of, and compliance with, the Treaty;
require parties to give advance notice of their projects;
provide for the parties to meet periodically to discuss measures to further objectives of the Treaty;
put in place a procedure and mechanism to modify the Treaty;
commit the parties to the following environmental principles:
The protection of the environment shall be a fundamental consideration in the planning and conduct of all projects.
To this end:
projects shall be planned and conducted so as to limit adverse impacts on the environment and dependent and associated ecosystems, as to avoid:
adverse effects on climate or weather patterns;
significant adverse effects on air or water quality;
significant changes in the atmospheric, terrestrial (including aquatic), glacial, or marine environments;
detrimental changes in the distribution, abundance, or productivity of populations of species of fauna and flora;
further jeopardy to endangered or threatened species or populations of such species; or
degradation of, or substantial risk to, areas of biological, scientific, historic, aesthetic, or wilderness significance;
projects shall be planned and conducted on the basis of their possible impacts on the environment; such judgments shall take account of:
the scope of the project, including its area, duration, and intensity;
the cumulative impacts of the project, both by itself and in combination with other activities;
whether technology and procedures are available to provide for environmentally safe operations;
whether there exists the capacity to monitor key environmental parameters and ecosystem components to identify and provide early warning of any adverse effects of the project and to provide for modification of the project in the light of the results;
regular and effective monitoring shall take place to all assessment of the impacts of ongoing activities, including the verification of predicted impacts;
regular and effective monitoring shall take place to facilitate early detection of the possible unforeseen effects.
Projects shall be planned and conducted so as to accord priority to artistic practice.
Projects undertaken pursuant to artistic practice, tourism, and all other governmental and nongovernmental activities for which advance notice is required, including associated logistic activities, shall:
take place in a manner consistent with the principles in this Article; and
be modified, suspended, or cancelled if they result in, or threaten to result in, impacts upon environment or dependent or associated ecosystems as is inconsistent with these principles.
If you would like to become a party to the Treaty in your practice, firstname.lastname@example.org and we will include you in future developments.
Climate is everyone’s business. Join the cultural movement towards a carbon neutral, clean future. We need the negotiations taking place during the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21) to succeed and build a sustainable global culture.
ArtCOP21 will connect hundreds of thousands of people to the climate challenge through a extensive global programme of major public art installations, exhibitions, concerts, performances, talks, conferences, workshops, family events and film screenings taking place right across Paris and worldwide. Climate is Culture.
We have over 150 events in 19 countries already signed up – and there are many more to come….. Check out the programme, and if you’re an artist, arts organisation and/or have a climate-related event coming up register it now.
Only through shared activity and excitement can we make a creative, clean and sustainable future society a reality.
This week on HowlRound, we continue our exploration of Theatre in the Age of Climate Change begun last April with this special series for Climate Change Week NYC. How does our work reflect on and respond to the challenges brought on by a warming climate? How can we participate in the global conversation about what the future should look like, and do so in a way that is both inspiring and artistically rewarding? I know Caridad Svich as a playwright, translator, editor; as the founder of NoPassport, and most recently, as co-organizer of the Climate Change Theatre Action. I also know her as a formidable force of nature who approaches everything she does with great passion. Today, she shares her thoughts about writing the inescapable reality of climate change. —Chantal Bilodeau
Along the way, a breath and
I am at the airport. I am waiting. It is a surprisingly calm day. No one is rushing. There are actually very few people at the airport. It feels a little eerie. But also rather nice. That is to say— it is nice not to rush about for a change and just be. For a bit.
I am thinking about some plays that I hold dear: Caryl Churchill’s The Skrikerand Far Away; Joanna Lauren’s Three Birds; Duncan Macmillan’s Lungs; María Irene Fornés’ The Danube; Andy Smith’s all that is solid melts into air; August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone; Sam Shepard’s The War in Heaven; Suzan-Lori Parks’ Fucking A.
They all, in one way or another, feel prescient. They all feel as if they are now. They all feel too as if they are teaching us lessons—ambiguous, unanswered lessons—about the past.
I am thinking about what it means when we say we are writing about climate change.
I am thinking about the elements.
I am thinking a lot about water.
Were we all to ask ourselves each and every day how our actions and deeds and words effect the shore of life (the earth’s as well as the one of our fellow human beings), might we be able to offer ways to counter damages done?
Across the sea
Early this summer at Performing Studies International Fluid States North Conference, my play The Orphan Sea received a telematic, trans-continental reading directed by Kevin Brown with participating actors in Denmark, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands. The play had originally been commissioned by the University of Missouri-Columbia’s Department of Theatre and staged there in November 2014, also under Brown’s direction. The Orphan Sea is a multi-choral epic poem for the stage. Through the story of Odysseus and Penelope, it examines issues related to crossing borders (physical, geographic, and emotional), migration, climate change, and the isolation and sense of outrage individuals may experience in major metropolitan cities, especially those driven by neoliberal economic values. The play travels from the Middle East to Greece, from the Arctic to the United States, from sections of Africa and Asia to Europe as it charts the journeys of an Odysseus chorus, a Penelope chorus and a chorus of the city. In the piece, the river speaks and so does the road where people travel; statues come to life and even the aural specter of Justin Timberlake makes a disembodied appearance. Written for a cast of nine (minimum) to upwards of twenty, the text is open. Lines may be assigned depending on the number of voices in each chorus and the piece encourages a strong choreographic aesthetic as well as the organic use of mediated elements (mainly video and projection design). Dramaturgically, the piece is a waterscape play. Its structure is intentionally fluid, and designed to mimic, not in a figurative fashion, the ebb and tide, currents and flow of many oceans across the globe. Thus, it is a sea play not only in terms of its title but also its design.
I have been working consciously and less so with what I call waterscape structure for years now as a theatremaker and text-builder. Plays as diverse as 12 Ophelias,The Way of Water, and Prodigal Kiss are crafted as cartographical plays that trace connections among and between land and water—usually positioned, at least from a dramaturgical perspective, in the space between or the one we call “liminal,” although that word has somehow fallen out of favor in literary circles. Some of the plays in my body of work are land-based, and a view of the water is distant, impossible or nonexistent. Other plays rise from water and step on land but keep their connection to the water vital and strong. Others rest in that space between, trying to negotiate how it is we coexist as humans with nature, and what happens when through human-made or other means, the connections are lost, destroyed, or made fragile. In fact, my first play, called Waterfall, was set in a house in New Jersey that was situated next to a toxic waste landfill. Thinking ecologically about theatre and theatremaking has been there from the start for me, and even in plays where the subject matter is not ostensibly about the environment, it does inform how I approach the conception of work, its structure, and how it lives ultimately with an audience.
In some plays I have positioned the work through a negative lens. I have looked at individuals and societies that live in opposition to nature, aggressively so. In other plays, elements of the natural world are thrown into chaos through acts of war and territorial conflict between nation-states. In yet other plays, water levels rise (as they are doing) and threaten to engulf entire communities. But choice of lens notwithstanding, the ethical engagement I have with the material stems by and large from an ecological perspective, which brings us back around to The Orphan Sea and the trilogy of which it is a part: Upon the Fragile Shore andThis Thing of Ours —and a play that preceded it called Archipelago.
Upon the Fragile Shore, produced by CorpOLuz Theatre, directed by Carla Melo, Toronto 2015.
In Upon the Fragile Shore (which received its Canadian premiere August 2015 as a CorpOLuz production at the SummerWorks Festival in Toronto), a map of nine stories and sixteen characters across eight cities around the world charts through word, image, movement, and song, what it means to stand upon a fragile shore, and how as societies the vulnerable spaces in our lands and in the environment, made so by human hands and natural disaster, expose us to necessary fragility. If a great deal of transnational, geopolitical languages of power are inscribed with words of domination and conquest, what could it mean to reframe the manner in which “power” is uttered and put in play, if instead we lead with the most fragile part(s) of ourselves and societies? This is one of the central questions the play asks, as it traces stories of devastation from international and domestic biochemical and terrorist attacks, coastal erosion in the aftermath of environmental disaster, loss at sea, and tyrannical oppression of human beings. Viewed through the eyes of a witness figure—the one who lives along the Gulf of Mexico and watches the history or eroding lives and land impact the lives of the planet—the play looks at how as humans we have and continue to contribute to the hazards of the environment, partly because of our own hubris or arrogance. Were we all to ask ourselves each and every day how our actions and deeds and words effect the shore of life (the earth’s as well as the one of our fellow human beings), might we be able to offer ways to counter damage(s) done?
Developed in the fall of 2014 through a live theatre and digital film action for human and environmental rights instigated by NoPassport theatre alliance and press,Upon the Fragile Shore began its life as a short piece written for a fall 2013New York Madness event where I was a featured artist. The piece tells the story of a leopard, a prophet, and a woman who meet after a long rain devastates a village, and just before a trail of gasoline may consume them all. The concept, thus, of crafting a story around its fragile point—just before vanishing or discovering a new way to carry on with life—is central to what became the longer play, and also central, increasingly so, to my thinking about how the act of theatremaking occurs. We are at a vanishing point always in the theatre. Plays disappear into the air. By this, I mean the play in performance, and not the text, which is only a score for the eventual play/event. Making work about how human beings approach, ignore, struggle with and imagine vanishing points, and what kind of potentialities for spiritual progress and transformation may exist within areas of emotional, geographic, or physical fragility and its opposite. These vanishing points are not end day scenarios necessarily, but moments when one world shatters and breaks and another is/may be born. These can be moments of profound grief, tragedy, or joy. What is it that some critic once said about theatre: it’s about ceremony(ies)—births, and deaths, and the stuff that happens in between.
Fluid and transient as water.
From Greenland to the Faroe Islands to Denmark—actors performing via Skype with each other across The Orphan Sea or across cities around the US and abroadUpon the Fragile Shore.
Tragedy after tragedy
A colleague tells me my plays are too sad. “When are you going to write a happy play?”
I tell her I have just written a contemporary comedy.
She says, “yes, but that was a serious comedy. Like Chekhov. No, I mean, a really happy play.”
I have nothing against joy. I carry it with me on a daily basis. I have colleagues, friends, and family who bless me with love. I am actually a fairly cheery person. I am even known to crack a joke or two, albeit a wry one.
But even though I know Aristophanes was making stuff alongside Euripides and even attacked him mercilessly in The Frogs, I side with Euripides. Still. So, maybe I am not yet ready to give up on tragedy.
There’s too much of it. All round.
Tragedies are stacked one on top of the other.
Times of catastrophe.
Or are we approaching, slouching toward Yeats’ “The Second Coming?”
I think theatre does well with tragedy. And comedy, too. But I think we are in a society that still does not know how to respond to tragedy. We never really were allowed to mourn as a nation when 9/11 occurred. We rushed to war instead.
When children are killed in an elementary school in Sandy Hook, when men and women are killed in a bible study session in a church in Charleston, when men die in Chattanooga, and people die in Lafayette and Aurora and Florida and Missouri and Chicago… and… and…
We need some healing lessons.
Not hectoring lessons.
But spaces in our theatres that allow for us to be with, not at our lives.
We are at them enough.
The job of writing/making is to cut through the noise.
Aren’t plays just plays? Why do we need to classify them as happy or sad?
Can we live instead in the uneasy, uncertain spaces that a work for live performance can offer?
Might we approach tragedy as a form that may move us through darkness into light or at least its consideration?
Who are we after tragedy?
Along the way, another breath and
I am at another airport. A busier one this time. It is an airport of narrow corridors.
Or perhaps I am imagining things.
But it does seem that everyone in the world is passing down these corridors and cannot stop, not for a moment.
Even when they are in place, they are working. They are on. They are on their tablets and phones. Leisure and work times have collapsed. We know this. We have accepted this. The workday is never-ending.
When do we dream?
I am sitting at the gate. The plane will be here soon.
I am thinking of some artists whose works and the way in which they articulate their practice have offered some healing lessons to me during the ups and downs of the writing life, among them Alice Notley, Chris Goode, Andy Field, Anne Carson, Hélène Cixous, bell hooks, Alan Read, Kate Tempest, and José Rivera.
I am thinking about how we talk about plays as being “about” things, when they are not. Not really. Plays are not “about” the things inside them any more than a David Hockney painting of a house at poolside is about what houses at poolsides are like.
Plays are events in space. They are explorations of form across time and space. They are “about” the compositional frames enacted. Who is in the background? Who is in the foreground? Who is in shadow? Who is in light? Who moves and who is still? What is the vibrational space between the site of play and the site of witnessing?
Within these considerations, the theatremaker chooses the materials to illuminate the field of play/the site of engagement. These materials may include characters, specific subject matter, arguments, and so forth. But plays are not thesis statement essays. Not really. They are, at their best, fields of play that map behaviors and signs (linguistic and otherwise). They are, of course, framed events in the same sense that Hockney wants you to regard the house and the pool, the shapes and quality of light. Because it is theatre, it goes a bit beyond that; it frames the event for a public. It puts something in the air and it throws light upon something. It asks the public to engage.
In November 2015, NoPassport, The Arctic Cycle, and Theatre Without Borders will offer a curated selection of short plays to venues worldwide to read and present under the banner Climate Change Theatre Action. Organized in support of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP 21) taking place in Paris November 30–December 11, 2015, and registered with ArtCOP21, this theatre action seeks to engage as many people as possible in keeping the climate change conversation alive.
Climate change is a tragedy many of us have propelled into being.
Consider why and how so many of us live disconnected from a dialogue with nature.
Consider the hubris of thinking that humans are more important than the planet.
The planet will carry on somehow. Without us.
Are you ready?
Do you care?
After we were here
In my play Archipelago, which received a concert staging in a Russian translation by Oxana Aleshina at the 2014 New American Plays Festival at the Ilkhom Theater of Mark Weil in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, under Boris Gafurov’s direction, two lovers travel across time and space, open deserts and gardens made of stone. They find old cities that are not old but have been designed to trick the eye. They find themselves missing who they once were, years before when they first met, as they both face an uncertain future. They live in an archipelago of desire—one that is as indebted to the history(ies) of globalization as one that longs for stable seasonal changes and what used to be called a “normal” climate order. They are a little lost even as they reach toward one another in spectral time. One of them says:
This is the story I rehearse,
The story I will one day tell my children
When they ask me what love is like.
But the story I really want to tell
Is one of rivers
And boats that sail the currents of the earth
Boats of reason and distress,
That carry within them little tiny bits of our souls
And ask us to surrender them
At any moment
Without as much as a single coin in exchange.
These boats, I whisper in the story I will tell no one,
Line our backs with stars
And demand that we give up everything
To catch a glimpse of our beloved again.
In Archipelago, the sea is already orphaned, the shore is ever fragile, tragedy has come and gone, and the changes in the climate are what the two lovers live with, because it haunts their every gesture and action. Even their shared memory of water.
Were the two lovers ever here?
There is nothing now but sky and land.
They remember machines that cut through the earth.
They remember being Nietzsche-like supermen in the middle of what could have been Los Angeles once. Or was it Paris?
They want the objects in their memory to be reliable and true, but they know they are not.
They have lived through histories of forgetting.
But know they were here, because they took a picture of themselves once.
Blued Trees is a multi-disciplinary art project, conceived as a single, intercontinental sculpture, organized as a symphony and linking a series of 1/3 mile sites in the path of projected natural gas pipelines and pipeline expansions. class=”aBn” tabindex=”0″ data-term=”goog_1606134766″> class=”aQJ”>October 4, 2015 a series of new installation sites will launch the first movement of this symphony. We are fundraising separately class=”il”>to support the artwork and the legal process.
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This week on HowlRound, we continue our exploration of Theatre in the Age of Climate Change, which began last April with this special series for Climate Change Week NYC. How does our work reflect on, and responds to, the challenges brought on by a warming climate? How can we participate in the global conversation about what the future should look like, and do so in a way that is both inspiring and artistically rewarding? I became aware of Sharmon Hilfinger when I heard about her play Arctic Requiem, which premieres at Z Space in San Francisco on October 23, 2015. Sharmon reminds us that the U.S. is not immune to severe climate change impacts and that we don’t have to travel to Bangladesh or Tuvalu to find climate refugees. —Chantal Bilodeau
A requiem is a mass with music for mourning the dead. The idea for this play-with-music arose after I attended the memorial service for Luke Cole. At age forty-six, Luke was ripped from his extraordinary life in a car accident in Uganda. He was a pioneer in the environmental justice movement, an attorney known and revered throughout the country.
A few months before his death, Luke entertained me with an outrageous story from a recently settled case in which he represented the people of Kivalina, Alaska against the world’s largest zinc mine—a story about collusion between the mine and the EPA. At Luke’s memorial, an Inupiaq from Kivalina spoke of their Tribe’s indebtedness to Luke.
Composer Joan McMillen and I had previously written and produced Imaginal Disks, a play about GMOs, and Got Water?, a play about water issues in California. I felt we had to pursue Luke’s story about Kivalina and their environmental struggles. I didn’t know that the last arrow shot from Luke’s quiver was filing one of the first major Global Warming cases in the US—Kivalina versus Exxon et al.
When Joan and I started our research, there was so much to learn. For instance, the mine pollution lawsuit was long and contentious, and the Global Warming suit was receiving national attention. We had to get up to speed on the history of indigenous people in Alaska, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, Inupiat subsistence customs, and whaling traditions.
In the summer of 2013, we spent a week in Kivalina, a small barrier reef island with a population of 396 Inupiat. There are no hotels, no restaurants, no running water, or flush toilets in the homes. Janet, an Inupiaq woman who knew Luke, was gracious to host us. We were definitely a curiosity: two white women who weren’t sent by any agency, social service, or law firm—we had arrived on our own.
We came with our computers and tape recorders, but we never took them out. Three seals had been hunted the morning we arrived and Janet’s extended family spent most of the week processing the catch. We spent much of our time watching the butchering of the seals, the stretching of skins, the cooking, and the hanging of meat to dry. This was all done outside and different family members tended the process. Stories were shared while they worked. We found that our directed questions were deflected, often answered with a story that came forth days later. We bought our drinking water at one store. We also dipped a pitcher into Janet’s large water container to take baths and wash our dishes. We noticed that we used much more water than our hostess did. I had to keep reminding myself that we were still in the USA, but it felt significantly foreign.
We were told that we needed to bring our own food, which we did. So, we felt honored when we were invited to the family table filled with their subsistence food: dried seal and whale, dried fish, and wild celery. We followed in Luke’s footsteps and ate the food. We understood that the family we were staying with was wealthy in this community because they continue to practice their subsistence living and do not rely on buying expensive, packaged food at the store.
And as we ate of their bounty, we learned that every aspect of their life has been affected by the pollution from the mine and the rapidly warming climate of the arctic. We listened to the VHF Radio, which announced the arrival and departure of prop planes—the only way to get to the island, except by boat. We heard stories of the storms that are more and more severe because of climate change. Attempts to evacuate people from the island during storms are futile. How do you do evacuate when the only exit is by prop plane, which is unable to navigate in a heavy storm?
What we heard the most was the resounding lack of response to the village’s decades-long plea to be relocated off an island that is rapidly eroding due to climate change. It was in response to that urgent need that Luke Cole and a national team of lawyers filed Kivalina versus Exxon et al, a suit against twenty-four major energy companies responsible for contributions to global warming through emissions of large quantities of greenhouse gases.
The people of Kivalina are now known as the first climate refugees in the United States. We didn’t know that when we embarked on this project. We set out to write about Luke Cole, a man who devoted his professional life to righting environmental wrongs. Of course, this led him to tackle the largest-looming environmental wrong: global warming. Now, we realize that if we are going to write environmental plays, we should write about global warming!
This work is about humans on the frontline. Luke attempted to move the national discourse on global warming by filing a major suit. In addition, the Kivalina Inupiat have struggled to feed themselves with their traditions, while their home is being destroyed by pollution and climate change. Arctic Requiemmourns the death of Luke, the death of the Arctic habitat, and consequently the slow death of the Inupiat lifestyle. There are no clear triumphs in this story. So, what do we want our audience to take away?
After I attended the memorial for Luke Cole, something creative fired in me. He had given me a story to carry, which as a writer I felt meant amplifying, sharing, and giving it away. As a result, I wrote Arctic Requiem with Joan. We hope that out of mourning, the phoenix rises and we make a vow to act positively, creatively, and move one step in a new direction.
his week on HowlRound, we continue our exploration of Theatre in the Age of Climate Change begun last April with this special series for Climate Change Week NYC.How does our work reflect on, and responds to, the challenges brought on by a warming climate? How can we participate in the global conversation about what the future should look like, and do so in a way that is both inspiring and artistically rewarding? I heard Nick Slie talk about the work of his Louisiana-based company Mondo Bizarro on a panel at the Association of Performing Arts Presenters a few years ago. I was struck by his sophisticated thinking about theatre, environment and community, and by his deep attachment to his home. —Chantal Bilodeau
“Mon amour, tu te rappelles de toi-même dans un territoire sauvage
my love, i’ll remember you a wild territory
a tumble of languages ran through you like silted water
lodged in your meander
laid your bones upon our mud
you stood in naked wonder at our sunsets, great tides
of bird, of insects and plants, of estuarine species
brackish waters teeming with untold life
fish and shrimp and oysters’ mysterious doings
moving to and fro with each nocturne mystery
i’ll remember you a little boy
no-one fathomed how much you’d have to give
they would rip it from you, eventually
bleed it from your downy vest.”
Wild Territory on Tour
These words were written by the prodigious poet Raymond “Moose” Jackson and are spoken by my character, Tom Dulac, towards the end of Cry You One. Tom Dulac spends much of Cry You One pleading with the audience and the land to remember themselves wild again. In Houston, TX, during the early morning hours between our second and third performances at the Counter Current Festival, after a torrential downpour, the bayou we were performing next to responded loud and clear, jumping its banks and flooding our set with several feet of water.
Suddenly, many of the themes of Cry You One (impermanence, rewilding, living with water) came rushing into reality. Next came the feelings—lots and lots of feelings. Those Houston flood waters delivered a scroll of memories to my mind’s eye: the face of my great-grandmother Julie Poche planting her shallots on the batture side of the Mississippi River levee; the cypress graveyards in Pointe aux Chenes, the faces of churchgoers singing old-bone hymns on Sundays. For the better part of three years, Cry You One’s deeply personal artmaking process had cajoled and inspired my courage about the realities of living with water. Yet here was the water at my feet and I was nowhere near prepared for it. Making art about floods and experiencing the flood are two vastly different things.
The culminating community dinner of Cry You One’s three week residency at Clear Creek Festival in Kentucky, July 2015. In collaboration with On the Creek Ensemble’s Land, Water, Food Stories project, we served over one hundred and fifty people a five-course, locally sourced dinner. Photo by Melisa Cardona.
The Reality of Water Where I Live
Louisiana is disappearing. In the last forty years alone, we have seen more of our shoreline fall prey to the waters lapping at our banks than any other region in the world. We are losing land due to our own flood control system, rising sea levels, the cutting of navigational canals, oil and gas drilling, and the mismanagement of Mississippi River freshwater and sediment.
Despite the astonishing amount of legislative and scientific responses to climate change and environmental catastrophe occurring in our region of the world, there are shockingly few opportunities for those on the front lines to have a voice in policy discussions. From Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Ike, and Isaac to the BP drilling disaster, we have experienced firsthand how the response to these catastrophes failed to consider the wisdom, visions, and strategies of the communities most affected by them. The reality is that many of the most powerful voices in the fight to save coastal Louisiana are people with least amount of lived experience on the land they are trying to save.
We created and continue to grow Cry You One, an interdisciplinary project of the New Orleans-based companies ArtSpot Productions and Mondo Bizarro that uses the stories, music, dances, and traditions of Southeast Louisiana to respond to our region’s interconnected struggles against coastal land loss, cultural loss, environmental racism, and displacement. Cry You One is a live, site-responsive performance and online storytelling platform and has been partnering with Gulf Future Coalition since late 2013.
Our theory of change holds that in order to address the ongoing effects of climate change on the Gulf Coast, we must inspire participation and leadership from the most impacted frontline communities. We must also break with the tired precedent of siloing cultural, policy-based, and scientific responses. By demonstrating the interconnectedness of these responses, we build inclusive strategies applying the full knowledge, vision, and resources of this region to our current environmental crisis.
Like most projects, the focus of Cry You One has deepened as the work has discovered itself. After our initial six-week run in the disappearing Central Wetlands of St. Bernard Parish, we received an invitation from Jayeesha Dutta to create a series of cultural organizing salons with the Gulf Future Coalition. Jayeesha, along with Rebecca Mwase, asked us to consider what voices were being privileged through our environmental movements and challenged us to address the deep environmental racism at the heart of coastal restoration resource allocation along the Gulf Coast. During the Spring of 2014, Cry You Oneand Gulf Future Coalition brought our complementary strengths in grassroots community organizing and artistic visioning into concert for five weeks across the five Gulf Coast states. These cultural organizing salons featured short performances of Cry You One, arts-based facilitation, food and story sharing, and policy information sessions which culminated in the Gulf Gathering, where attendees collectively created “Changing The Narrative: Gulf Future Action Plan,” later shared with community stakeholders, policy advocates, and government officials.
We witnessed in the salons a clear way in which, through arts-based facilitation, we could catalyze emotional engagement in the pressing environmental issues of our region, creating space for transformative action across race, class, and sector. As we build a stronger foundation for local and regional visioning, we are also working to connect our local voices to a broader national audience. Not only are we among the most deeply impacted, but following Hurricane Katrina and the BP drilling disaster, we are already the country’s symbol of, and laboratory for, culturally grounded restoration after disaster. All of this strengthened the belief that our work can be at the leading edge of this country’s response to climate change and related disasters.
A Courtship With Impermanence
Julie Poche, my great-grandmother, took over and cared for an abandoned house in Convent, LA, squatting it for the remainder of her life. Recently widowed, she and her son Roger were very poor, living off what little they could grow or barter. She planted her crops in the rich soil next to the river, fully aware that sowing the land closest to the wild Mississippi had an inherent risk of flooding her food supply. This, for her, was a manageable risk, one taken in lieu of isolating herself from the wisdom of the land’s cycles. Julie did not see herself as distinct from nature; rather, an integral part of it. The dance with potential floods was her courtship with impermanence. She never tried to control the water. She let it come to her, she quietly walked towards it and, in this way, displayed the type of feral grace I find myself needing these days. I want to remember the land wild again, to have the courage to face what the water wants. But unlike my great-grandmother, what’s standing in the way of the water’s desires is not simply one woman’s crops, but the city of New Orleans and many small coastal communities. Who is going to broker the relationship between the water and us? How do we ensure that the wisdom of the people most deeply impacted by the environmental calamities we face is privileged in the solutions we develop?