Artists and Climate Change

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The Climate March & Beyond

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

We really didn’t know what to expect. The last time I was in Washington, DC was for the Women’s March, and that exceeded any and all expectations. My grandparents, who live outside of DC, were not optimistic; no one was talking about record-breaking crowds for The People’s Climate March. A handful of my friends planned to march in New York City, and I knew of some others who had ventured down to DC for the day, but it was impossible to know how many people would emerge. One thing was for sure: it was going to be hot.

On the Metro into The District on April 29, we commented on those amongst us who were also heading in for the March. One element from the Women’s March we missed was the unifying pink hats. But we were welcomed by a woman from Seattle passing out homemade stickers touting phrases like “Science Matters” and “Demand Better Government.” When we got downtown, it was clear who was there for the March: just about everyone! Due to construction (intentionally planned for the day of this major march?), we rode a bus towards the National Mall. One of the first groups we crossed on our way to the March lineup was a group of young children and their parents, all dressed as little bees, and escorted by a Queen Bee. It was heart-melting (and while the little “bees” were already melting from the heat, the gesture was not lost). In the shade, we found the lineup, amongst the Defenders of Truth constituents, including scientists and educators. The signs were various, colorful, and witty. The March organizers focused on Climate, Jobs, and Justice, and it was clear from the start that this March was about those things, and everything in between. We set off through the streets of the U.S. capitol, in solidarity with the scientists around us, and the thousands of other concerned people of all backgrounds that poured into the streets with us.

A “Mr. Moneybags” Puppet, manipulating seats on The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (an independent agency that regulates the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas, and oil), from the Defenders of Truth contingency, April 29, 2017.

En route to the White House, we crossed Trump International Hotel. Marchers erupted in sets of “Boo” and “Shame,” but also in celebratory music. I can’t capture this energy in writing (you can listen to this moment from the March , via Google Drive), but the big-band musicians elevated our marching, supporting our walk through the heat and accompanying our political action with some groovy tunes. At once, a march about climate justice buoyed other justice issues, like political justice. As our country’s power dynamics impact everyone who lives here (and around the globe), so do the decisions of those with that power.

Part of the display of March signs at the Washington Monument, April 29, 2017.

In addition to the giant puppets, beautiful signs, and joyous music, there was organized creative action for individuals to participate in at the culmination of the March. Unlike at the Women’s March, people were invited to leave their signs on the lawn at the base of the Washington Monument, to be organized in a huge pattern, spelling out “Climate, Jobs, and Justice.” It was a simple yet impactful way to showcase the signs, in all their variety. We also participated in The Climate Ribbon project, an initiative of the arts-activism organization Beautiful Trouble. Starting with the question “What do you love and hope to never lose to climate chaos?,” participants engage in a personal ritual, tying their answer via ribbon onto the “tree” and claiming another’s ribbon to take with them. The installation itself is striking – from afar, we were trying to gauge what kind of “wall” it was – and the element of personal participation was fun and thoughtful. It was a reflective way to take something tangible from the day.

The Climate Ribbon project at the Climate March, April 29, 2017.

It’s about the Planet, the economy, our humanity, politics – power. Who has the power to make decisions that affect billions of individuals (humans and non-humans included). The mix of political, cultural, and environmental issues encapsulated by the crowds spoke to the multipronged-ness of climate justice. It’s about a safe, healthy environment for all, yes, but it’s also about economics and race and gender and more – because all categories cross-cut the lived experience of occupying Planet Earth: our shared climatic system. How fitting that the 2017 People’s Climate March was on a day of record-breaking heat. How fitting that this Climate March was geared toward jobs and justice. How fitting that this March was intentionally politically-charged. In this way, this Climate March continued a culture of resistance, offering modes of practicing disruption of the oppressive powers-that-be. We all have the power to incorporate resistance into our daily lives. So, let’s keep it up!

Julia Levine and Chantal Bilodeau, at the Climate Ribbon project on April 29, 2017.

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About Artists and Climate Change:

Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Chasing Kitimat: Going Backwards to Move Forward

This article was originally published on HowlRound, a knowledge commons by and for the theatre community, on April 21, 2016.

When I was commissioned to write an environmental play, the subject I chose to write about ended up in the midst of an international controversy. I was researching an article for the Vancouver Observer (VO), a newspaper admired for practicing deep, investigative journalism. Anthropologist Wade Davis’ warning that Northern Canada was about to be hit with a “tsunami” of industrial development concerned me. I planned to investigate the impact of this development on individual cities in the North, starting with Kitimat, a remote municipality near Alaska and 1,111 miles/ 1410 km driving distance from Vancouver. As Davis says, “One of our challenges in Canada is that we love the north, but we never go there.”

The oil company Enbridge had selected Kitimat to be the terminus of a proposed pipeline project transporting bitumen from the Alberta tar sands, one of the largest remaining oil deposits on earth, to super tankers in Kitimat’s port, to be refined in Asia. Arguably, Kitimat needed the project. Originally founded in the 1950s to service one of the largest smelters in North America, Kitimat boasted residents from all over the world in its New York planned, mid-century modern “Utopia.” By 2007, due to modernization and closing of its pulp mill, Kitimat was the fastest declining town in Canada. I had travelled there as a Theatre Consultant in the 1990s, coaching directors throughout British Columbia, and was stunned to discover that Kitimat was 50 percent Portuguese. Amazingly, these Portuguese residents are from the Azores, remote mid-Atlantic islands, where my grandparents were born.

VO’s Managing Editor Jenny Uechi asked how I would get the residents of Kitimat to speak to me. I confidently said, “I’m Portuguese.” But writing the article was proving difficult. As a playwright, I was getting mired in backstory and in seeing all sides. To make matters worse, Kitimat was under a “tsunami’’ of paperwork. The Canadian National Government, then headed by Prime Minster Stephen Harper, had undertaken a controversial environmental assessment process. Harper’s National Energy Board heard hours of testimony. Walter Thorne, a member of the Kitimat Valley Naturalists, movingly said: “We appeal to the world, we are a gem under siege.”

When the pipeline project was approved by Harper’s National Government, city council did something extraordinary. They asked Kitimat to put it to a vote, becoming one of the only municipalities in Canada or the US to vote on whether or not they wanted Big Oil. The controversy became international. Journalists all over Canada, and as far away as Britain, began covering the story.

Elaine Avila and Janet Hayatshahi in Kitimat. Photo by Playwright Robin Rowland.

I interviewed Sylvia de Sousa, a citizen fighting to keep the wording of their upcoming city council plebiscite clear for seniors and English as Second Language residents. I asked her where she found the conviction to stand up in civic politics. She said it came from her grandkids, future generations. She quoted her mother, of German heritage, who used to say, “the only land we inherit is our grave.”

When Art Horowitz and James Taylor, of Pomona College in Claremont, California called to offer me a commission to write an environmental play, I suddenly realized I was researching my new play. My first question, inspired by my Maori, Inuit and Coast Salish playwriting colleagues, became: “What is my relationship to ancestors, land, and story?” For those of us who are immigrants how do we answer?

As I was writing, Enbridge began mounting a huge pro-pipeline publicity campaign in Kitimat, all of the cities of the North and the largest local metropolis, Vancouver. Serious rifts were happening in Kitimat. Family dinners were descending into bitter fights. Long-term friends were no longer speaking.

My play is about two sisters: Marta, who works for years to bring a pipeline project to Kitimat, and Julia, who organizes against it due to the serious risks involved. When Janet Hayatshahi came on board to direct, we both raised the money to go to Kitimat for a research trip. Janet is committed, collaborative, and formerly one of the core members of San Diego’s innovative Sledgehammer ensemble. Of Iranian descent, she knows how a culture can quickly change because of oil. After writing several drafts of the play, I was ready to hone in on what I didn’t know.

Katia Mafra Spencer as Marta and Sarah Lopez as Julia in Kitimat, directed by Janet Hayatshahi. Photo by Carrie Rosema, courtesy of Pomona College.

But I was still nervous about interviewing people who were going through so much.

I anxiously dialed the number of the Kitimat Museum and Archives. The teenage intern answering the phone cut me off saying, “Oh, I’m a play writer!” Then, “You need to interview my mom.” I asked, “Who is your mom?” She said, “The Head of Economic Development for Kitimat.” Her mom, Rose Klukas, ended up telling us professional and personal stories of growing up in a boom and bust economy.

After multiple attempts to contact the Kitimat Valley Naturalists, I got an email from a gentleman named Peter Ponter. I fumblingly tried to explain what Janet and I wanted to do. Peter promised to take us hiking in the gem of wilderness surrounding Kitimat. He arranged for us to meet Patricia Lange, one of the key organizers of the anti-pipeline movement. Her stories ended up being core to the play, especially after her side won the vote, and “Kitimat” became a rallying cry in protests and Climate Change Marches throughout the province. After helping us, Peter Ponter suddenly sounded apprehensive. “I’m in the theatre,” he said. “Would you and Janet have dinner with us?” We agreed. Theatre also opened the doors of the Portuguese Hall. The “Portuguese Kids,” a comedy troupe from Massachusetts, were performing. I volunteered to cook and serve food, making it possible for me to hear stories and songs from Kitimat’s first residents, who fled fascist Portugal.

I wanted to meet renowned novelist Eden Robinson, from the nearby Haisla village of Kitamaat. In her CBC radio interview, Robinson described Haisla storytelling protocols and her incredible novel set in the area, Monkey Beach. Eden mentioned she misses other writers. Because of being a playwright, I reached out and we had an incredible visit of several hours. One of her cousins, Nancy Nyce, let me quote her directly in the play.

Kitimat became one of the first Portuguese plays ever performed in California or British Columbia. Finding these lost voices began to awaken something new—confidence, connection, and a spirit of questioning. Kathleen Flaherty, dramaturg at Vancouver’s Playwrights Theatre Centre, programmed a workshop involving Portuguese theatre professionals, who movingly said they had never played Portuguese characters before. When the play was performed in Lisbon, this little story about the impact of Big Oil connected us across oceans and generations.

At the premiere of Janet’s marvelous production at Pomona College, my Portuguese family crowded around Yasmin Adams, the actress playing Clara, the grandmother, as if she were one of our relatives come back to life. Yasmin did a beautiful job of singing a Portuguese fado song called “O Gente da Minha Terra.” My image was of the past singing to the future.

What does this mean in terms of our individual responsibility to impact climate change? When I wrote about presentations of the play in Lisbon, Bellingham and Vancouver, a Kitimat resident shared one of my Facebook posts, writing, “It proves everyone’s stories matter, no matter how small or out of the way.”

(Top image: Yasmin Adams as Clara, Juan Zamudio as Jose in Kitimat, directed by Janet Hayatshahi. Photo by Carrie Rosema, courtesy of Pomona College.)


Elaine Ávila is a Canadian/US writer of Azorean Portuguese descent, who has a passion for telling untold stories about women, workers, and the Portuguese.  Her plays frequently incorporate music, politics, and humor. Her plays have been produced in Panama City, Sintra, Pico,Costa Rica, London, New York, Los Angeles, Edmonton, Vancouver, Victoria and include Jane Austen, Action Figure, (Winner, Best New Play, Festival de los Cocos, Panama City), Lieutenant Nun (Winner, Best New Play, Victoria Critics Circle) Burn Gloom (Awarded Canada Council Millennium Grant) Kitimat, (Mellon Environmental Arts Commssion), Quality: the Shoe Play (Winner, New Works for Young Women, Tulsa University), Café a Brasileira (2014, Disquiet Dzanc Books International Literary Program’s first Short Play Award). She is distinguished as a descendentes notáveis (Notable Descendent) for her theatre work by the Government of the Azores, Portugal.

About Artists and Climate Change:

Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Jumping Rope With the Wind

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Our Renewable Energy Artworks series continues this month with an introduction to the prolific Dutch artist/architect/innovator Daan Roosegaarde, a self-described “futurist-focused-on-the-present” and founder of Studio Roosegaarde based in Rotterdam, with a new satellite “pop-up” studio in Shanghai.

It’s hard to keep up with Daan Roosegaarde, the internationally acclaimed visionary creative change-maker whose nature-driven social design lab, Studio Roosegaarde, functions as an interactive incubator to create site-specific installations exploring the dynamic relation between people, technology and space.

Fresh on the heels of his TED2017 lecture last month in Vancouver, Roosegaarde just won yet another international award, this time for his mind-bending Windlicht (Wind Light) project, eloquently described by one spectator as “jumping rope with the wind” in the video below:

Inspired by the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kinderdijk, one of the Netherlands’ most popular tourist attractions where 19 windmills were built between 1738 and 1740 to help manage water levels, Windlicht celebrates the invisible beauty of clean energy while creating a “missing link between the Dutch and the beauty of our new landscape.”

According to Slate, Roosegaarde worked with a team of designers and engineers to create special software and tracking technology to detect the movement of wind turbine blades rotating at 280 kilometres per hour (174 mph). He visually connected the turbines in the evening sky using a series of dancing green laser beams whose movement was choreographed into what Roosegaarde calls “a dynamic play of light and movement.”

wind, energy, renewable, daan, roosegaarde, laser

The first Windlicht light show was visible over four nights in March 2016 at the Eneco wind farm at St. Annaland in Zeeland. Future international Windlicht sites are planned and will be announced on Studio Roosegaarde’s website and social media.

I first started following Roosegaarde back in 2014, when his gorgeous solar-powered, glow-in-the-dark Van Gogh-Roosegaarde bike path opened in Nuenen, NL, to international acclaim.

Inspired by Van Gogh’s 1889 painting The Starry Night, this 600-metre stretch along the 335-km-long Van Gogh cycle route contains 50,000 pebbles coated in a phosphorescent paint and solar-powered LEDs, both of which collect solar energy by day and illuminate by night. The swirling patterns provide cyclists enough visibility after dusk, with minimal intrusion on local animal habitat. By incorporating lighting directly into the surface of the bicycle path, additional street lighting is unnecessary.

In a must-read in-depth feature on Roosegaarde published last month in Wired, Yves Béhar, the San Francisco-based entrepreneur and founder of design firm fuseproject said: “Designers can choreograph the world to make a statement or tell a story. The air, the wind, and the Earth are Roosegaarde’s canvas.”

Roosegaarde’s bike path project has already inspired the construction of a similar bike path using slightly different solar-sensitive materials in Poland, as shown below:

Poland, Roosegaard, solar, bike path, Van Gogh

It is just a matter of time before more photoluminescent cycle paths appear in countries across the world. Studio Roosegaarde has already received enquires from Dubai, China and Turkey. This innovative project is part of a larger smart roads project in collaboration with Heijmans to create safer, more efficient roads using solar energy. I will write more about this important project in a future post, right here on Artists & Climate Change’s Renewable Energy Artworks monthly series.

 About Artists and Climate Change:

Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Digging Deeper

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

It was always there, the fascination with life and the world around me. It stayed with me all through my childhood. There was even a time when I decided that the answer to the question of what I wanted to be when I grew up was clear… I wanted to be a biologist! I remember a drawing contest: Draw your dream occupation. I was eleven years old and my efforts resulted in a piece that featured a big magnifying glass showing enlarged insects, blood plasma, and amoebae. It won me a first prize. Afterwards, the jury commented that if I didn’t become a biologist, I could always try to do something with art. So, well, here we are….

As I grew up and attended art school at the turn of the 21st century, my love for nature faded to the background. Sustainability, climate change, cradle-to-cradle, bio-based, and other now common terms were unheard of then. The only time the word “nature” was mentioned to me as an art student was in negative criticism… My drawings and paintings were seen as being too close to nature. (This was at a time when conceptual art ruled the art scene…) I stopped painting altogether and opted instead for a degree in stage design, and another degree in education.

After finishing those studies, I slowly found my own path and decided it was time to pick up the paintbrush once again. But I was disappointed with my materials; they didn’t reflect who I was and what I loved. To address this problem, I specialized in old painting techniques. That’s where I finally found the missing piece: my love for natural materials.

A collection of inorganic pigments found in soil, earth layers, rocks and stones. I use a mortar to grind the first time, then sift and grind again…repeating the process until I’m satisfied with the result.

As the years passed, I searched for beauty in simplicity, concentrating on the little things… in my professional career as an artist, but also in my personal life. More and more, nature found its way back into my life, into my work, and it widened my perspective. “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better,” Albert Einstein said many years ago, and how right he was. Suddenly all was clear. I had come full circle and it was time to fully reclaim my fascination with nature!

I started to dig deeper. The relationship between human, nature, and sustainability became recurring themes in my work. I found beauty in the rough, pure burlap, the homemade gesso, the pigments. I cherished these materials, the craftsmanship, and the cradle-to-cradle way of thinking and working because for me, image and content should strengthen each other, not contradict. Art that explores a theme like sustainability but is made with non-sustainable materials is, in my opinion, a contradiction in terms and a paragon of hypocrisy. It’s bad art no matter how beautiful it is. Harsh? Maybe, but for me that is the underlying principle of sustainable art – it should not become waste! I believe the art world should be progressive and innovative, but in recent years of doing research and treading my path, I have found mostly shut doors, frowning faces, and laughing gallerists unwilling to take this issue seriously. I came to the conclusion that when it comes to sustainability, the art world painfully lags behind.

A display of colors showing the process of the stone becoming paint: Stone, ground roughly, ground into fine pigment, paint sample.

There is still so much art being created with non-sustainable materials, even toxic materials, and artists aren’t taught to think about their production process. It is the art/end product that counts, the art world doesn’t allow itself to see work as possible waste. While we have seen positive change, integration of circular systems, and cradle-to-cradle production in many other fields like design, architecture, manufacturing, and engineering, somehow there is no room for discussion in the arts. Yet we live in a time where there is more art being created than ever before, by professionals, amateurs, hobbyists… It’s an illusion to believe that all of it will be preserved for future generations. Some of it will be worth hanging on to, but let’s face it… most of it will become waste. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. Much could be accomplished if the art world was willing to broaden its focus and consider the impact of the artmaking process and the afterlife of artworks in addition to worrying about the end product.

As my work continues to evolve, I am increasingly committed to concentrating not just on the production of an image, but also on the creative process, the source of the materials I use, and on searching for natural and sustainable alternatives. It may sound strange, but I am very proud of now being at a stage where my work process is completely sustainable, the end result cradle-to-cradle. This means that my paintings are completely biodegradable, yet they can be conserved for centuries as well.

A collection of pigments ready for a heating/burning experiment. First I made a little clay mould and added the unrefined pigments. They will be heated in different batches and different temperatures to see whether they change in color and if so, at what temperature. They will be burned until they reach the point of transformation… For example, pigments containing iron oxide will turn into iron at a certain temperature…

Sustainability, climate change, our relationship to the earth we live on and the species we share it with – these are the defining issues of my generation and of the generations to come. The art world should take a stand. It has an important role to play in this changing world.

Art about subjects such as climate change, mass extinction, and wasteful consumption doesn’t have to be doom and gloom. I have found that real, meaningful change stems from positivity. My art is about reconnecting with nature, reviving that sense of wonder and care for all that surrounds us. My art is me, digging deeper, finding a new path, pioneering, inspiring others, doing my bit, hopefully sowing some seeds of change.

Raw burlap, partially covered with homemade gesso. The gesso is made according a very old recipe: with water, bone glue and Bolognese chalk, but I add some clay soil to make for a richer/fatter gesso so it cracks less easily on the burlap.

(Top image: Detail from Down to Earth, 100cm x 100cm, made with natural pigments only and painted on burlap prepared with my own gesso. The painting is 100% biodegradable, so it will never become waste! It can however be kept in a good condition for centuries…)


Dorieke Schreurs currently lives in Maastricht, in the very south of the Netherlands. She studied Fine Arts, Stage Design, Art Education, and specialized in old painting techniques, and combines art with research, science, and education. Optimist and realist, she focuses on sustainability, cradle-to-cradle, nature-inspired solutions, and innovation in work and personal life. She lives a trash-light lifestyle with her husband and sons in a renovated old farmhouse, on a patch of land with fruit trees, vegetable garden, and chickens.

About Artists and Climate Change:

Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Theatremakers vs the Climate Fools in the White House

This article was originally published on HowlRound, a knowledge commons by and for the theatre community, on April 19, 2017.

At the recent New York University The Reckoning: A Conference on Climate Justice on March 10-11, economist Jeffrey Sachs announced: “This is the end game.” And he was dead serious. Climate scientists predict we have fifteen years to decarbonize the economy if we want to avoid nasty consequences, including the distinct possibility of going the way of the dinosaurs. That’s very little time, and the obstacles are many. Some of them take the shape of rich, oil-stained, patriarchal, white supremacists, like the ones currently wreaking havoc in the White House and beyond. Others manifest as inertia and translate into a lack of social and political will. But what those obstacles are not are a lack of technology. The technology is here.

To be clear, climate change is not just about polar bears, melting glaciers, and acidifying oceans. Nor is it limited to CO2, oil, and pesticides. Our climate is on overdrive because we have an abusive economic system that disregards anything but its own gratification. Social and environmental injustices are a direct consequence of the unfair distribution of wealth and power, and there will be no climate justice until we have eradicated racism, gender inequality, and discrimination of all kinds.

It takes a village to accomplish anything of significance, but in this case, it will take an entire global community. The powers-that-be (Trump, Pruitt, Tillerson, Sessions, etc. and by the way, notice the incredible diversity in race, gender, age, and income bracket) are firmly holding on to their fossil fueled Republican throne. We, scientists, economists, attorneys, politicians, engineers, educators, activists, philanthropist, and yes, theatremakers, cannot afford to wait for them to grow a brain, let alone a moral compass. Time is a luxury we don’t have anymore. But what can a bunch of (mostly impoverished) artists do? I’m offering one idea called Climate Change Theatre Action (CCTA).

The first iteration of CCTA took place in 2015 in support of the United Nations Paris Climate Conference (COP21). Following the model pioneered by NoPassport Theatre Alliance, we asked fifty writers from around the world to write short plays that dealt with an aspect of climate change. These plays were then made available to producing collaborators worldwide who, collectively, presented 100 events in twenty-six countries. (In the US alone, we had fifty-three events in thirty-seven cities.) Events ranged from readings in classrooms to fully staged performances, and from screenings of film adaptations to site specific presentations at the foot of glaciers. They took place in theatres, high schools, universities, eco-centers, community centers, people’s living rooms, on radio, and outdoors.

CCTA is coming back this year as a collaboration between the Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts, NoPassport, The Arctic Cycle, Theatre Without Border, and York University. Events will take place October 1 – November 18, 2017 in support of COP23chaired by Fiji and hosted in Bonn, Germany. A diverse group of writers from fifteen countries and several indigenous nations was commissioned to write short plays about climate change with the following prompt:

Assume your audience knows as much as you do. Assume they are as concerned as you are. But they may not know what to do with this information and those concerns. So how can we turn the challenges of climate change into opportunities?

Sachs was clear: The time for reckoning is over. It’s time for action. And for action to be effective, we need inspiration. Doomsday scenarios won’t galvanize us; we need hope and a capacity to imagine the future we want to create. In short, we need new narratives. And who better to provide those than writers?

This fall, fifty new climate change stories will be released into the world thanks to all the producing collaborators who will join us between now and then. Each event will be uniquefeaturing a combination of local and international artistsand designed for a specific community. And since this is a Climate Change Theatre Action, each event will find its own way of incorporating an educational, social, or political/civic action. We define “action” as something that happens in addition to the theatrical experience, that is meant to connect and/or activate people. Examples of actions include:

  • Talkbacks with experts from the scientific community, other departments within a university, local environmental organizations, etc.
  • Partnerships with social and environmental justice organizations
  • Providing a list of resources (reliable sources for scientific news, local environmental justice organizations, etc.) and inviting people to get involved
  • Signing a petition
  • Writing postcards to local government representatives asking for specific action on climate change
  • Organizing to put pressure on universities/municipal governments/employers/boards of directors/etc. to divest from fossil fuels
  • Creating a buddy system to hold each other accountable for regularly taking action on climate change

In addition to addressing climate change on stage, we are incorporating backstage sustainability thinking into the project. Ten professional designers will be commissioned to provide sustainable design ideas for a selection of plays. These ideas will take the form of sketches or models that can be displayed during the presentations. Producing collaborators will also be encouraged to partner with local designers to generate more ideas. At the end of the project, we will collect all of the design ideas and publish them in a special report from the Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts.

Earth Duet by E.M. Lewis performed by the students of Randolph Macon College in Ashland, VA as part of CCTA 2015.

They have money, but we have the arts. They have power, but we have the masses. We do need national and international action on climate change, but a lot can be done at the state and regional level, from community solar initiatives to green roofs to local food systems. And those initiatives always begin with an idea and a collective desire to make a change. So I invite you theatremakersno, I urge youto help us fire up people’s imagination this fall. After all, the Climate Fools in the White House will only succeed if we let them.

More details about the project can be found here. To host a CCTA event in your community, contact us at Follow us on Facebook.

(Top image: Still from the Pomona College movie adaptation of The Fisherman & the Rain by Giovanni Ortega, directed by Evan DeLorenzo, as part of CCTA 2015.)


A Search for a Brave New World Aesthetic

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

On Saturday, 22nd April, on Earth Day, there was a March for Science throughout the world; a protest by scientists and individuals who care about the erosion of an empirical truth that Science represents. On this day too, in response to the what is arguably now known as The Anthropocene Era in geological terms, there began a global project to reverse another kind of erosion; one of trees. Both approaches present a slightly different perspective on a common problem, but by finding the language and metaphors through which both can align, we can create a resonant harmonic of thought that can truly transform things. As individuals, existential change – the most pressing of which currently is climate change – would be overwhelming, but en masse, humans can achieve almost anything and our achievements throughout history have been recorded through the visual arts. Art, both comforting and challenging, is society’s litmus paper. After all, we had cave paintings long before we had language.

Icarus. A Quantum Sculpture in Light and Plastics, 35 x 25 x 30cm, made from hands and feathers, 2017.

And so, I write this not only from the perspective of the scientist I once was, but also as an artist seeking a common visual language – a Brave New World Aesthetic, I call it – a parity between so many subjects, some of which are truly objective and yet others, like our connections to each other and our world, highly subjective. Superficially, art and science appear quite different and yet both are governed by Nature, our connections to each other, and the physical laws of the universe.

From books like Huxley’s Brave New World written over 80 years ago to films such as The Matrix, we, as a species, have had a fascination with the ideal of the hero or heroine overcoming all that is Dystopian to create what was once envisioned by Plato over 2000 years ago in The Republic: a fair Utopian, green world in which everyone is taken care of by each other and their natural environment. Once, this future vision might have eluded us, but we are now in possession of the technology to make it happen and it is this that informs my work and gives me so much hope for the future. Some would argue that it is precisely because of our scientific advancements that we are in a situation when species are dying off; trees are disappearing and the very air we breathe is smothering us as we hurtle towards an Anthropocene Age. But perhaps by simply changing our perspective, we can see this as a wonderful opportunity rather than an existential threat.

I have experienced the power of a changing perspective in the last few years as my work moved from purely “sciart” – academically manipulating the physical laws and the materiality of paint to represent scientific ideas – to an entirely new process that was inspired by my environment and my connection to people and ideas. One moment of insight involved re-framing a classic physics experiment as literally “painting with light,” and another came from a walk one day amongst the trees when the leaves appeared so bright that I could literally touch where the edges met the sky. As a “city girl,” it felt quite overwhelming but once embraced, it taught me that intuition is one of the most creative tools we have. If we can only listen to it. My vision now is one in which not only art and science collide, but also technology, philosophy, spirituality, and society.

Gaia. A Quantum Sculpture in Light and Plastics, 60 x 65 x 30cm, 2016. Collection of Mrs. Anna Fowler, London.

My search in this brave new world is currently focused on growing an installation made of thousands of plastic leaves to recreate a forest floor. It is interactive not only because of the colors but also because we want people to add their own leaves, which I am looking to make purely from recycled plastics.

By taking the throwaway and transforming it, I am hoping to raise awareness of the fact that 95% of all plastic is only used once, and that the continued waste is devastating our planet. I am also working on a series inspired by people and evolution; ours and that of the innovations on the horizon, as well as on the future thinkers that are changing the world. I trained as a painter; so much of my work was based on “life” that this continues to be an inspiration, but in terms of processes, I am forever an experimentalist.

Plastic Planet. Made from plastic and light, 60 x 65 x 35cm, 2016. Photo: Maria Katsika.

A dear friend named my work “Quantum Sculptures” as they are so dependent on the relationship between the observed and the observer, changing in color with a tilt of the head. The same metaphor applies to our planet and fellow inhabitants, whose wellbeing we need to remember is inextricably linked to our own.

This is an age of reinvention and change. I believe artists and creative thinkers can help us find new metaphors and reframe our perspectives. Through a new aesthetic, we can reach the top-most rung of Maslow’s Pyramid from which we have a chance of understanding our position and responsibilities in the Brave New World we are creating. Because no matter how clever our ideas or innovative our processes, we all possess the same frailties and need for compassion and empathy; as does our home planet.

To borrow from something seen on Instagram: The Earth without Art is just Eh.

It’s all about perspective.

(Top image: Detail of Resonance in Leaves, a growing interactive floor installation of thousands of leaves made from plastic and light. Photo: Maria Katsika.)


Jasmine Pradissitto’s Quantum Sculptures in light embrace the dual world of the Physicist and Artist. Described as “holograms you can touch,” forms inspired by nature, the human condition, and scientific breakthroughs are melted and reshaped from plastics into sculptures as a commentary on an Anthropocene world. Currently represented by Marine Tanguy, and with continued technical support from LSBU, Jasmine has a PhD from UCL on the quantum behavior of silicon and has studied Fine Art at Goldsmiths College and Sir John Cass. She has had solo shows in London and Venice, been shortlisted for various prizes including the Threadneedle and Celeste, and has work in various collections.

About Artists and Climate Change:

Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

A Delicate Balance: Can Systems of Man and Nature Co-Exist?

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

I grew up on a farm near woods and streams in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Nature was all around me. As a child observing nature, I focused on the macro and the micro worlds – veins and galls on leaves, organisms swimming in puddles, tree bark, a bird’s nest on the windowsill, stars in the Milky Way, and an eclipse of the sun. With wonder and awe, when I was around 7 years old, I witnessed the Aurora Borealis from the porch outside my house. The Sun’s activity and the Earth’s magnetic field were lined up in such a way that we could see it in Pennsylvania. The phenomenon of nature was a treasured part of my life then, as it is now. As a resident of Chicago, I like to go to Lake Michigan and nature preserves nearby, to commune with nature.

The beauty of the world’s creatures and plants brings me joy, sustenance, and wonderment so I am devastated by what is happening to our planet. Animals are going extinct from poaching and human encroachment; we are polluting oceans and depleting them of sea life (and the Fukushima Daiichi plant continues to spew nuclear radiation into the Pacific Ocean); our ground water is being used up or contaminated; and, toxins are poisoning our air. As the planet heats up from human CO2 emissions, coral reefs are dying and glaciers are melting.

Shortsighted policies fail to recognize that we need insects, plants, and animals. Ant tunneling aids in decomposition, soil aeration and nutrient recycling. Bees pollinate fruits and vegetables. Bats eat pest insects, and fruit bat guano plays a role in seed dispersal. Birds aid in forest decomposition, pest control, nutrient recycling, plant pollination, and seed dispersal. Plants are a major source of medicine, with many lost forever through rainforest destruction. Plant roots prevent soil erosion, and rainforests produce and hold moisture, preventing drought and desert conditions. These are just a few examples of how we benefit from natural habitats.

I have always admired drawings in biology and science books, with close-ups, cutaways, and instructive illustrations depicting nature accurately and scientifically. After pursuing my MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I enrolled in natural science illustration classes and became a member of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators. I loved making watercolor illustrations. While illustrating organisms, I learned about them so in a sense I became a kind of scientist studying nature.

My interest in natural organisms lead to the development of a body of work influenced by dioramas and displays in natural history museums. In one of my works, titled Deep Down (pictured above), I have created a cutaway in a cube that shows a chipmunk (covered with fur) living underground along with a worm, rock, and plant roots. A second side of the cube shows a snake, above and underground. The third side reveals an anthill above ground, and the colony tunnels underground. And the fourth side has a plant, cicada, plant roots, and a worm underground.

In another work, titled In My Backyard (pictured below), I have created a reproduction of a log made from epoxy clay, a reproduction of a wild beehive and bees, and a garden hose, all connected with industrial gas piping. On the right side of a pipe is a cube, with paintings of a housing development, a microscopic close-up of red blood cells, and a Japanese beetle on a leaf. A globe covered in mushrooms hangs from a chain from the cube. In this work, I am exploring systems impacted by man’s activity.

In My Back Yard, 45” x 32” x 13”, epoxy clay, wooden cube, gas pipe, garden hose, paper, wire, acrylic, Mylar, flocking.

Other works such as Factory Farm (pictured below) and Fracking point to systems of man that are wreaking havoc on the environment. Runoff from factory farms is creating algae blooms in the ocean, GMO crops are killing helpful insects and creating super weeds, and fracking is polluting water wells with natural gas and causing earthquakes. Bees are being sickened and disrupted as they are trucked all around the country to pollinate fruit trees.

Factory Farm, 45” x 34” x 17”,  wood, epoxy clay, wooden cube, gas pipe, acrylic, resin, found objects, paper, metal tube.

Spelling Bee imagines a larger than life genetically modified bee that can spell and is making a hive in the shape of the letter B.

Spelling Bee, 33 3/8” x 19” x 2 ½,″ craft fur, epoxy clay, acrylic, resin, Mylar, chloroplast.

Under the present Trump administration, with its stated goal of shutting down the EPA, we will lose important protections. Trump wants to reverse the Clean Air Act, cut energy efficiency rules, allow dumping of coal ash into waterways, eliminate car fuel efficiency requirements, and permit the use of lead-based bullets, killing eagles who might feed on contaminated animal carcasses. He has already signed an executive order to reverse the Clean Water Rule, wants to roll back the Endangered Species Act, is reversing bans on harmful pesticides and chemicals, and backing the oil and gas industries regardless of their negative impact. Deregulation primarily benefits corporate interests, not the people, not the planet. Trump is not thinking about leaving a healthy planet as a legacy for his children and grandchildren. Denying climate change will delay crucial steps to reverse it. This is unacceptable, and we must fight these ill-conceived, poorly informed policies.

As an artist, it is important to me to make work that addresses these issues. My work celebrates the beauty of nature, while at the same time pointing out the impacts of human activity. My hope is that by connecting with my art, others will realize how important the continued existence of all manifestations of life is for the survival of our planet and its people.

(Top image: Deep Down, 16” x 8” x 8”, carved wood, mixed media.)


Chicago artist Victoria Fuller has an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and fellowship awards from the Colorado Council on the Arts and Humanities, and the Illinois Arts Council. She also received an Illinois Arts Council CAAP Grant, and was a resident artist at Sculpture Space in Utica, NY and Ragdale Foundation in Lake Forest, IL. Her large-scale public sculpture “Shoe of Shoes” is in the collection of Caleres Shoes in St. Louis. Sound Transit in Seattle commissioned another large-scale sculpture, “Global Garden Shovel,” and she was commissioned by Comed to create the sculpture “Peas and Quiet.” In 2016 she was featured in Sculpture Magazine’s May issue, as part of the show “Disruption” at Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton, NJ. Her most recent large-scale public sculpture, titled ”Canoe Fan,” is installed along the Huron River in Ann Arbor, MI.

About Artists and Climate Change:

Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

The Arts as Ally: Earth Day/Month/Year 2017

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog, First Published 25 April 2017

We are almost four full months into 2017, and already there have been multiple large-scale international public demonstrations, starting most notably with the Women’s March in January. And we’re between two major international marches this week – the March for Science, and the People’s Climate March. In my installment this month, I highlight a particular creative effort for the March for Science, as well as a powerful new documentary from Standing Rock, amidst the unprecedented political situation in the United States.

There is power in the rallies and marches of these past months, in the convening of individuals around shared values. I relish in the humanness – the connections, creativity, compassion. I am also thrilled by the offers of alternatives: public forums to practice alternatives to the oppressive status quo that leaves out and strips the power of people that do not fit the “dominant” type. In these imagined alternatives, there is room for nonhuman beings and forces. This past weekend’s March for Science was such a space, where those who work with data and study forces on all scales could come together in solidarity with one another, and with public supporters. My group of fellow artists and I marched to stand with the discipline of science, with the people who put the scientific method into practice, collate data to relearn our histories, and uncover our future potential as human life on Earth.

My colleagues at Artists Rise Up New York hosted pre-march workshops to construct puppets of animals with endangered status. We wanted to bring these puppets to the March for Science – which landed on Earth Day – in solidarity with the humans who study these animals and their (our) ecosystems. These puppets, fashioned out of repurposed materials, were a way to show up for our friends in science and across species. We gathered under overcast skies with our puppets in hand, amongst thousands of fellow science allies, many of whom touted posters summarizing their reasons for showing up.

Members of Artists Rise Up with sea turtle and golden eagle puppets, March for Science 2017.

The puppets, with their playful, cartoon-like appearance, caught the attention of other marchers, particularly those under the age of 10, and their families. Young children, strapped to their parents’ bodies, had a front row seat to a non-fiction puppet show. Many were eager to engage tactically with the characters: a sea turtle and a golden eagle. The three-dimensional animal puppets inserted a level of joy and playfulness into the march, complementing the posters of scientific and Earth-based puns. Despite the rain that greeted us NYC marchers, our energy flourished down Broadway, past Trump Hotel, until dispersing near Times Square. There is a performative aspect to these marches; they offer a forum for forces, elements and species – otherwise marginalized, silenced, voiceless groups – to be seen on a large public scale, a way to more closely speak to power.

Members of Artists Rise Up with golden eagle, eye of the whale, and sea turtle puppets, March for Science 2017.

In this week between two major marches, in the spirit of Earth Day, anti-fracking activist and documentarian Josh Fox’s latest documentary, Awake, A Dream from Standing Rock, has been released. I would be remiss if I did not wave the flag for this film (it’s streamable online and less than ninety minutes!). A collaboration with filmmakers Myron Dewey and James Spione, Awake compiles a series of stories from the peaceful resistance at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, on the edge of Dakota Access Pipeline construction. The film is an education, for those who were not at the Standing Rock camp, in the way that the Indigenous perspective comes to the fore. This film and its makers deserve a dedicated post, and that will come. In the meantime, I wanted to call attention to the way Awake writes the history of this moment in time, as well as offers tangible actions to take toward climate justice – to resist fracking and Big Oil, educate, and support those presently at Standing Rock and at reservations around the country. I will be taking the peaceful, passionate, urgent energy of Awake with me to the People’s Climate March in DC.

Poster for Awake, A Dream from Standing Rock.

As I reflect on the inaugural March for Science, look forward to the Climate March, and consider the themes from Awake that propel me to action, I see the role of arts in this current historical moment: the creativity of constructions at international marches, the framing of stories from Standing Rock in film, the performance of coming together in a public space, as documented for the world to see. My art-activism connections are only examples, and by offering them, I seek to keep the momentum going. We can all keep the momentum going by taking action that suits us: find a Climate March near you; support Indigenous communities; defund DAPL.

About Artists and Climate Change:

Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Propagating For Our Planet

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Building Worlds as a Message about our World

The tide of climate change is too easily dismissed as a slow steady march that can be denied or at least ignored in favor of “more pressing” issues. In my Building Worlds series, I create paintings that fuse past, present, and future eras into imaginary worlds to emphasize our inevitable and potentially irreversible effect on the planet. At first glance my paintings resemble captivating cityscapes perhaps gone a bit awry. Viewers find themselves struggling to place these scenes in memories from travels and other experiences. Their contemplation often leads them to linger, observe, and process the imagery more deeply beyond the initial aesthetic. But these are not your typical vistas. They contain a message that begins to reveal itself upon closer examination. Something is happening to these worlds. There is an aspect of urgency to the scenes that people often begin to sense. Strata teem with suggestions of past civilizations. Debris and crumbling elements resembling ruins from antiquity are interspersed with gleaming, modern imagery all condensed into a single work as if they are “time-lapse paintings.” The skies are infused with dripping and texture that suggest that weather no longer exists in its predictable form.  What does all of this mean? Can it be good? Can we continue to accelerate our consumption of our planet’s resources while ignoring the costs? I hope my work can lead people to consider such questions.

Beacon, 30”x 40” Acrylic & Collage

Repurposing with a Purpose

The heart of my work is repurposing – taking one thing and using it for something else. In a sense, I have even chosen to repurpose my passion for painting as a conduit to highlight issues, action steps, and the work and efforts of others to combat climate change. I have joined the many artists striving to permeate concern for our planet into our culture. My paintings give me a means to build community and to help increase general acknowledgement of the need to address climate change sooner rather than later. Repurposing is a hopeful and important process that will be central to the health of our planet as “progress” places constant pressure on us to consume at the cost of our environment, while at the same time threatening to render us obsolete. Repurposing helps to counterbalance these forces.

The Genesis of my Worlds

The story of my current work began in Jerome, a small town in Arizona that was itself repurposed from a mining town to a tourist destination. In 1957 when the copper mine was closed, the town was threatened, but with ingenuity it was deemed a historic town, and the mine was reopened as a “ghost town.” I visited Jerome on a family vacation. The sweeping views were impressive and the ghost town feature was a must-see for the kids. The operational infrastructure of the mine had been left in place to “age with the elements,” and the desert climate had been relatively kind. Work trucks from the 1940’s stood in place, like colorful ghosts. The patina of their aged surfaces and lines of their bodies told the story of a bygone era and the bittersweet beauty of aging. I painted my Truck Series: Jerome Arizona based on my love for these trucks, at that point in time, in that setting.

My Process of Artistic Propagation

I chronicled this series of paintings and kept extensive digital images of them. I had painted the trucks with a thick impasto technique that lent dimensionality and texture true to the aging surfaces of the vehicles, and the photos of my paintings retained much of this visual texture. In a sense, I was “haunted” by those images and they spoke to me. In the spirit of repurposing, I conceived of a process I now call artistic propagation. I began by extracting the textured elements so vividly shown in these photos and bringing them into a fresh new context. With this in mind, I experimented with digitally manipulating photos of my paintings, cropping components such as grills and headlights from the trucks to create unique printed archival collage papers. I planned to affix them to the support in a purely abstract non-representational manner. I found myself arranging them in strata and enjoying the results. I also realized that worlds like none I’d seen before were emerging and that I could build these worlds in a metaphorical way that gives voice to my concerns about our planet.

In general, propagation is the reproduction or spreading of something. It applies to plants and animals in nature, and it also applies to the spread of ideas. My process of extracting elements from my existing works and using them to create new ones to convey a message is similar to that of propagation both in our natural and ideological world. In a sense, each of my works contains the “genes” of its ancestors, and I use these works as a vehicle for promoting interest in and awareness of efforts to save our planet.

I create archival collage papers from elements taken from images of my truck paintings. Above, I digitally cropped the grill from my painting, Wallflower, printed it on archival paper and affixed it as a collage element in my painting Ebb and Flood.

Since this initial period of exploration, my artistic propagation has expanded to include intricate layers of construction. In addition to metaphorically “salvaging vehicle parts for reuse,” I repurpose by creating collage material incorporating stamping and sgraffito effects from castoff apparatus and implements including pipette holders, variegated tubing, wire gauze, rubber stoppers, and well plates. Fortunately, I am able to easily access these items from a Durham, NC organization called The Scrap Exchange. One of the first creative reuse centers in the United States, The Scrap Exchange diverts 167 tons of materials from the waste stream annually. Their mission is to promote creativity, environmental awareness, and community through reuse. They recently celebrated their 25th anniversary, and they are poised to ramp up their global reuse impact. They have launched plans to establish the National Center for Creative Reuse (NCCR), which will contribute to a global reuse revolution through factors such as philanthropy, research, and education.

Organizations like The Scrap Exchange give me hope for the future of our planet. I feel fortunate that as an artist, I have a unique platform for sharing their story and the stories of many other organizations and individuals working to help our planet. This Artists & Climate Change blog and others like it are an encouraging window into the global efforts across the arts to address climate change. As we continue to join in chorus, we will amplify our impact.

Overlook, 30”x 40” Acrylic and Collage

(Top image: World Wide Web, 16”x 20” Acrylic & Collage)


Jenny Blazing was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. She is an artist now living in Durham, North Carolina. She graduated from University of California, Davis with degrees in Environmental Design & Economics and subsequently earned a Ph.D. from University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Her work focuses on the ephemeral beauty of our world and our need to do our best to respect and preserve it. She recently held a debut showing of her Building Worlds series. Follow Jenny Blazing on Instagram.

About Artists and Climate Change:


Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

The Teachings of Treefall

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

This article was originally published on HowlRound, a knowledge commons by and for the theatre community, on September 24, 2016.

Many years ago I was browsing in a chain bookstore at my local mall and a title almost literally jumped off the shelf and into my waiting hands: Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind, edited by Theodore A. Rozack. The book consists of essays by psychologists and environmentalists wrestling with how we humans are personally and internally affected by the environmental crisis. The book ignited a passion in me, but at that time, I could not figure out how to combine my work as a theatre designer and the urgency I felt to work on behalf of the planet. The ideas were out there, but the performing arts hadn’t widely begun addressing the issues of environmental crisis and climate change. And when they did, the work was emotive, grief stricken, and hopeless.

In 2009 came my answer. I designed the scenery for Henry Murray’s post-apocalyptic play, Treefall, produced by Rogue Machine Theatre and directed by John Perrin Flynn. In the story of the play, there have been massive fires, local wars, ravaging disease, and the breakdown of all infrastructure. The sun will burn flesh if exposed, so the young characters awaken at dusk and spend their productive time at night. Their parents have been lost to disease, or gone for help and never returned. They are living in a sort of cabin-shack in the northwestern woods where every once in a while an ancient tree topples over with a deafening crash. They have created rituals to help them remember “The Mommy” and the good food they used to eat. And yet, the play was not about how all this happened. Murray simply placed these young characters in a dystopic world where they struggle to survive, create a family, find love, and establish their individual identity. It is a story about people, not of the environmental events that placed them there.

Scene from Treefall at Rogue Machine Theatre Los Angeles, 2009. Photo: Stephanie Kerley Schwartz.

We stripped our theatre bare, and set Treefall wall to wall in the wide space. Instead of scene changes, we moved the actors to the places in the story. I put out a call to the company: “Bring us your un-used electronics, the ones you were saving to take to a responsible recycler.” I placed the main platforms on piles of discarded computers, video game consoles, phones, keyboards, printers, and miles and miles of cables and wires. In Treefall, electricity is no longer being generated, so all of these things were now obsolete.

It seemed important to use as much recycled and re-purposed material as possible. This drove the design process. The walls of the cabin were made of scavenged wooden shipping pallets. I had saved some thick green-edged acrylic panels from a big-budget project, and we placed them against the walls and patched up seams with silver compact discs (CDs) and more of the wires. A friend who designs for television gave me access to some pieces of linoleum flooring that would have been thrown away. From another set, we found some scraps of corrugated metal. It was a huge world; besides the cabin interior, there was a hill with a water feature for the pond at the top, a library, a ransacked store. It was also important to represent the forest somehow. I blew up some photos I had taken in Maine and Oregon of fallen and upright trees, and placed them against crushed Mylar space blankets to create a collage of mirror and forest—a metaphor for the danger of sunlight and those dying trees. It was a joy to design this show and a major success for Rogue Machine (and yes, we recycled all those electronics).

Scene from Treefall at Rogue Machine Theatre Los Angeles, 2009. Photo: Stephanie Kerley Schwartz.

In Steven Leigh Morris’ review of Treefall for LA Weekly, a quote grabbed me; “What’s surprising is how few plays, and playwrights, are grappling with what is obviously the most profound concern of our era: the damage we’re inflicting on the ecology of our planet.” The idea for HeatWave came after I designed Treefall. My artist friends were participating in “calls for work” relating to the environment and I wondered, Where is my theatre community in this dialogue? We were behind. The biggest crisis of our era and the theatre wasn’t addressing it! The challenge is to create stories that are more than just grim laments. Air pollution, dirty water, traffic congestion, food deserts, lack of parks and playgrounds—most of these problems disproportionately affect people struggling to make it in lower-income neighborhoods. Los Angeles is a city full of small grass-roots organizations fighting to make things better where they live. What if a bunch of playwrights could hear their stories? Could see the human beings impacted by this crisis?

HeatWave group explores the TreePeople Learning Center, September 12, 2012. Photo: Stephanie Kerley Schwartz.


HeatWave opening gathering at TreePeople on September 29, 2012. Photo: Stephanie Kerley Schwartz.

In September of 2012, HeatWave brought environmental justice groups and theatre artists together at the TreePeople Conference Center to learn from each other. Grass-roots activist groups spent the day presenting inspiring stories of the hard work they are doing to improve conditions in their communities and our world. The event was a well-attended success, and we are grateful to Union de Vecinos, Aguas con el Agua in Maywood, Plastic Pollution Coalition, Heal the Bay, and other groups who came and shared their stories. As a side note—thanks in part to TreePeople and hardworking volunteers; we managed to feed everyone lunch with a zero-waste outcome.
HeatWave/Rogue Machine participated in the Climate Change Theatre Action (CCTA) which took place last November to coincide with the COP21 climate talks in Paris. We presented eleven short plays involving nine directors, fifteen actors, four musicians, a projection designer, a phalanx of volunteers, and a whole bunch of samosas. The feature of the evening (besides the plays) was a harrowing presentation by NASA-JPL scientist Josh Fisher. The devastating evidence he presented drew gasps from the audience, and was a sobering reminder that we must, to quote host Belinda Waymouth, “Use everything we’ve got,” to make change. In his essay from Ecopsychology, Roszak writes:

…the environmental movement has other means to draw upon besides shocking and shaming the public it wishes to win over… What do people need, what do they fear, what do they want? What makes them do what they do: reason or passion? Above all, what do they love?

I believe that theatre techniques hold pathways to explore and answer those questions. More and more plays and productions are being made that address these issues and ask more questions. How do we live now? How do we find the power to respond to devastating changes that seem inevitable, relentless, and tragic? How do we still go on with our lives in the most humane way possible?
The work keeps coming. The plays are being written. The dance pieces are being choreographed. The designs are more thoughtful. The equipment is being re-designed to use less power. We consider the waste stream, and we have recycling groups and Craigslist to recycle set pieces. But there will always be more to do—we need to get beyond grief and get into living with it. We can’t go on. We must go on. We will go on. We are using everything we’ve got.


Stephanie Kerley Schwartz is a freelance scenic and costume designer based on the West Coast. She is the Resident Designer at Rogue Machine Theatre. Her design work has been seen all over Southern California in theatres large and small, and has received many awards and nominations. Her short fiction has been published in the Santa Monica Reviewand multiple literary blogs.

About Artists and Climate Change:

Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog