Heretic

‘The Great Immensity’ does a ‘Greenland’

pic: from left: Rebecca Hart, Dan Domingues, Meghan McGeary and Todd Cerveris in 'The Great Immensity'

This post comes to you from Ashden Directory

In the last couple of years a number of plays about climate change have been staged in London from Steve Waters’ The Contingency Plan to the multi-authored Greenland at the National Theatre and Richard Bean’s The HereticThe Contingency Plan was funny, dramatic and accurate; Greenland was not very dramatic, not very funny and accurate; and The Hereticwas very funny, quite dramatic and fairly inaccurate.

Meanwhile, this blog has been waiting since 2010 for the results of the substantial grant of $750,000 (£470,000) from the US National Science Foundation for a new play about climate change by The Civilians theatre company. The reviews for The Great Immensity are now in. It sounds as if it has made some of the same mistakes as Greenland.

So what happens in The Great Immensity? The set-up is that a character called Phyllis arrives at Barro Colorado Island, a rainforest and research reserve in the middle of the Panama Canal, in search of her twin sister Polly, a filmmaker who has suddenly disappeared. The researchers on the island help Phyllis reconstruct her sister’s last days through flashbacks, video interviews from Polly’s hard drive, and vaudeville musical sketches. Phyllis learns that Polly was engaged in a project to do with the upcoming Auckland Climate Summit. The action then moves to Churchill, Manitoba, where Earth Ambassadors and others disclose what happened to Polly.

Robert Trussell in the Kansas City Star calls it a “risk-taking show”and an “unwieldy cargo container of theatrical virtues and deficiencies”.

“Integrated into the narrative is alarming information about the plight of the planet. I’m not questioning the scientific information that forms this play’s foundation. My concern is how the show works as theatrical entertainment.”

Victor Wishna, in the KCMetropolis, an online journal of the performing arts, takes the viewthat what theatre does best is provoke, rather than educate or entertain. Although well-performed, he finds it a single-issue, educational show, with no subplots or diversions from the message of the irreversible damage that humans have done to the planet.

“Theatre-goers may very well leave The Great Immensity more frustrated and agitated than inspired. Unlike a lecture or even a documentary film, theatre isn’t expected to offer answers but to raise—to provoke—questions, to challenge assumptions, to take us from ‘There’s nothing to be done’ to ‘Isn’t there something we can do?’”

“ashdenizen blog and twitter are consistently among the best sources for information and reflection on developments in the field of arts and climate change in the UK” (2020 Network)

ashdenizen is edited by Robert Butler, and is the blog associated with the Ashden Directory, a website focusing on environment and performance.
The Ashden Directory is edited by Robert Butler and Wallace Heim, with associate editor Kellie Gutman. The Directory includes features, interviews, news, a timeline and a database of ecologically – themed productions since 1893 in the United Kingdom. Our own projects include ‘New Metaphors for Sustainability’, ‘Flowers Onstage’ and ‘Six ways to look at climate change and theatre’.

The Directory has been live since 2000.

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ashdenizen: wanted: a portrait of the climate scientist as a real person

In his preface to The Coast of Utopia, Tom Stoppard makes the point that writers can have real political influence. His example is Turgenev’sSportsman’s Sketches, which Stoppard writes,

“were plausibly said to have done more than anything else to turn the ‘Reforming Tsar’ Alexander 11 towards abolishing serfdom.”

But the writing has to be precise and observant. Earlier in the preface, when discussing Alexander Herzen, Stoppard writes,

“What he detested above all was the conceit that theoretical future bliss justified actual present sacrifice.”

Twentieth-century history was on Herzen’s side. It’s easy to imagine, today, that many playwrights’ resistance to climate change as a political subject comes from this idea that it deals with a “theoretical future” and that it is being used to justify “actual present sacrifice”. Playwrights like to write about real situations, flesh and blood characters, the here and now. And they like jokes.

In some ways, then, the most interesting characters to put on stage right now are climate scientists: not a climate sceptic disguised as a climate scientist (as happens in The Heretic), but the climate scientists who are simultaneously appalled and fascinated by what they are discovering.

At last year’s TippingPoint conference in Oxford, climate scientists spoke candidly and wittily about how their work had altered their lives and their world views. If caught accurately, that kind of portrait might have real political influence.

via ashdenizen: wanted: a portrait of the climate scientist as a real person.

ashdenizen: from no plays about climate change to three in a month

It was only a couple of years ago that this blog was writing about why theatres don’t touch climate change. It seemed, at the time, as if there was something about theatre, or the way people conceived of mainstream theatre, that made the subject almost impossible to treat. This was part of a more general avoidance of the environment as a subject for the performing arts. The Ashden Directory had been launched, back in 2000, as a way of following and encouraging those works which did engage with this subject.

But now things are changing. Eighteen months ago there was finally, a good play about climate change.  It was also possible to see in the works, for instance, of Wallace Shawn and Andrew Bovell the green shoots of climate change theatre.

Fast forward to January 2011, and this month alone three climate change plays will open in London – Greenland at the National, The Heretic at the Royal Court, and Water at the Tricycle.

Why is this important? Because climate change alters the way we think about our lives. The news contained within the various IPCC reports will be as influential, as paradigm-shifting, on the way we see ourselves as Darwin’s Origin of Species. It is, ultimately, a question of values and relationships. As such, it is a natural subject for theatre.

But new plays don’t open in a vacuum. For them to succeed, there needs to be a lively engaged audience that has some sense of what is at stake. That’s why we have also been involved with the Open University in producing a new series of podcasts that puts cultural work around climate change in perspective.

The podcasts bring together 17 artists, activists, writers, film-makers, scientists, entrepreneurs and academics, including comedian Marcus Brigstocke, choreographer Siobhan Davies, BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin, architect Carolyn Steele and Mike Hulme, author ofWhy We Disagree About Climate Change.

Radio 4’s Quentin Cooper chairs these four ‘Mediating Change’ discussions which cover the history, publics, anatomy and futures of cultural responses to climate change. The podcasts are now available to download from iTunesU.

via ashdenizen: from no plays about climate change to three in a month.

ashdenizen: four podcasts on culture and climate change now online

A new series of four podcasts on Culture and Climate Change is now online at iTunes U. The discussions bring together artists, writers, film-makers, scientists, academics and journalists with a comedian, a choreographer, a campaigner, and an entrepreneur.

The Mediating Change series is hosted by Quentin Cooper and contributors include Tim Smit, Marcus Brigstocke, Siobhan Davies (see pic), Roger Harrabin, Joe Smith and two of the Ashden Directory’s editors, Wallace Heim and Robert Butler. More details here.

The producer, Vicky Long, says:

Cultural activity in this area is gathering real momentum, with ‘Greenland’ opening at the National Theatre and ‘The Heretic’ opening at the Royal Court early next year. We feel it’s vital a critical framework is developed alongside this emerging work.

This series represents a first sustained exploration of culture and climate change in a publicly-available broadcast-quality format.

See also: Tipping Point launches first of four discussions
Tim Smit and Marcus Brigstocke join debate on popular culture and climate change

via ashdenizen: four podcasts on culture and climate change now online.