How can the world's oldest art form help us save the environment? These artists have a few ideas.
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Natural Resources Defense Council

Can the world's oldest art form help us combat something as current and pressing as climate change?

That was the question posed to female theatre artists on a conference call organized by Roberta Levitow of Theatre Without Borders, a group committed to social change through the arts.

It included Chantal Bilodeau, whose previous attempt to write a play about the intersections of race, class, and climate change blossomed into an interconnected story cycle set across eight different plays in eight different countries, and Elaine Avila, who has organized social action movements through theatre alongside her collaborator, Caridad Svich of No Passport.


Photo via Subhrajit/Wikimedia Commons.

"Many artists are looking to other fields such as science and policy, modeling in their art practice the kind of cross-disciplinary thinking that is needed to address global issues," Chantal explained.

"If we want to be active participants in shaping our future, we need to move beyond writing plays about climate change to writing plays that are climate change — plays that embody, in form, content, and process, the essence of the issues we are facing."

This idea led to the birth of Climate Change Theatre Action (CCTA) — an international theatre festival to bring awareness to the changing planet.

Inspired by previous theatre action movements focused on gun control and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, CCTA consists of one- to five-minute readings and performances of climate-change-themed plays, poems, and songs.

More than 100 artists from 20 different countries — from Australia to Canada, Jordan to Mexico — have contributed work to the festival in anticipation of the upcoming Paris Climate Change Conference.

Photo by Clay Robeson/Wikimedia Commons.

Here's how Chantal Bilodeau described the festival's programming:

"The pieces are as varied as the artists writing them. They are about rich and poor people of every culture and color, are set in urban and rural areas in developed and under-developed countries, are realistic, metaphorical, reflective, funny, wistful, irreverent, scary, and sad. Together, they form a mosaic of climate change experienced on a personal level. They paint a portrait of communities struggling to understand what is happening to our world and how to best respond to it."

But the coolest part about CCTA is that it's happening all across the world at the same time.

The physical limits of theatre tend to be one of its biggest fallbacks, as well as one its greatest assets. Live performances are always constrained by geography and time. And while that can make for an intimate and communal experience, it's hard for that experience to reach a wider audience.

While the festival "officially" kicks off Nov. 2, 2015, at New York's Nuyorican Poets Cafe, the organizers of Climate Change Theatre Action have rallied together more than 100 other venues across the globe, each one hosting their own unique evening of readings and performances from local artists.

The events range from living room readings to day-long festivals to site-specific performances on glaciers and more.

Photo by U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Rialyn Rodrigo/Wikimedia Commons.

What's more, many of the performances are being simulcast on HowlRound.tv — bringing the international audiences even closer together.

(There's also one event in Albuquerque that's being broadcast on the local public radio station, and several in Italy and the U.S. that are being adapting into short films to be screened at events in Australia.)

Climate Change Theatre Action is doing what theatre has always done best: bringing people together.

Though it might seem like a loosely affiliated grassroots organization, the four women behind it have accomplished a tremendous task. They're uniting audiences all across the world to bring attention to a problem that affects us all — a pressing issue that has otherwise been denied the attention it deserves.

"Theatre is a mighty tool," Chantal said.

"This season four women theatre artists with no money whatsoever, are, in effect, creating a global movement. Through sheer force of will, and many hours spent at the computer and Skyping across time zones, we are planting, one by one, a series of local seeds that have the potential to affect our economies, political systems, environments, and cultures. And if they are nurtured right and the gods smile on us, these seeds will grow into a vibrant explosion of echoing voices worldwide. Is this not an apt metaphor for how we need to handle climate change?"

Photo via Thehero/Wikimedia Commons.

You can find the full schedule of Climate Change Theatre Action events online, or check the CCTA Facebook page for information and introductions to all 108 playwrights (so far). Even if there are no events in your area, you can still help to keep the conversation going by signing this petition to end offshore drilling in the Arctic.

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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