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.
"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.
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.
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?"
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.