In 2005, Bill McKibben wrote this in a Grist essay about our changing climate: “Where are the books? The poems? The plays? The goddamn operas?” Sitting here in 2013, I can’t speak to all the artistic undertakings that have unfolded since then, or even to all the theatrical undertakings. (And I look forward to sharing and learning in the comments.) But I can say this: the theater field as a whole has not risen to challenge of the crisis.
It’s not because theater folks don’t care. (I hear you there, DKos theater folks.) The long, interesting and gap-filled history of the intersection of theater and activism is worthy of much conversation. But that’s not why I’m here today.
I wrote a play about some people trying to navigate what we face. Honestly, I wish I was putting out a play that I hadn’t written— it’s true that I am writing out of self-interest, but it’s the self-interest of planetary survival, not one play. Plays are easy. Climate change is hard.
So what’s the experiment? If you’re interested, read the play. If you’re interested, tell me how you think it could be better—it’s always a draft. If you’re interested, do a reading of the play in your community, or as a fundraiser for your environmental organization, or as tip of the hat to the February 17 march in Washington. What I have is a play, and it’s at our service. If you’re interested, let’s talk about the broader question of how theater can enhance climate activism in an organized way. It’s time to build bigger.
Why is this an experiment? As a theater maker, I can sometimes follow my well-worn paths, hold onto my borders, get tripped up in gatekeepers and familiar processes. As a person who has spent much of her life in theater that actively engages with community and change, however, I am most excited when the process is upended some. How can the internet help expand theatrical communication? Is it possible and productive to get a broad and still disconnected activist community engaged in the process of artistic creation and dissemination?
Is one internet post the way to answer these questions? No, but it’s a place to start. An experiment. Here's the play, Tonight's Fire
And, of course, this ever-true reminder: it’s not about any one play. Write your own play. Support another. Start a club. Make a speech. Take your kid’s school to visit their local congressional office with a climate-change poetry slam. Write a one-act to be performed or a song to be sung and send it to a thousand churches. What if every play produced in the next 25 years made reference to environmental degradation?
What do you think?