Wednesday, 12 November 2008

why theatres don't touch climate change

The nature of climate change (how it affects other people in other countries and how it will affect other people in other centuries) makes it a unique challenge to theatre.

The impact of individual actions spreads out, very diffusely, across time and place. It's hard to see how this can be addressed within the classical dramaturgical model of cause and effect. It's one reason why no major theatre has staged a play on the subject.

But there are five other reasons why theatres don't touch climate change.

1. Theatres think climate change is about science and so it's going to be extremely technical. But it isn't. It's about drama's core themes: human relationships, the way we live, what we value.

2. Theatres are worried they'll be accused of hypocrisy, so they are going to need to get their house in order first. But this is not a 'them and us' subject where you have to be whiter-than-white before you can talk about it. Everyone's implicated, everyone's involved. Theatres should be open about that.

3. Theatres are holding off engaging with this subject (as one theatre director told me) because they're not sure what they think about it. But not knowing what you think about something is the perfect moment to engage with it.

4. Theatres imagine the plays will either have to be agit-prop or apocalyptic and they don't want to do either. But climate change is driven (as the great American biologist E.O. Wilson has said) by our high levels of per capita consumption: where stuff comes from and where it goes. Climate change is about everyday life.

5. Many of the leading fossil fuel companies are prominent sponsors of the arts. Oh yes, good point.

Updates: Finally, a good play about climate change (9 May 2009); Green shoots of climate-change theatre (22 May 2009).

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