Sunday 31 May 2009

'goodies not hoodies'

'I wanted the case to be a landmark play of the climate change debate.' Michael Wolkind QC on the trial of the Kingsnorth Six. more ...

atlantic criss-crossing

The story so far: we wanted to take part in a conference about environment and drama that's taking place right now in the US but we didn't want to incur any airmiles (however persuasive Kevin Spacey's ads may be).

Instead, we filmed six short interviews with theatre artists working in the UK and sent the DVD of the interviews to the conference.

On Friday evening, those who appear in the DVD (along with your blogger) gathered in a basement in central London to share a satellite discussion with some of the people at the Oregon conference. It was 5pm our time, 9am their time.

Once we'd shouted greetings and waved at each other, we all introduced ourselves. Then we went offline for 30 mins to watch the DVD and regrouped afterwards for 45 mins to discuss the questions raised.

Plenty of interesting things were said. But probably for all of us the most memorable thing was that it was happening at all.

Further comments on what was actually said, and a transcript, will appear shortly. more ...

Saturday 30 May 2009

worldview collapses

We no longer believe that markets are self-correcting. George Soros thinks

'We are dealing not only with the collapse of a financial system, but also with the collapse of a worldview.' more ...

Friday 29 May 2009

our interviews go online

Our DVD contribution to Earth Matters On Stage is now online. The interviewees address the question: 'What Can Be Asked? What Can Be Shown? British Theatre in the Time of Climate Instability.' (The interviews can also be watched individually.)

Quoting Rilke, Dan Gretton considers the value of quickening the pace of artistic response and cautions against the narcissism of frenzy.

On her allotment, Clare Patey explains how a year-long project changed the quality of the conversation amongst its participants.

In Brazil, João André da Rocha draws attention to the movement and shapes of rural life, especially popular dance, as a way of getting closer to Brazilian culture. (Transcript here.)

From his office in the East End, Paul Heritage raises the question of those who are talked about rather than those who are talking.

With the Lake District as her backdrop, Wallace Heim asks how climate change differs from other political situations and how this might alter the ways in which theatre can be made.

Finally, Mojisola Adebayo performs the first moments of her play Moj of the Antarctic and wonders if some people in theatre think they're above climate change.

I'll be introducing the live satellite discussion between this group in London and those attending the Earth Matters conference in Oregon. This will follow the screening of the interviews in Oregon later today. That discussion will also be posted online. more ...

Thursday 28 May 2009

minimal requirement

The philosopher Peter Singer speaks about climate change and our obligation to future generations:

'I'm interested in changing the culture of what we regard as a requirement for living a minimally decent, minimally ethical life.'

(11 mins in) more ...

Wednesday 27 May 2009

oregon bloggers 2

News from the Oregon conference on Earth Matters On Stage:

Una Chaudhuri's keynote address on 'zooësis', or the representation of animals, can be watched here (thanks to Ian Garrett).

Moe Beitiks posts her first and second blogs on Chaudhuri, Rachel Rosenthal and others and Mike Lawler posts his second and third blogs on Aristophanes, activist theatre and more.

We round up the reactions and get to join in the debate by satellite next Friday. more ...

wait for it

In the comments that follow my Guardian theatre blog on climate-change plays, a tireless climate-sceptic puts forward his own idea for a climate-change play:

'Put two scruffy looking blokes (Monbiot and Vidal would be excellent) on stage and let them ramble on and on about nothing while waiting for something to happen that never does. (oh, its been done before). ' more ...

art of the possible

'Everything that happens here is scientifically possible.' Dr Pete Manning, research fellow at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change, on Resilience, part of the double bill The Contingency Plan.

Scott Walters is closing down his valuable Theatre Ideas blog to focus full time on his <100K Project, which aims to bring the arts to small and rural communities with populations under 100,000. more ...

Saturday 23 May 2009

oregon bloggers

Several fellow bloggers on the arts and the environment - Mike Lawler from ecoTheater, Ian Garrett from the Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts and Moe Beitiks from the Green Museum blog - are attending the Earth Matters on Stage in Eugene, Oregon.

The conference opened last night with keynote speaker Una Chaudhuri giving a talk on 'zooesis', or the representation of animals in the media.

Mike Lawler's first blog about EMOS appears here. We get to join in the debate by satellite next Friday. more ...

three in a fortnight

Three plays with strong environmental themes have opened in London in the last two weeks.

My Guardian theatre blog on the 'Green shoots of climate-change theatre' appears here. more ...

Friday 22 May 2009

painter for our time

In a lecture last year Alan Read, author of Theatre & Everyday Life, showed Goya's picture of two men fighting with cudgels.

Read pointed out that while the two men are engaged in fighting, they are also sinking into the swamp. He called this 'objects objecting - simply getting their own back'.

Goya has also inspired Andrew Bovell's play When The Rain Stops Falling, which opened last night at the Almeida. In this case, the picture was Saturn Devouring His Children (left). Bovell's play centres on the way one generation passes on a legacy to the next one.

As Bovell writes in the programme, 'We have not only threatened the future. We have devoured it.' more ...

Thursday 21 May 2009

day one oregon

Today is the first day of the Earth Matters on Stage Festival and Symposium in Oregon. We wanted to take part, but we didn't want to get on a plane. So we're participating next week with a pre-recorded series of interviews and a live satellite debate. more ...

Wednesday 20 May 2009

food and sex

Early on, in Wallace Shawn's extraordinary new play, Grasses of A Thousand Colours, the memoirist Ben (played by Shawn) remembers his biology teacher saying, 'Man has two basic needs - the need for food and the need for sex.'

Shawn's play is set in the near future, when there have been revolutions in processed food production and sexual explicitness. These developments allow Shawn to depict the two needs in a garish new light and to dramatise the basic way in which our appetites are indistinguishable from animal ones.

Grasses of A Thousand Colours takes as its source 'The White Cat', a 17th century fairytale by Madame d'Aulnoy, and it moves startingly, and sometimes hilariously, between a prosperous bourgeois world and a savage dream-like one in which distinctly taboo things happen between humans and cats.

Like John Gray's Straw Dogs, subtitled Thoughts on Humans and other Animals, Shawn keeps undermining the distinctions between the two. In doing so, his play challenges the overwhelmingly anthropocentric concerns of most theatre.

Nearly every play shows human relationships with other humans; plenty of children's plays show us animals with human characteristics; but very few plays show us humans with animal ones. more ...

Tuesday 19 May 2009

nothing but nature

Wallace Shawn's first play in 10 years, Grasses of a 1000 Colours, opened last night at the Royal Court. The Standard gives it four stars.

Shawn says his new play is about how humans are part of nature and nothing but nature.

'Written at a time in which it is being revealed bit by bit that human beings, perhaps in particular male human beings, have been involved in activities which risk the survival of all life on planet earth, the play (itself written by a male human being) speculates on the relationship between man and animals, man and nature.'

The Standard says that Shawn’s writing possesses 'a remarkable mixture of unabashed intellectualism and visceral appeal.'

More Wallace Shawn on this blog: he wants Naomi Klein's audience here; he's unlike David Mamet here; and he wants to get through the layers of propaganda here. Shawn season previewed here. more ...

Monday 18 May 2009

know hope

'While I have yet to be convinced that man’s 3% contribution to the planet’s greenhouse gases affects the climate, I do recognise that oil is a finite resource and that as it becomes more scarce, the political ramifications could well be dire. I therefore absolutely accept the urgent need for alternative fuels.'

Jeremy Clarkson more ...

Sunday 17 May 2009

the short goodbye

The Independent's environment editor Mike McCarthy discusses bird migration with Radio 2's most famous ex-chorister Aled Jones.

McCarthy's new book Say Goodbye To The Cuckoo describes some of the impact that climate change is having.

For instance: oak leaves appear earlier, perhaps a month earlier than 50 years ago, and the insects that feed on oak leaves are hatching earlier. By the time migrant birds complete the 6,000 mile return journey, McCarthy says (38 mins in), the prey that they normally feed to their young has already been eaten by others.

In the interview McCarthy emphasises the cultural resonance of those bird populations that are in serious trouble: the cuckoo is one, the turtle dove another ('prominent in the Song of Solomon ... used to be common across England a generation ago, now hardly seen anywhere').

He also makes the point that climatologists have 'a completely different view of the future to the man or woman walking down the street today'. more ...

broken spell

Naomi Klein says the bail-out for the banks has broken the spell of Reaganomics for a generation of young people. No longer can it be said that government has to leave urgent problems - like climate change - to the market (at 21 mins). more ...

nice work

New Yorker film critic Anthony Lane spots an anachronism, or more specifically a parachronism (OED: 'too late a date'), in the new Star Trek.

There's a scene in the movie, which introduces us to Captain Kirk's childhood and early adulthood, where the youthful James trashes a red Corvette.

'Nice work, Jim,' writes Lane, 'getting hold of fossil fuel in the twenty-third century'. more ...

Saturday 16 May 2009

should he do climate change?

'I’ve got to write a play. Thing is, I haven’t got an idea for a play. Part of the problem is that there are all these vast subjects thrusting themselves at anybody who presumes to deal with – I don’t, but perhaps it’s time I did – to deal with big contemporary issues. So you think, ‘right, should I do climate change, or should I do torture, or Afghanistan ... ?’'

Tom Stoppard gives another of those rare interviews. more ...

Friday 15 May 2009

three stages

The Irish writer Edmund Burke's belief that society was a contract between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are yet to be born, has big environmental implications. It can be seen, for instance, in Lord Stern's take on discounting.

It's interesting to learn, from the TLS review of Wole Soyinka's Death and the King's Horseman (left), that in the Yoruba worldview, life is seen as 'only one of three equal stages - the unborn, the living and the dead'.

The TLS critic says Rufus Norris' production is 'earthbound'. The reason? 'Only the living are given space.' more ...

Thursday 14 May 2009

stakes in the story

One of the casualties in the 2007 round of funding cuts was London Bubble, which lost its grant from Arts Council England.

In response, it set up Fan Made Theatre, a scheme which encourages the public to buy a stake (£20, concessions £10) in the company. An attraction was that a stakeholder could vote on the choice of the summer show.

The title that's won the vote this year is Homer's Odyssey.

This blog has already noted that, in the age of climate change and mass migration, there'll be no hiding from this story. more ...

Wednesday 13 May 2009

first five

On his blog Pirate Dog, Aleks Sierz, author of In-yer-face Theatre: British Drama Today, gives his list of five climate-change plays:

Tony Kushner, Angels in America
Clare Pollard, The Weather
Suspect Culture, Futurology
John Godber, Crown Prince
Steve Waters, The Contingency Plan more ...

welcome back

Good news: three months after he had major surgery, one of the pioneers of environmental theatre, Mike Lawler, is back and blogging at ecoTheater.

He takes issue with the news that a Broadway theatre is going green.

'I do not believe there can be such a thing as a 'green' theater on Broadway. Not the Broadway that exists now. No way. You can use all the recycled materials and nifty LED lobby lighting you want, but it won’t change the underlying mode of production'.

Seema at Mo`olelo Blog writes about the Wendell Berry phrase that Mike's adopted: solving for pattern. (Pdf of Berry's essay here. h-t. Free Ideas!!!) more ...

Tuesday 12 May 2009

handing off problems

In a useful online discussion about climate change on the New Yorker website, environment writer Elizabeth Kolbert spells out the problem:

'Just because you look out the window and things look OK, that's not the issue. The issue is what are we locking in for our kids. We are absolutely determining the world that our children and our grandchildren will live in right now. We could be handing off a problem to our children which they cannot manage because we've made it so big.' more ...

Saturday 9 May 2009

googling waters

Till last Thursday this blog hadn't seen any plays by Steve Waters (left), whose doublebill The Contingency Plan is 'the first good play about climate change'. Time to google ...

Steve Waters lectures in playwriting at Birmingham University and has written 15 plays that have been staged (among other venues) at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Hampstead, Sheffield Crucible and Gate Theatre.

The Unthinkable, his 'neatly topical' play about thinktanks, was reviewed here. After The Gods, about academics behaving badly, was previewed here. Fast Labour, his play about cheap immigrant labour, was reviewed here. More on Out of Your Knowledge, his play about the poet John Clare, here.

Online there are three articles by Waters for the New Statesman, on naturalism, Nashville and the philosopher Louis Althusser, and four articles for the Guardian, on storytelling, thinktanks, complexity in the arts and documentary theatre.

In his piece on naturalism, Waters highlights the elements of theatrical storytelling ('narrative, character, scene, action') and notes that 'the Arts Council celebrates every mode of theatre other than the written play'.

(See previous blogs here and here.) more ...

where the ice goes

If there's one line I had to choose from The Contingency Plan, Steve Waters’s terrific new double-bill of plays about climate change, now on at the Bush Theatre in London, it's the moment when Will Paxton (Geoffrey Streatfeild), a young glaciologist, explains the concept of displacement to the new Tory minister for climate change. Having spelled out that ice is 'basically parked water', Will warily predicts that the enormous West Antarctic Ice Sheet may well melt (much like the smaller Larsen B ice shelf).

'But this is thousands of miles from us,' chuckles the smooth Old Etonian minister (David Bark-Jones), whose schoolfriend, David Cameron, has become prime minister. Will replies with patience, 'If you pour water in the bath, it doesn't stay under the tap.'

My piece on 'Finally, A Good Play about Climate Change' appears here.

The Daily Telegraph says it's a stunning theatrical knockout. The Evening Standard says it's a triumph. The Stage says gripping. London Theatre Blog wonders if this is the most important artwork in the country. more ...

Friday 8 May 2009

and here it is

At last! Several years after starting a blog about theatre and climate change, along comes a first-rate play - two first-rate plays - about climate change.

Steve Waters' terrific double-bill The Contingency Plan, which opened at the Bush last night, is sharp, funny, well-researched and scary.

As Michael Billington writes in today's Guardian, it's a 'massive achievement ... to have made the most important issue of our times into engrossing theatre'.

(This blog will be writing about the plays in more detail shortly.) more ...

Thursday 7 May 2009

vanishing act

George Monbiot has called Cormac McCarthy's The Road the most important environmental book ever written.

That's one reason why Benjamin Morris and Bradon Smith, who run CRASSH's 'Cultures and Climate Change' programme, chose this widely-acclaimed novel as the subject for an excellent seminar.

The afternoon's discussion fell into two parts: text and context. The discussion about text ranged from the paradox of a rich vocabulary conjuring a bleak and ashen world, through to post-apocalyptic ethics and the theme of redemption.

In discussing context, and how the book was received, there was a difference between its reception in the US - where its Biblical and lapidary cadences were noted by critics - and its reception in the UK, which has been somewhat skewed by Monbiot's striking claims. He also nominated McCarthy as one of the 50 people who could save the planet because The Road shows that 'everything we value depends on the ecosystem.'

That is, of course, irrefutable: no food, no civilisation. But McCarthy never says what has caused the devastation, so there's no sense of cause and effect. It might even have been an asteroid. All we know is that the biosphere is dead and the survivors have been eating tinned food (at best) and each other (at worst).

A novel about climate change, one that imagines a future that's been brought about by rising levels of CO2, would still show large parts of the biosphere surviving. One ecosytem would have replaced another. As James Lovelock keeps reminding us, it's the millions and millions of humans who would have vanished.

(A summary of the seminar will appear shortly on the RSA's Arts and Ecology website.)

pic: Kodi Smit-McPhee and Viggo Mortensen in The Road (to be released October 2009) more ...

snatch and grab

Many of the roots of the environmental crisis are so embedded within our lives that they're almost invisible. It's one reason they're hard to dramatise. A key element is our attitude to time.

In J. B. Priestley's Time and the Conways, now revived at the National (and blogged yesterday), it's the shabby nondescript son, Alan, the one who quotes from William Blake's Auguries of Innocence, who also outlines a view of time that isn't merely linear.

'Now, at this moment, or any moment,' he says, 'We're only a cross-section of our real selves.'

(Priestley's Blake seems more sedate and avuncular than visionary and ecstatic, but the play's focus on time is suggestive.)

'You know,' Alan explains to Kay, his journalist sister, 'I believe half our trouble now is because we think Time's ticking our lives away. That's why we snatch and grab and hurt each other.' more ...

Wednesday 6 May 2009

the best brains

J. B. Priestley's Time and the Conways, now revived at the National Theatre, is one of Priestley's 'time plays', inspired by J. W. Dunne's An Experiment with Time.

This 1937 play is famous for its premonitions. But on the first night, certainly, it was one of the characters' predictions that drew an unexpected laugh:

'There'll be no more booms and slumps and panics and strikes and lock-outs, because the people themselves, led by the best brains in their countries, will possess both the political and economic power.' more ...

Sunday 3 May 2009

Augusto Boal (1931-2009)

Augusto Boal, Brazilian theatre director and founder of the Theatre of the Oppressed, is dead. more ...

Saturday 2 May 2009

just one word

MR McGUIRE: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
BENJAMIN: Yes, sir.
MR McGUIRE: Are you listening?
BENJAMIN: Yes, I am.
MR McGUIRE: Plastics.
(YouTube clip.)

When Mr McGuire in The Graduate said plastics had a future, he might not have fully appreciated what kind of durable future that would be.

The Times reports on the giant, spiralling plastic rubbish dump between Hawaii and Alaska. more ...

Friday 1 May 2009

pushmi-pullyu award nominee

'Get your barbie ready - we're in for a sizzler', headlines the Independent. The Met Office's chief meteorologist, Ewen McCallum, says the period from June to August is likely to see prolonged spells of hot weather. It's 'odds-on for a barbecue summer'.

50% of barbecues are fed on wood charcoal and most of that charcoal comes from the world's tropical forests. Today's Independent also devotes pages 1, 4 and 5 to saving rainforests. Headline this time: 'How Britons fuel destruction of the rainforest'.

Previous nominees for heading in two directions at the same time here and here. more ...