CMU School of Drama

Friday, September 23, 2016

Theatre in the Age of Climate Change: An Educator’s View

HowlRound: A group of students is folding recycled paper aeroplanes. When ready, they hoist their planes high, a cloud of bright wings and tail fins. I ask them to make eye contact with another student, launch their plane, and make a swap. Hilarity erupts as some planes go off course in crazy circuits, but everyone participates and every pair completes the task.

Now a different instruction: “Throw your plane as high in the air as you can.” When the planes are aloft, I add: “Collect as many planes as you can! The person with most planes wins!” There is a moment’s hesitation, then the grabbing begins.

7 comments:

Ruth Pace said...

When I tell members of the theater community that my backup major was sustainable agriculture, I receive a plethora of responses, ranging from laughter to utter disbelief. While theater is an amazingly effective way to reach audiences with messages of environmental responsibility, those that work closely with the art form know how hypocritical such messages can be. While the take-away of an audience to one of these eco-spectacles may be one of stewardship and environmental stewardship, the actual environmental cost of a theatrical production is wasteful to the extreme. From the tons of plywood (thrown away after maybe a month of use) and the huge amounts of electricity that most lighting rigs use, in addition to the plethora of chemicals present in in paints and other scenic treatments, theater is a perfect example of an industry in dire need of an eco-makeover. This isn't to say that no progress has been or is being made, but the current rate of progress is far too slow. This article makes very commendable points about the importance of youth involvement in this climate revolution, it is the responsibility of all of us as theater artists and producers to take part in this shift towards sustainability.

Angel Zhou said...

This article really speaks to the way I have been living my life. Setting aside the profound airplane experiment for a moment, I want to talk about what the article said about students pursuing careers for safety over interest. It is touching that the brainstorming students felt as though they could not pursue creativity, because I am also one of those students. I have grown up in a family that has always promoted job and financial stability over genuine passion - that is why I am currently at CMU for CS. Though CS has begun to grow on me to the point where I can truthfully call it a passion, it was not originally that way. I had a very tough freshman year, to the point where my father was worried I would drop out.

I always wanted to be an actress. I wanted to do drama and live my life through characters seen on camera. Every time I presented a soliloquy or monologue in an English class in high school, my teacher would tell me to go pursue acting. I even got a recommendation letter from a teacher who claimed my version of Lady Macbeth's "Out, Damned Spot!" scene was the best she has ever seen. But, I never used her recommendation due to how little time I had outside of my academics. I have always scheduled my life around what is most profitable, not what is the best for my interests, because our current society has a hard time financially supporting those who pursue creativity - lesser known artists would end phase 2 with just a ripped-off wing of an airplane, if anything. This is a problem. Not all people get lucky the way I did and end up liking the profession he or she is forced to enter.

I hope that CMU's Playground this year will imitate the Waves submission for CCTA program; with an event as significant as Playground, CMU is poised to bring attention to many societal issues through the collaboration and time of many talented students.

Mary Frances Candies said...

I connect to this article on multiple levels. I connect particularly strongly to two elements of this article, however; the issue of our environment and the issue of arts in educational settings. I went to a creative arts school for high school, New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. In the afternoons we were split up into our different conservatories, but in the morning we had our academic classes. To be more specific, we had the same two academic classes every day - Integrated Humanities and Integrated Sciences. Yes, we only had these two classes all four years of high school. In these classes we hit every curriculum requirement the state mandated, but we learned everything through an artistically critical lens. This article talks about how near impossible it is to include arts in education. And I agree, at more traditional STEM based schools it is more challenging because the system is set up for the arts to fail. It is time to rewrite the system of our education so that new perspectives can be gained by those being educated. Hopefully through changing the system of education we, as a society, could change the way we look at our environmental demise and finally make some changes.

zak biggins said...

I think this article has presented some very interesting information regarding hot topic issues in our society right now. I look forward to being work on my minor (political science ) and hope my knowledge from that will shape and contribute to my work. I find it really interesting that multiple theaters are deviating from their norms and are educating audience members about environmental sustainability. Much like Mary Frances, i went to creative arts high school and have been amazed by the precision of the craft here. I really enjoy how people utilize their respective art forms to collaborate and tell the same story here.

Scott MacDonald said...

As Ruth points out in her comment, theatrical production is not a particularly eco-friendly venture. I also considered a more “green” college major (Civ/Env Engineering) but went towards the arts instead. Theatre as a communication tool for sustainability is something that I think continues to remain somewhat untapped. I think the fear of falling into cliché or a how-to-be-green lecture without a good story has contributed to this, as well as the hypocritical nature of such ventures. I think that this article’s direction towards educators of young students is a smart one – theatre and performance as tools for teaching about sustainability may have more immediate success than commercial ventures. Instilling the importance of our environment in today’s youth is essential, and if theatre proves to be a good method for doing so, I’m all for it. I also hope to see more efforts put into sustainability from commercial theatres.

Sasha Schwartz said...

So many articles about theater in relation to climate change this week! I suppose that the longer that time passes without action, the more relevant of an issue climate change becomes to us. I think it can sometimes be difficult to integrate the arts with environmental friendliness, since art, especially theater can sometimes feel inherently wasteful in terms of physical resources used. Because of the huge footprint theaters leave, I think it’s a great idea to use some of that footprint to create pieces which invite performers and audience members alike to think critically about the way we are treating our planet. I think the airplane metaphor is incredibly powerful in its simplicity and conciseness; I could see kids of many ages understanding this comparison. It’s so beautiful that these events were able to make kids feel a little less powerless and a little less alone. Yes, it is easy to feel helpless against the tirade of terrible things happening in the world. But events like this show that bit by bit, everyone is able to have a small hand in reaching for something better.

Ali Whyte said...

I am all for using art as a means of pursuing change. I think that the arts world has a remarkable ability to shed light on and bring attention to many of the overarching issues in our society today. Many people go through their everyday lives ignoring the problems around them, but if suddenly on your daily commute there now stands a giant mural depicting the impacts of climate change on the globe, you can't really help but notice, and once you notice there is usually some level of thinking about it that follows. I particularly like the idea of using theatre to promote climate change awareness in an educational setting; I could easily see the exercise used at the beginning of the article in a high school chemistry or biology class at the beginning of a climate change unit. I think using theatre provides another way for people to see and understand what is happening in the world, and when it comes to something as important as climate change, I think the more ways we can show other people the significance, the faster actual change will come.

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