In his recent State of the Union, President Obama stated that climate change is a fact and that it is upon us. It is not a fabricated, hypothetical scary story of the future. The future of climate disasters is now and we must bring attention to it in order to incite change. Of course it is second-natured (boom) for artists to respond to our surroundings. But how do we find a way to put climate disaster in a theater? How do we an entire iceberg on a proscenium stage? Science can seem distant and the locations of climate change disasters can seem foreign. How do we find the connections between the worlds?
A HowlRound article recently introduced me to Climate Art. The science behind climate change has given humans a bleak look into the future. Since the move towards an industrial planet, Earth has gone through damaging, catastrophic changes brought upon by humans. The natural balance has been irreparably altered, and the one place we as a population have come to call home is sick. Science aside, that is plain scary, and scarier still that it is brought upon by the rapid expansion of human innovation. Science can explain the ecological wound, but art can help spread awareness and healing. It takes this problem, numbers and dates on a piece of paper, and turns it into a deep spiritual, emotional experience.
Theater has been, for centuries, a way of relating to others. A common ground–universality through specificity. The American theater has brought things to the stage that were (and are) controversial and divisive, but opened up a commonly shared vocabulary and experience (ex. AIDS in Angels in America, or sexual harassment in Oleanna). The article mentioned before compares the future of climate art to Greek Theater. The urgency and stakes are palpable and relevant to audiences on the entire planet, of any race, of any gender, creed, religion, you name it. No one lives on Mars (yet) so the truth is real, present and pretty freakin’ scary. From what I know of this current generation of artists, we are progressive and aware. What is more relevant than the planet that we live on? In order to create the reality of climate change in a theater, artists have to be willing to go there- to make the problem as big as life, as big as earth. Greek theater dealt with massive ideas and theater is the perfect outlet to use in order to grapple with the fast-approaching tragedy of our planet.
We have to make this issue personal and relatable. As Karen Malpede astutely states in the article, “We are the natural world, we are not separate from it”. A recent argument I heard from scientist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson (you can watch it here, it is inspiring and fascinating. Thank you to my classmate, Shelby Hightower, for introducing it to me) is that if you look at the four most abundant elements in the universe, they coincide with the four most abundant elements in the human body. We don’t just live in this universe, we don’t just use this planet. We are the very things this universe is composed of. We are the Earth, and we must care for it.