The theme of this year’s PQ – “Shared Space – Music Weather Politics” – gave me hope that there might be a really strong engagement with climate change and sustainability among the theater artists presenting their work. I know there’s a difference between the weather and climate, I guess I’d just hoped that the thematic focus would pull exhibitors toward a consideration of how theater can take on the bigger question of the human relationship to the nonhuman, which is both an ecological question and a political one.
I was, I’m sorry to report, largely disappointed in that hope. There were only a handful of exhibits that used scenography to grapple with ecological issues – Poland’s “Post-Apocalypsis” was one; as was Ireland’s “Activating Affective Atmospheres,” which used “a range of technologies to synthesize sensory experiences of weather … co-created by participatory audiences… to probe the inter relationships of weather, technology, atmosphere and people.” The Philippine exhibit powerfully drew attention to the local effects of global climate change: their sculptural representation of a small boat made of bamboo highlighted the nation’s resilience in the response to recent ecological catastrophes.
In addition, many of the designs projected in the UK Exhibit “Make/Believe” seem to have been for productions that were eco-centric (for example, Tanja Beer’s concept and set design for “The Living Stage,” and Myriddin Wannell’s production design for “The Passion”).
But for the most part, I looked in vain for a good deal of evidence that the world’s theater designers and scenographers were making any kind of collective commitment to more sustainable production practices – if they are, they were not advertising it very loudly in these exhibitions.
A welcome exception was an outdoor exhibit that it would have been easy to miss. In a courtyard near the Naprstek Museum was a sort of gazebo made from repurposed wooden theater seats that showcased theaters from around the world that are “recycling” space & materials and aiming for a greater sustainability in their practice:
I am, frankly, baffled not only by the otherwise seeming lack of a real engagement on the part of the world’s scenographers with the need to find more sustainable and eco-friendly ways to make theater, but also by the near-absence at PQ15 of theatrical stories that grapple with climate change, ecological sustainability, and the socio-political effects that ecological catastrophes have had and will continue to have on human communities. I’m gonna get on my soapbox here: It’s 2015. When are the world’s theater artists going to wake up to their responsibility to be part of the solution?
Do you want to know more about how to make sustainable theater, or more about ecodrama, ecodramaturgy, and performance and ecology? Here is a very short list of good places to start (and I apologize for the brazen self-promotion in one of the links below):
Readings in Performance and Ecology. (Ed. Wendy Arons & Theresa J. May)
Greening Up Our Houses: a Guide to More Ecologically Sound Theater. (Larry Fried & Theresa J. May)
Research Theatre, Climate Change, and the Ecocide Project: The Ecocide Theatre Casebook (Una Chaudhuri & Shonni Enelow)