Hero Background
Header Image

This article is the latest in our series #Art4Climate, a joint initiative by the UNFCCC secretariat and Julie’s Bicycle on the work of artists who make the issue of climate change more accessible and understandable by featuring it in their work. It was inspired by a session at the Salzburg Global Seminar in early 2017.

Ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP 23 in Bonn (6-17 November), art enthusiasts around the world can join in reading and theatre performances in support of climate action, including in many developing countries.

The initiative “Climate Change Theatre Action” (CCTA) is calling on interested citizens and theatre groups to perform these plays within their own communities. The initiative is a collaboration between the Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts, NoPassport Theatre Alliance, The Arctic Cycle, Theatre Without Borders, and York University.

The group has commissioned 50 international writers to write short plays about climate change that anyone can perform. The playwrights come from every continent on the globe, and from countries as diverse as Ethiopia, Pakistan, Kenya and the United States – in total representing over 25 cultures.

So far, 110 theatre groups have signed up to perform the plays in 29 countries around the world, which will take place from 1 October to 18 November (the last day of COP23 in Bonn). Many of these events will be broadcast live on the web.

Chantal Bilodeau, one of the four founders of CCTA, already organized a theatre project for COP21 in Paris in 2015, at which the historic Paris Climate Change Agreement was clinched.

“The Paris Conference galvanized the global community. But in itself, it was not enough to solve the climate crisis. If we want our world leaders to deliver on their promises, we have to keep them accountable. We have to remind them that we are still paying attention. We have to build on the momentum created two years ago and continue to demand rapid and significant change,” she says.

With the help of the internet, audiences will be able to hear about a diversity of perspectives and problems, such as increasing pollution in Ethiopia, hunters facing unfamiliar weather conditions in the Canadian North, possible futuristic worlds, and worldwide species extinction

“Through storytelling, poetry and visual imagery, theatre has the capacity to transcend scientific fact and appeal to our emotions. It can help people imagine different ways of being and relating, and make the otherwise difficult-to-grasp climate change crisis visible, audible and felt. This in turn, has the potential to affect culture – a powerful, yet underestimated, force for change that can spur action,” Chantal Bilodeau says.

Audience members gaze at people’s hopes for COP21 written in the tree at Tricklock Company in Albuquerque, N.M., as part of Climate Change Theatre Action. Photo by Juli Hendren.

The initiative Climate Change Theatre Action aims to engage as many people as possible, including those who would otherwise not pay much attention to the outcome of the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn, to participate in the climate conversation.

The 50 authors involved in the project have widely different backgrounds, but they share the common goal of wanting to help tackle and deal with inevitable impacts of climate change.

"I am motivated to write this play because I see the frustration of my people in the villages because they do not understand the change in the weather patterns and it is affecting them directly in more ways than one," said Ugandan playwright Patricia Olwoch.

Another playwright, Reneltta Arluk, a Cree and Inuvialuit from the Northwest Territories, Canada said:

"It's vital we share perspectives of how the changing climate affects our life. It shows us what we value. In my case it's the autonomy of living our culture and our relationship with the land."

“How do we get people to be consistently activated and involved in trying to stop climate change? How do we overcome the sense of helplessness surrounding this issue? I think the answer is to make people feel something about it, and what better way to do that than through theatre, which has the ability to connect and activate hearts and souls,” said Lynn Rosen, another of the 50 CCTA playwrights.

Gust (The Hurricane Song) composed by Greencard Wedding, performed by participants in the CCTA 2015 event organized by Matthew Sekellick in Buffalo, New York, USA.

More Details on the Project and How to Participate

Climate Change Theatre Action encourages event organizers to incorporate an education, social, political or civic climate action into their event, in addition to the performance itself. Some examples include:

  • Providing a list of resources (for example, reliable sources for scientific news, local environmental justice organizations, etc.) and inviting people to get involved;
  • Creating a group that meets on an ongoing basis to share ideas about taking action on climate change;
  • Creating a buddy system to hold friends accountable for regularly taking action on climate change.

Still from a film adaption of the CCTA 2015 play “Starving to Death in Midtown” by Mindi Dickstein, directed by Evan DeLorenzo and produced by Pomona College, California, USA.

In addition to addressing climate change on stage, CCTA is incorporating backstage sustainability thinking into the project. Ten professional designers from around the world will be commissioned to provide sustainable design ideas for a play of their choice.

These ideas will take the form of sketches or models that can be displayed during the presentations. Producing collaborators will also be encouraged to partner with local designers to come up with ideas of their own.

At the end of the project, CCTA will collect all of the design ideas and publish them in a special report from the Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts, which will be available for the public in print and electronic formats.

To host a Climate Change Theatre Action event in your community, contact CCTA at ClimateChangeTheatreAction@gmail.com.

When technically possible, CCTA events will be livestreamed on the online platform HowlRound TV.

Learn more about the upcoming plays and the playwrights on the CCTA Facebook page.

#Art4Climate is a joint initiative by the UNFCCC and Julie’s Bicycle to spot and propose super recent and new works in this broad field, but we also want to hear from you! Please send any proposals for showcasing to newsroom@unfccc.int or Chiara@juliesbicycle.com.
Please amplify our web posts with Twitter hashtag #Art4Climate and #COP23!

Subscribe to our newsletter