April 16, 2014

Balancing Agenda & Art

The Civilians’ artistic team has started interviewing other artists that address climate change in their work as part of an ongoing series. We are excited to feature a brief portion of the next interview in the series, a chat between the founder and “Captain” of Superhero Clubhouse, Jeremy Pickard, and The Civilians’ Literary Associate, Amina Henry. 

Superhero Clubhouse is a collective of artists and environmental advocates working at the intersection of science and theater. They make original performances via a collaborative, green and rigorous process. 

Jeremy Pickard in DON'T BE SAD, FLYING ACE! at the 14th St Y, photo by Marina McClure

I’m curious as to when you started – so you had the first seed of an idea for “Don’t Be Sad, Flying Ace!” and when did you start writing it?

So I had the seed of an idea a couple years ago but I just didn’t know much more than it had to do with a dog inspired by Snoopy, stuck on his rooftop floating in the middle of the ocean, and it was called “Don’t Be Sad, Flying Ace!” I didn’t know much more than that. But I figured it had something to do with rising oceans and maybe storms. 

I wonder if you could talk a little about the trick of talking about issues via performance but avoiding it becoming an ‘issue piece’ that is alienating or isolating.

This is the crux, like, this is it, that’s what eco-theater is striving towards, is finding the balance. And I keep trying to figure out ways to define what I’m doing and my most recent definition is that eco-theater is the craft of balancing agenda and art. And that’s really tricky. Because if I want to just write a play with no agenda then I might start writing a character and the character wants to go in this direction and we take that character in this direction. But I’ve encountered this time and time again with so many of the plays where we’ll be creating it, and we will get excited because we’ll start figuring things out about what happens with the character. And we’ll get lost in the typical way that’s really helpful for a play. But then you have to step back and go, is this actually telling the story that is rooted in this question? Is it doing that justice? Is it reflecting this question? And so, I find that actually, rather than being inhibiting, it’s really freeing, because it forces you to make a choice. It’s what Anne Bogart calls ‘the violence of decision-making in art,’ the violence of making a choice.

I was just at this conference in Toronto called “Staging Sustainability” and the speaker began the conference by saying one of her main themes was ‘living in the questions.’ And that’s my thing,  living in the questions because not even the scientists have the answers, nobody has the full-on solutions…because the real solutions are not going to happen. A real solution would be everyone in the world stops flying, stops driving cars, stops eating meat. Or the other solution is that scientists get tons of funding to start sequestering carbon, which may happen, but like none of these are easy. Building walls around Manhattan is not an easy solution, and that may not be the solution, right? I don’t know, I mean there are so many big problems that are fast approaching and so many problems that we’re already in the thick of that nobody knows the answer to. So why in the world would I make a play and tell people the answer to anything? Because to me the point of eco-theater is to engage the audience in questions so that they leave and think about it.

 

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