June 11, 2014

Coming Together To Combat Climate Change

With the climate crisis worsening every day, people everywhere are stepping up to take action.

Photo taken from NASA's Twitter

Obama just announced a plan to cut carbon emissions by 30% by the year 2030. Tired of the lack of action toward the looming problem of climate change, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed new standards for what EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy calls a “clean power plant.” Mostly aimed at coal-fired power plants, the proposed regulations seek to diminish the ever-rising carbon dioxide emissions polluting our air.

Additionally, an exciting event called People’s Climate March stands to gain momentum from these new EPA proposals. This event will be taking place in New York City this fall in an effort to bring people together to face the climate change crisis. A modern call to arms, the march serves as an invitation to people everywhere to stand together and demand action from the world’s leaders when they gather for a UN summit on climate change September 20-21st.

Photo taken from People's Climate March Facebook page

Read more about the proposed EPA changes HERE.

Learn more about People’s Climate March HERE.

May 21, 2014

The Tide is Turning

Steve Cosson, Artistic Director of The Civilians, was recently featured in the New York Times’ Room for Debate. The topic focused on why Americans are less concerned about climate change than people in the rest of the developed world, and Steve was asked to weigh in. Check out what he had to say below, or view the original article HERE.

Americans care more and more about climate change as its effects become immediate to them.

While researching a play, I visited Churchill, Canada, the “Polar Bear Capital of the World,” on the edge of the Hudson Bay. Because climate change is accelerated the farther north you go, I didn’t meet a single person there who wasn’t aware of climate change as a present crisis. Many residents told me they were going stir crazy because they couldn’t spend much time outside until the Bay froze and the bears, who become town residents during the warmer weather, went away.

Climate change is real in Churchill, and it is happening now. The play that it inspired held workshop performances before Hurricane Sandy hit New York. The difference in audience reactions before and after the storm was palpable. Pre-Sandy the tone was “This is an important problem for the future, and in other parts of the world, but not one that is affecting New Yorkers.” That changed after the fall of 2012. Since then, audiences have embraced climate change as a pressing issue affecting people worldwide. Now more people stay during question and answer sessions after the show to discuss the situation and ask what they can do.

Many Americans are overwhelmed by the sheer scale and complexity of the problem. And the way many of us deal with this is by shutting down, becoming numb. This is why it’s important for us to discuss the issue publicly, whether through theater or forms or by joining activist groups. At a recent post-show question and answer session, Elke Weber, a conservation psychologist, advised people that the two most important things they could do were to stop eating meat and to vote. She also used a great metaphor: “There is no single silver bullet; the solutions are more like silver buckshot.” The actions we can take as individuals matter. The action we can take collectively matters even more.


April 30, 2014

The Spark Project

Frank Kuzler is the Executive Director and a Producer at DecadesOut, an organization dedicated to producing and supporting art that is inspired by science and sharing in the growing dialogue between the arts and sciences.

Our mission at DecadesOut is to foster the communication between the arts and science. We started programming a variety of things in 2009 including documentary work, a theatre development series, and a film festival, but found that although it’s great to have a variety of programs, it would go a long way toward achieving our mission if we focus our programs on one particular issue confronting society today.

So in 2013, we decided to create a festival of events spanning two years that would allow us to bring together a group of artists and scientists who wanted to collaborate and explore different perspectives on an issue.  Of course, we are all in tune and have a healthy concern about climate change and the future, so we decided that that was the most important issue to focus on. It didn’t take long for people to start coming forward when we announced that the theme for our 2014/2015 Systems Festival would be climate change, and the way it related to the systems of humanity.

It’s been an extremely busy year already, but in reality we’ve just started the programming. We’re excited to continue the momentum in order to bring some of the core programs to life including one of the things I’m most excited about: the SPARK Project.

This idea is simple, but it’s also one of the most fundamental for our mission. Basically, what we’re doing is building a multi-phased communication platform between artists and scientists working in the same discipline. The project is going to move in several steps from an online initiative to a live performance or exhibition.

The project will start simply with an introduction of the artist and scientist through a profile of their work and inspirations. The profile will have not only background information but also links to research, artwork, as well as any media provided by the participants. The second phase will be a direct dialogue curated by DecadesOut, including questions for each of the participants formed by us as well as each other. The third phase will be the collaborative inspirations phase, which will hopefully result in the creation of new work for public exhibition. In our ideal vision, this would be a performance piece surrounded by visual art along with a digital presence – a full contemporary media exhibition.

What makes this amazing for us working at DecadesOut is that we get to support artists and scientists that are exploring this topic in some very interesting ways. We really get to see the levels of expression coming forward from both sides and we get to share the results. It’s this idea that goes to the core of our mission. What is also important is that we get to meet people who are similarly dedicated to their own missions of knowledge seeking, creation and social activism. We’ve already had the good fortune of meeting so many fantastic organizations on the science side such as the NY Hall of Science/Climate and Urban Systems Project (CUSP), Columbia’s Earth Institute and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, and on the arts side, there’s of course The Civilians, NACL Theatre, and many visual artists.

I think one important aspect of what we’re doing, particularly when it comes to issues like climate change, is adding to the volume of expression in a substantive way. The communication and the dialogue that is being opened – whether collaborative or confrontational – adds value to an intelligent discourse, and this inevitably leads to solutions. There’s so much out there, but I think/hope what makes us unique is that this is our focus. This is this is all we do — Art & Science & Art. We are dedicated to seeing collaborations through and exploring the ideas they generate in the most in-depth way we can.

If you want to know more about DecadesOut and the SPARK Project, please visit our website.

–contributed by Frank Kuzler, DecadesOut

April 21, 2014

The Arctic Cycle

We’ve got a special “guest blogger” on The Great Immensity today, playwright Chantal  Bilodeau. Read about her epic and fascinating project The Arctic Cycle!

A few years ago, as I became acutely aware of the challenges posed by climate change, I asked myself “What can a playwright do to address this issue?” The most obvious answer was “write a play about it.” But somehow, that answer lacked in scope. How could a single play capture the complexity of this global problem? How could one story illustrate the interconnectedness of all involved? A search for a less obvious, more multifaceted answer eventually yielded “write eight plays about the impact of climate change on the eight countries of the Arctic: U.S., Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia.” And so The Arctic Cycle was born.

I started research for SILA, the first play of the Cycle, in 2009 with a commission from Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company. Set on Baffin Island in the territory of Nunavut, SILA looks at the web of interests bearing down on the Canadian Arctic and local Inuit population. Equal parts Inuit mythology and contemporary Arctic policy, the play uses puppetry, spoken word poetry and three different languages (English, French and Inuktitut). SILA will receive its world premiere at Underground Railway Theatre in Cambridge MA April 24-May 25, 2014.

FORWARD, the second play of the Cycle, was inspired by a 10-day sailing expedition with the Arctic Circle program in 2011. Set in Norway, FORWARD presents a poetic history of climate change and examines how a spirit of innovation propelled Norwegians through three major events of the 20th century: the conquest of the North, the discovery of oil and adaptation to climate change. FORWARD is being developed in collaboration with Hålogaland Teater in Tromsø , Norway.

The remaining six plays will be written over the next decade and chronicle our evolving relationship with climate change. In addition, operating on the principle that complex problems must be addressed through collaborative efforts, each play will engage artists across disciplines as well as geographic and cultural borders; solicit input from earth and social scientists; and actively seek community and educational partners to foster public conversations and provide strategies for action.

– Chantal Bilodeau

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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    "The Next Forever" is a song from The Great Immensity. The footage was taken on Barro Colorado Island in the Panama Canal by videographer David Ford. Music and lyrics by Michael Friedman.
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