Visionary project leverages theatre to raise climate change awareness

Climate change takes centre stage at York University. Professor Ian Garrett of the School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design has created a thoroughly original way to approach the subject and raise awareness: Climate Change Theatre Action (CCTA), funded by Canada 150, the Arctic Cycle and the Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts.

Luciole International Theatre Company performing climate change play, part of CCTA 2017

Luciole International Theatre Company performing climate change play, part of CCTA 2017

CCTA is an ambitious, multi-year project. In 2016-17, it commissioned 50 playwrights to produce short pieces about climate change. This resulted in a series of worldwide readings and performances that ran from Oct. 1 to Nov. 17, 2017, to support the 23rd Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP23).

CCTA has not lost momentum since then. In May, it produced an anthology of the 50 plays: Where Is The Hope: An Anthology of Short Climate Change Plays. This fall, the group is commissioning the next set of plays for 2019.

Ian Garrett

Ian Garrett

“Climate change is an important issue right now because it is perhaps the greatest existential crisis that we face as a civilization, as a species. There is no person who is not touched by climate change,” said Garrett.

Designer, producer, educator and researcher, Garrett is one of North America’s most esteemed experts on sustainability in the performing arts. He is the co-founder and director of the Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts. He has spoken on arts and the environment at conferences hosted by Brown University, Dance/USA, the Association of Performing Arts Presenters and Americans for the Arts.

Garrett has been active with the UN conference for quite some time: In 2009 and 2010, he travelled to COP15 in Copenhagen, Denmark and COP16 in Cancun, Mexico to document artistic responses to global climate talks.

Cast of one CCTA climate change play at Brandeis University (Massachusetts), 2017

Cast of one CCTA climate change play that was staged in 2017 at Brandeis University in Massachusetts

Last year’s CCTA contribution to the UN conference was a major endeavour. “In 2017, for COP23, we organized over 200 events. Seven out of 10 provinces in Canada, all 50 American states in the U.S. and many other countries had events hosted through theatre groups, through universities presenting readings to stimulate conversation through theatre,” said Garrett.

Knowledge translation and engagement at heart of effort

CCTA is built around one central question: “How can we inspire people and turn the challenges of climate change into opportunities?” It is all about knowledge translation, ensuring that the messages about climate change are accessible to the public.

“While many people might know something about climate change, often times looking at climate models or the data that’s associated with it may not always be the clearest thing, unless you’re a climate scientist,” Garrett said. “Theatre becomes a much more accessible place to have these conversations. It makes it human; it makes it something that’s relatable.”

Danielle Baudrand, environmental artist in CCTA, ensures that the messages about climate change are accessible to the public

Danielle Baudrand, environmental artist in CCTA, ensures that the messages about climate change are accessible to the public

York University has key role to play

This project engages both York alumni as well as current students. For example, at the launch event held at York in the fall of 2017, most of the people who were reading were current students, while the playwrights were recent alumni.

As the CCTA project continues to unfold, York will continue to serve as a hub for events, performances and symposia, as well as a forum to develop the educational and research foundation for CCTA.

In this way, Garrett’s international work will further enrich York’s theatre program and ensure that this university is leading the charge on climate change. “York is unique in that its theatre program is perhaps the only one in the world that has a sustainable focus and has wrapped it around its entire theatre training curriculum,” Garrett explained.

Project is part of Canada 150 @ York

CCTA was one of 40 projects that won funding from the Office of the President and the Office of the Vice-President Academic and Provost in 2016 to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary. The call for applications invited faculty, staff and students to submit proposals for innovative projects that would explore Canada’s past and look to its future, while highlighting York and Canada 150 themes relating to the environment, diversity and inclusivity, Indigenous people and youth. A total of $400,000 was awarded to 40 projects.

For more on CCTA 2017, visit the website. Where Is The Hope: An Anthology of Short Climate Change Plays, edited by Bilodeau Chantal, is available at the York University Bookstore. To learn more about Garrett, visit his faculty profile page. To read more about Canada 150 @ York, see the related article.

To learn more about Research and Innovation at York, follow us at @YUResearch, watch the York Research Impact Story and see the snapshot infographic.

By Megan Mueller, manager, research communications, Office of the Vice-President Research and Innovation, York University, muellerm@yorku.ca

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