We may be fucked as a species.
I think I’ve had this feeling since I was 10, when I first became aware of myself as living in a larger world. It was 1978 in the United States. Times were not great. Vietnam aftermath. Ted Bundy, Hillside Strangler, Love Canal… energy crisis. There was a terrible winter storm that killed 100 people in my region. Cold War. Nuclear shelter drills in school. My parents had divorced a year before. Shit was fucked up.
But I had a way out. In 1980 I was cast as Master Bates (thanks C. Dickens) in the high school’s “Oliver!”. I was in 7th grade. I grabbed onto those high school actors and that chosen world under hot lights and pancake makeup. I could run away and join the circus and still live with Mom. And then… during a senior year internship at the local Equity theatre (stage carp., worst ever, built a sawhorse) I gave one of the actors a ride to his rented room. Something about that actor, the loneliness he carried like the cold smoke clinging to his coat. I wasn’t sure anymore. I had done a little canvassing for the nuclear freeze. I saw the news. Dropped acid. Maybe my work in the world wasn’t about being a traveling actor in rented rooms.
So. A long and twisty road through college back towards acting and restaurant work and San Francisco and nonprofit development assistant work (processing donations mostly) and dance-theatre and Viewpoints and Traveling Jewish Theatre to Kendra Fanconi and Vancouver and The Only Animal. Making site-specific plays, sometimes called immersive. Big, visual, lyrical stuff. Always engaged with place.
As a site-specific theatre company, we’ve made shows in a lot of different places. We often work with elemental stuff: trees, sand, ice and snow, lots of water interactions here on the west coast of British Columbia. Here is where we started a family. We moved to a small town, we planted a garden. And then the rain stopped, for months. Our community water ran low. The fires sent ash over our town and Vancouver too. This climate shit suddenly got real. Close to home. That’s embarrassing to admit, so late to the party. So, ‘climate’ is our tag for all of that.
So the perennial question: what is my work in the world now? I’m a father of two boys. I have to think of the future, their future. What could be and what might not be at all. Fish. Big trees. Fresh water…you know, everything that makes life possible. It’s almost unthinkable, incomprehensible. I have to do something, and theatre is my way of doing.
This puts me in the awkward position of placing a goal on my artistic practice beyond ‘make good art.’ Awkward because art itself is not advocacy. To me, it becomes some other thing when the message is overt, the intention to persuade. Good art doesn’t tell people how to think or feel. It can invite us to think and feel for ourselves, into the darker corners, and past what we believe is possible. Like death, climate change is one of those big subjects that art can help us make emotional sense of, linking it to our own lives in a meaningful way.
It seems we can play a role as artists. What’s that role? That’s what I am asking myself these days, and our participants in Generation Hot. This partnership with Vancouver Fringe invites 10 artists ages 17-24 to respond creatively to the climate moment by building a short performance. With my fellow mentors mia susan amir and Chris Ross, we’ll all be finding our own way in this new territory, a varied bunch of fellow travelers. There’s comfort just in that.
We are working with Generation Hot because they will live their entire adult lives dealing with the impacts of climate change. We hope that we can create a better map of this shifting world through this process. Wading through the research. Sensing the tug of the personal, the strange. Asking questions like:
What stories are necessary now?
What experiences do we need to share?
What visions might frack the impossible and release hope?
We may be fucked. That’s the dangerous thought. It can lead to bad places. But thoughts are not facts. They do shape our world, so we must watch them carefully and encourage what serves us to flourish. We can choose to grapple with the new reality with curiosity, courage, compassion, and imagination. On our better days. There’s nothing like an existential threat to really pull things into focus, eh? Climate change may be our opportunity to re-enchant the world. Come together. Listen to indigenous voices. Question everything. Find beautiful solutions. Here’s one place to start looking for inspiration: