Short plays to tackle climate change

  • “Under the Weather,” a play about a couple fleeing their home ahead of an impending hurricane, is one of 13 short plays featured in today’s Earth Day short play event. Contributed photo

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    A still frame from the short play "Peppergrass." Contributed photo

  • A still frame from the short play “Change in Climate.” Contributed photo

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    A still frame from the short play "Risk Assessment." Contributed photo

Staff Writer
Published: 4/22/2021 8:28:14 AM

In the face of the global climate crisis, it can be difficult to comprehend just how expansive the challenges are. An online theatrical initiative by The LAVA Center in Greenfield, released digitally today, tackles the subject with broad strokes.

Featuring 40 performers and 13 short plays by playwrights from three continents, “Facing the Future: Climate Change Theater” — which is viewable on-demand anytime throughout the day via The LAVA Center’s website — travels a broad topical spectrum, from a play about the fate of insects over millennia by Michael Nix, of Greenfield, to one about an elderly couple fleeing an impending hurricane.

“Were looking at the plight of migratory birds, rivers in St. Louis … to people who are facing the impacts of catastrophic climate change,” said Jan Maher, co-founder and co-coordinator of The LAVA Center, who herself wrote a play that’s featured among the 13. “It covers a lot of ground in a lot of different points of view.”

Conceptually, Maher said the event is “an outgrowth with our affiliation with Climate Change Theater Action, which is an international organization that does a festival every other year.” In 2019, Maher said local artists did a reading of the plays featured by Climate Change Theater Action “over seven or eight weeks’ time, and we decided we would do our own festival in 2020 to 2021, awaiting the fall festival of the international organization.”

To that end, The LAVA Center hosted a course on short playwriting, then launched a juried competition. The original plays notably debuted at the Greenfield arts center last year and are being rebroadcast on the occasion of Earth Day, which annually falls on April 22. They are written by Lindsay Adams, Sara Becker, Kay Bullard, Patricia Crosby, Colette Cullen, Stephen Fruchtman, Nina Gross, Rex McGregor, Candace Perry, Vanessa Query, Karen Shapiro Miller, Nix and Maher. The plays are directed by Ezzell Floranina, Joshua Platt, Maher, Cullen, McGregor, Nix and Query.

“Greening Greenfield was instrumental with helping us to do this,” Maher said, noting the local organization funded the short play event.

Following their premiere, the 13 short plays, which are between 4 and 10 minutes in length, were edited together for an Earth Day release; each can be viewed separately throughout the day as well. According to Maher, the plays, most of which were recorded via Zoom although some of them were filmed in person, loosely fit into four themes: non-human perspectives; extreme weather (“water and wind and whatnot,” Maher said); food; and resistance. While most of the plays were written by local playwrights, some were submitted by artists farther afield including one from New Zealand and another from Ireland.

The digital format, while clunky in some ways, afforded unique theatrical opportunities such as special effects added to a science fiction play written by Miller.

Among the other plays, Maher highlighted Bullard’s “Under the Weather” as being notable because of its subject matter.

“It’s a 10-minute look at an elderly couple who are preparing to evacuate in the face of a hurricane, making some decisions that are life or death for both themselves and their neighbors, a younger family whose car won’t start,” said Maher, who directed Bullard’s play. Another, by Gross, a local artist, follows an “elderly activist mom who is part of the ‘get off the grid and plant trees movement,’” she continued. Now that science understands the problem, Gross’ play investigates “What are some of the solutions?”

Presenting the diverse short plays in a cohesive format allows the performers to broadly create a connection with the audience and elicit an emotional response about climate change. This is the power of art, Maher said.

“When you see characters who you get involved with face some of those problems it draws you in (and) makes you feel more committed to being a part of the solution,” she said. “Having a number of short plays has an additional advantage of having a multiplicity of points of view.”

Following the play readings in 2019, which always had an after-reading discussion, Maher said audience members “time and again” commented on “the difference between the feeling that something has reached your mind and something that has reached your heart,” she said. “The feeling that you need to do something is stronger, and your feeling of connectedness to the issues is stronger.”

Along with an opportunity to engage with local artists in thinking about climate change, Maher said it’s also a chance for the community to support local arts during a particularly difficult financial time. The LAVA Center opened at its Main Street location a short time before Gov. Charlie Baker issued the first of many stay-at-home orders. It’s been a challenging year of constant adjustment to the digital realm since then, according to Maher.

“We had literally only been open for five weeks when we had to close. That meant, ‘How do we create steady programming that will keep us in the public eye?’” Maher said. “It’s important for the public to know that this is a great way for the public to continue to support arts organizations and artists who have been severely limited during the pandemic.”

Admission to today’s short play festival is donation-based: $2 to $15 suggested donation. Proceeds to benefit the artists and The LAVA Center. Reservations can be made and the event can be viewed anytime today by visiting The LAVA Center’s website, localaccess.org/facing-the-future.

Andy Castillo can be reached at acastillo@recorder.com.


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