Climate Change Inspires Flood of Creativity from Theater Artists Around the World

By Jon Sobel on Oct 21, 2014 12:41 PM EDT

Theater artists all over the world are responding to the increasing evidence of worldwide climate change with new stage works and reimagined old ones.

La Mama, the celebrated Off-Broadway innovator, has designated its entire season "La Mama Earth," inspired in part by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg's comment to the press during Hurricane Sandy that "The tide is rising." Notable in BAM's lineup are three productions of Shakespeare's The Tempest. The first, now playing, stars veteran film and TV actor Reg E. Cathey (House of Cards, The Wire) as Prospero, with Joseph Harrington, the 14-year-old star of Billy Elliot on Broadway, as Ariel. Obie winner and Tony nominee Elizabeth Swados (Runaways) provides an original score and songs.

Later this fall, the second Tempest, from Korea's Mokwha Repertory Company, transports the story to fifth-century Korea, with inspiration from a true story from the Korean Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms. Finally in December, Nella Tempesta from Italy's Motus Theatre fuses fragments of novels by Philip K. Dick, William Gibson and Aldous Huxley with Shakespeare as it reflects "on the turmoil in our society: the impact of Hurricane Sandy, the consequences of the economic crisis and questioning of future landscapes."

From the other side of the world comes Samoan director and choreographer Lemi Ponifasio with his New Zealand-based company MAU and Birds with Skymirrors, arriving at BAM in Brooklyn for a brief run November 19-22. Ponifasio conceived this "radical composition in poetry, chant and dance" while he worked on Tarawa, a remote Micronesian island where he saw birds flying with reflective strips of videotape in their beaks.

Last fall BAM also hosted the U.S. premiere of Water from England's Filter Theatre. This "intimate yet boldly inventive theatrical exploration of climate change and the human experience" presented an environmental advisor trying to push through a political deal while a diver prepares to explore the world's deepest freshwater cave.

Currently running at Theater for the New City is playwright and director Karen Malpede's climate change "eco-drama" Extreme Whether "inspired by the real-life stories, current research and actual struggles of American climate scientists who found their research and their personal lives attacked and vilified by representatives of the fossil fuel industry."

Up in the Catskills this summer, NACL Theatre staged The Weather Project, "a community-wide theatre, art, and science project about the weather, our lives, our local history, our environment, and our current climate." It included theater, visual arts, lectures, demonstrations, and, of course, "a parade of recycled umbrellas painted by children."

And this past spring the Public Theater staged the musical The Great Immensity from Steve Cosson and theater troupe The Civilians. Charles Isherwood in the New York Times noted: "Grim dispatches about the extinction of species, the acidifying oceans and the uselessness of global climate summits have been turned into perky postmodern show tunes."

This rising tide of climate change-inspired theater is showing no sign of ebbing.

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TagsBAM, La MaMa, Off-Broadway, Shakespeare, The Tempest, MAU, Lemi Ponifasio, Filter Theatre, Public Theater, The Great Immensity, The Civilians, Elizabeth Swados, Reg E. Cathey, Korea, climate change, Samoa

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