LIFT: Theatre and Climate Change
The London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT) 2012 has just finished with its spectacular finale STREB, an incredible series of happenings at major London landmarks. Throughout the 4-week programme, LIFT presented stories from across the world from Elevator Repair Service’s GATZ, a 8 hour durational performance where the entirety of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is read aloud, to Hamid Pourazari’s Unfinished Dream, which explored the lives of refugees and local residents in a Croydon car park. The programme celebrated the extraordinary mix of perspective and creativity that comes from collaboration and exploration of different cultures and peoples.
Like many other organisations, at the heart of LIFT is a commitment to create a festival that promotes sustainability and minimises its environmental impact. LIFT is part of Imagine 2020, a network of European arts organisations who support artistic work that explores the causes and effects of climate change, with an aim of provoking change in the cultural sector and beyond.
Julie’s Bicycle attended a half-day event, curated by LIFT, that brought together artists and producers from across Europe together to consider recent theatre and artistic projects that have been developed and produced with a focus on climate change.
Judith Knight of Artsadmin chaired a discussion which showcased a few projects that have engaged directly with the themes around climate change. Patricia Portela joined the panel at the ICA via Skype, demonstrating a green alternative to flying someone around Europe to share their ideas.
Lucy Neal, one of the co-founders of LIFT, is the co-chair of Transition Town Tooting. In May 2012, they opened a shop in the heart of Tooting during the Wandsworth Arts Festival, where nothing was “for sale but lots on offer”. The shop was a place for the local community to gather and re-imagine the world around them, promoting change. There were dozens of opportunities for interacting and sharing thoughts, concerns and ideas for the future, and engage individuals at a grassroots level.
Anna Mendelssohn tells us that she stumbled across the news stories of melting glaciers, while exploring personal narratives for a performance, and began creating Cry Me A River, a one-woman climate summit. The performance is a solo piece about inner and outer climate catastrophes, exploring the complexity of communication and rhetoric of climate change in everyday life, the media and government.
Patricia Portela and Christopher De Boeck have developed Hortus, an installation that attempts to redress the balance between human and nature, rewriting and re-understanding the relationship in a garden. The visitor is invited to explore sounds, messages and micro-stories that travel through the garden, creating an artificial ecology. A sensor network measures the dynamics of wind and light harvested by the plants during their photosynthetic process, and translates it into bird sounds. When there is human movement in the garden a financial algorithm (much like those used in economic predictions) interprets the variation of the received data and remaps the natural garden soundscape to which plants seem most profitable in that split second.
Ben Todd, Executive Director of the Arcola Theatre, offers their Climate Week Play in a Day challenge, as a example of creating a safe space for writers, directors, actors and theatre-makers to explore and have fun with creating work with climate change. He expresses concern, as do the rest of the panel, with attempts to preach at people - it should be first and foremost an enjoyable experience for the audience. The Arcola Theatre is working towards being the first carbon neutral theatre, but they do not exclusively or specifically programme work around the theme of climate change. It appears that this is the general consensus in the room that theatre and performance can create a welcoming space for work about climate change, but cannot force the product from artists and producers.
The discussion echoes many other conferences and gatherings with its concerns over generating art about climate change, asking artists what they can do and how they might respond. Andy Field in the Arts and Our Future Environment segment at SOTA12 draws a succinct conclusion to some of these concerns: “Art is not a place where we go to deal with climate change, it is a place where we can go to imagine a new life and the first place where we can imagine going to live it.”