Guest Blog: TippingPoint On Climate Inspired Performance

TippingPoint Director Peter Gingold reflects on eleven years inspiring the performing arts sector to make new climate themed art.

A large team drawn from TippingPoint, Julie's Bicycle, Warwick Arts Centre, China Plate Theatre – and more – are preparing for the major event Doing Nothing is Not an Option (DNNO) – at Warwick Arts Centre from 17th-19th June. 

This year's Doing Nothing is Not an Option event may well turn out to be the largest ever gathering of people from the performing arts focusing on climate change.

A central aim is to create a legacy of as much new drama as possible on the subject, which we hope will be achieved both by formal commissions from the many partners who have committed funding linked to the event, but also in a less structured way, simply as a result of ideas it helps inspire.

As that gathers momentum I thought it might be of value to reflect on some of the work that TippingPoint – and many, many others – have been involved with. We have commissioned a lot of productions over the eleven years of our existence and as Director I am of course very much involved in that 

Let’s briefly pause on an interesting question: What is such work ‘for’?  Why should people spend time, money, or both, going to, or being involved in a performance that asks some questions or raises issues about climate change?

Answers to that are probably as many as the count of writers and directors involved. But as far as TippingPoint is concerned we want to see more work that makes people really think hard about the subject; for all but diehard deniers there is really only one conclusion to that process: ultimately, a widespread acceptance that we need to change the way we live. 

Those changes may well require what at first and even second sight may seem like some sort of restriction of freedom. We can discuss whether that is in fact true, but there is no denying that this is why the subject is immediately political.

Back to the work. Metis Art’s 3rd Ring Out managed very cleverly to avoid all the pitfalls of discussing climate science by inviting the audience to make decisions about resourcing the response to a local flood, in a prescient show that toured to festivals across the country. One of its lessons was that if you can really engage people then after the show is over you really need to provide a space where they can discuss all the issues it raises.

Alan Dix and Sarah Woods’ My Last Car asked the questions that a transport economist, dutifully forecasting the uptake of low carbon transport, wouldn’t: where do cars sit in our emotional landscape, how much do they matter? In passing, it is surely fascinating that the research phase discovered quite clearly that even drivers of gas-guzzlers pretty consistently expect that their era is coming to an end.

Wired Aerial Theatre’s As the World Tipped demonstrated that it is possible to create large outdoor spectacles on the subject. The show’s largest audience is thought to have been about eleven thousand, at the Sydney Festival.

Taking more of an overview, I think drama – and indeed all forms of climate-related artwork – is emerging from something of a ‘science-y’ phase.  There has been a tendency to treat climate science on one hand, and artistic treatment of it on the other, as two parts of a climate sandwich.  Books, dramas and visual works have all tended to juxtapose them in ways that for me, anyway, feels naive.

In a way this is a signpost that we are moving towards a time when public understanding of the subject matures; a time when we take the science for granted, and move on to the exciting, challenging, sometimes frightening recognition that there is a new dimension to being human, there are new connections (literally) in the air, and an astonishing amount of rethinking to do to reimagine how to live.

Back to the drama, again. For someone whose job is to facilitate the creation of new work without making judgements about its merit it is problematic to talk about a favourite.  But there is no doubt that one piece (two, actually) Steve Waters’ diptych The Contingency Plan, premiered at the Bush Theatre in 2009, occupies a place very close to my heart.

Writing of great intelligence, humour and insight demonstrated that as well as having huge personal commitment to the subject Waters is a master of his art - as he has demonstrated, inter alia, with Temple at the Donmar.  

The show garnered four and five star reviews at the tiny Bush; I can’t do better than repeat Michael Billington’s comment that ‘Waters' massive achievement .. is to have made the most important issue of our times into engrossing theatre’.

As far as I am aware no-one has yet done straight theatre on the subject better. Whether it takes place on the main stage or elsewhere, I can’t possibly overstate my passionate hope that we will see, emerging from DNNO, work of similar quality.

Image courtesy: TippingPoint

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