This weekend, USC Visions and Voices will present two related events on sustainability, “How to Create Your Own Environmental Justice Event” with Chantal Bilodeau in Lewis Hall on Nov. 8 and “Climate Change Theatre Action LA: At the Intersection” on Nov. 9 at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
Bilodeau, who will lead a workshop on Friday, is the co-founder of the biennial initiative Climate Change Theatre Action. This organization seeks to engender conversations about sustainability and global climate change. Bilodeau is also the founder of The Arctic Cycle, an arts organization that uses theater as a means to approach difficult topics such as greenhouse gas emissions.
“I think everybody can do something,” said Bilodeau. “It’s a matter of … [finding] what you feel passionate about … So I will put a lot of my energy into mobilizing other artists and making sure that the work that we do is in service of encouraging people to live a more sustainable life … No matter where you are, there’s always a leverage point. I guess it’s a matter of finding what that leverage point is.”
Bilodeau hopes it will inspire students to take conversations about climate change into their own hands.
“I want [students] to feel empowered,” Bilodeau said. “[Students should] not feel powerless or that it’s too late … Yes, there’s not that much time left to make a big difference, but we can all do something.”
Bilodeau’s work “It Starts with Me” is featured in the 2019 CCTA, which runs September through December. Fifty playwrights were commissioned to write plays and the performances of these plays overlap with the United Nations’ International Conference on Climate Change in Madrid, Spain.
Paula Cizmar, School of Dramatic Arts associate professor of theatre practice in dramatic writing and active playwright, is one of the 50 writers featured in the CCTA lineup, and she met Bilodeau at Pomona College theater event in 2017. One year later, Cizmar began planning the Visions and Voices theater event that includes both the readings and workshop on Nov 8 and the “CCTA LA: At the Intersection” event that will take place in the Natural History Museum Hall of Mammals on Nov 9.
“I’m really interested in eco-theater because I’m trying to develop plays that always have some kind of, I use the word message,” said Cizmar. “I believe plays should have meaning and not just be about romantic relationships. It can have a relationship but you know there’s something else going on. I like to laugh, but laughs can also have complexity.”
CCTA addresses problems that hit home for many Los Angelenos, including air quality, land use, clean water procurement and oil drilling in both East and Central Los Angeles. Cizmar hopes that the event will cater to an unpredictable audience of theater aficionados, USC students and Echo Park community members into the conversation about global climate change.
The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County was Cizmar’s natural choice for the theater-activism event because it houses reminders of the past and hosts an artillery of climate change divisions that spearheads data collection, California ocean sustainability, and conservation efforts focused on securing an equitable future for the City of Angels.
“What I wanted to do was to focus on environmental problems that are unique to Los Angeles,” Cizmar said. “Because we don’t have to worry about polar bears in L.A. … long distance, of course we do. We need to worry about every endangered species, but they aren’t on ice caps outside our door … We have specific environmental problems in Los Angeles that are unique to not only in urban environments, but to this urban environment in particular.”
Cizmar stresses that stewardship of Earth resources and retaliation against climate change is not the battle of the bourgeoisie, but rather a burden that everyone will have to bear. Emblematic of this need for different perspectives and diverse solutions to the climate crisis, Cizmar’s panel of playwrights and directors preparing for “CCTA LA: At the Intersection” consists of females from varied backgrounds, as well as student directors Elizabeth Schuetzle and Jessica Doherty.
“I’m very interested in finding ways besides fear as a way to engage people with climate change because I think a lot of the scare tactics are part of the reason why there are people that deny climate change,” said Doherty, a senior majoring in theatre and journalism. “I think that theater is a really effective mode for change and by using plays and written words and stories …[they are] an effective way to get the message across without terrifying people to [the point] where they don’t want to listen.”
Doherty is directing a play titled “A Dog Loves Mango,” by playwright Georgina Escobar, a tale at the intersection between environmental innovation and surveillance in airports. The short play is one of many minute snapshots covering topics from residential fires to ocean waste. “A Dog Loves Mango,” Cizmar’s work “Appealing” and Bilodeau’s piece “It Starts with Me” will draw upon the power of individuals to create change in their communities and beyond.
“Climate change news makes me feel very despondent and very powerless,” Doherty said. “So I feel like by doing things that make it feel like you can at least try to make an effort even though individual action isn’t, you know; the more individuals that act the better off we are but also it is we need to send a message to companies and the people who are doing the most damage to the environment on a large scale.”
Both events are free with reservations, and program organizers anticipate that the Nov. 9 “CCTA LA: At the Intersection” program will engender an informal atmosphere suitable for children and seasoned scientists alike.
“[The artists and scientists] start with a question and then we pursue that question until we get to either another question or some kind of answer,” Bilodeau said. “The process of discovery, I feel like when you bring both things together, [and] you can create something that’s even more powerful than by working separately.”