ART, AUDIENCE AND CLIMATE CHANGE

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By Caitlin McArthur

 

The Melbourne Playback Theatre Company (MPTC) took over Northcote Town Hall this week for a performance that aimed to both challenge and inform perspectives on climate change.

 

A difficult issue at the best of times, climate change can often feel too large to tackle at the local level. Q&A panelist and CEO of Beyond Zero Emissions Dr Stephen Bygrave and Creative Director Danny Diesendorf said this was an important issue that the event aimed to address.

 

Dr Bygrave said he hoped the audience left the event feeling empowered and with a drive to make combating climate change more central to their lives. A lot of people, he said, want to take action but don’t know where to start. However, difficult or not, it is clear we need to start.

 

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is some ten thousand scientists around the world, have said for many years that climate change is happening,” Dr Bygrave said.

 

“This year we’ve again seen records break on hottest days in winter…every year for the last ten years has been the hottest on record.”

 

Creating a Climate for Change is the fourth in a series of Q&A events presented by the Melbourne Playback Theatre Company this year. The last three focused respectively on the issues brought to light by International Women’s Day, National Reconciliation Week and Refugee Week.

 

Playback theatre – a form of improvisational theatre, where audience members tell stories from their lives and watch then re-enacted by the actors – is a specialty of the company, which has operated in North Melbourne for 30 years.

 

Danny Diesendorf, MPTC’s creative director, said playback has the opportunity to connect with an audience in a way that normal theatre doesn’t.

 

“The power of that [format] is that people, in a way, become a little community for a short time.”

 

Creating a Climate for Change, he said, endeavored not only to have a discussion about climate change, but to have one that deeply involved the audience.

 

“What I love about playback is the kind of deeper discussion and the fun of it go together really well, because once people really start to loosen up and laugh at themselves, they become much more open to listening to and seeing each other’s ideas.”

 

Mr Diesendorf said the purpose of the event is to first share some ideas about the possible solutions to climate change, and also to examine the obstacles that hinder them.

 

“At the moment we live in such a polluting society and, many of the panelists will say, an unnecessarily polluting one. We can live fantastic and comfortable lives without this level of pollution and destruction being dealt out as it is.”

 

Both Dr Bygrave and Mr Diesendorf pinpointed society’s current lifestyle as one of the biggest challenges preventing a solution to climate change.

 

“I think that climate change is not just a scientific discussion now, because the science is so clear, but as a culture we’re just having a really big problem doing anything about it,” Mr Diesendorf said. Yet, Mr Diesendorf said that is where theatre comes into play.

 

“Having a really great discussion through theatre is a fun way to shake us all up and to look at things a little differently.”

 

An added benefit of the audience interaction was the ability for people to challenge the panelist’s ideas. The combination of a Q&A and interactive play has the ability to enhance the conversation and address some of the more difficult questions.

 

“I think you need to have those conversations,” he said. “Listening to people just gets them to a more honest place. For people to see their story in playback, reflected by the actors, is very, very revealing.”

 

Mr Diesendorf said many people find themselves in a place of self-deception when it comes to climate change, denying an inconvenient truth for peace of mind. A run-in with a man in such a state of mind ended with a simple statement: “I don’t believe in climate change, but I probably will in 10 or 20 years.”

 

“It was in voicing that statement that he seemed to realise the contradiction of it,” said Mr Diesendorf.

 

“I think that really woke him up to the fact that he had decided that he didn’t want to believe in it. That was where he was coming from and I think it left him questioning whether it was such a great place to be in.” This, he said, is the power of playback.

 

“If people are in that state of self-deception, if they want to get involved in the conversation, they are usually interested in questioning their perspective.”

 

Playback, Mr Diesendorf said, is a form of theatre that’s fun and very funny, but at the end of it all it still has a little something else to offer.

 

 

Caitlin studied journalism at La Trobe University. She enjoys covering community and political issues. You can follow her on Twitter at @CaitlinMcArthu1.

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