At its best our species does courage, creativity and trust. At its worst it excels at greed,stupidity and violence. Last night Melbourne Playback Theatre Company (MPTC) displayed enormous quantities of the former to illuminate one symptom of the latter – climate change.
The event’s format captured our dilemma nicely. The first half was taken up with brief speeches from a climate scientist (Prof David Karoly), a renewables proponent (Stephen Bygrave), an activist (Isabella Morand) and a writer(Marita Davies). Each spoke from the heart about what concerns them, what drives them. Each was able to impart a sense of danger and urgency without despairing. There was then time for a few questions, which they dealt with pretty well.
So far so conventional – we’ve all been at these sorts of events, with a sage (or three) on the stage, an audience that is ego-fodder,
all premised on the ‘information deficit’ model. But the second half of the evening broke important new ground.
Danny Diesendorf of MPTC had the audience shouting out words that described their thoughts and emotions based on what they heard so far, and riffed briefly and intelligently on these. Then the real fun started – the four actors and two musicians on the stage would ‘act out’ (zero preparation time) what they’d just heard from the audience, in movement, song and speech. [Declaration of interest – they did my ‘smugosphere‘ brilliantly].
Finally, Diesendorf asked for people willing to come up on stage and ‘tell a story’. They would choose one of the four actors to be them in the forthcoming performance, and then Diesendorf would gently and expertly probe, getting the audience member to give concrete details that the actors could work with. My friend Toni was first up, and the story of her time in Peru, working with locals while the glaciers melt, was beautiful. David Karoly’s wife spoke of the support networks that academics need (hopefully not as extreme as Jacques Derrida!). The last story, on the subject of class, consumerism and desire for comfort, was brilliantly executed and a suitably ambiguous point on which to end.
The level of technical proficiency among the actors and musicians was, naturally, extremely high. This sort of high-wire work demands enormous skill and courage. When it is done well- and the gods are smiling – it looks easy and effortless. It most certainly is not.
MPTC has been around for over thirty years, (think Improv and Boal) and this is the first – but surely not last – time that they’ve tackled the every-growing elephant in the ever-shrinking room. It would be incredibly powerful if one or more of the big environmental beasts (I’m looking at you, Australian Conservation Foundation, Greenpeace, The Wilderness Society etc) would work with MPTC to take a show like this ‘on the road’ around (regional) Australia. Soon (yesterday would be good).
PS The question of sustained and sustainable activism came up. Given there are at any one time a small number of people ‘active,’ it’s really important to welcome ‘new’ people when they turn up at an event/protest, thank them for coming, find out what they can offer. Otherwise they just walk away to do something else, and they’ve been decruited. Yes, decruited. Decruited, got it?