Discussing climate change tends to be a dour experience—as it is frequently couched in terms of existential crises—but according to Downstage Theatre’s opening season production, there is room for more.
All Good Things Must Begin opens the new season with a series of staged readings selected from the works produced for the international festival Climate Change Theatre Action. The production draws its name from the work of lauded science fiction writer Octavia Butler.
The goal, said Clare Preuss, Downstage’s Artistic Director and co-director for the production, is to imagine what can be done to address climate change, presenting a positive way to address the issue instead of the usual crisis narrative.
“We really are trying to focus on the sense of possibility and playfulness. We can point to different times in the world where significant societal changes have come from artists imagining something beyond what was thought possible… we have to be able to cast our net beyond just what we see, in order to create the world that we want to live in,” Preuss said.
“We see all these post-apocalyptic movies that come out, and everything’s on fire, and everything’s flooding. So I mean, we have the capacity to do that, but let’s challenge ourselves to have capacity to imagine something beautiful, generative, and exciting about the future and move toward that with our imaginations and hopefully the reality follows.”
Preuss’ co-director for All Good Things Must Begin, Saeid Asgarian said that theatre has a profound way of shaping conversations about how we want the future to be.
“It fills me with immense joy to participate in this project dedicated to raising awareness about an issue that significantly shapes both our present and future.”
All Good Things Must Begin runs from Nov. 17 to 19 at Motel Theatre in Arts Commons.
A deeper understanding and compassion for those affected by climate change
Preuss said that she hoped that audiences would walk away with a better appreciation for people who are suffering from climate grief, but also for the people who are deeply involved in the energy industry
“So definitely a sense of holding love and care for everyone who’s in the middle of the fray in Calgary in a specific way, working and living on the leading edge of the energy world, and also wanting to continue to grow people in the energy industry and beyond… grow and change, and figure out what comes next.”
Preuss, along with five other members of Downstage’s curation committee, selected eight of the 50 plays presented at Climate Change Theatre Action to be stage-read.
Part of the reason for the format is the immediacy that it brings, but also because for many of the artists selected to bring their works, English is their second, third, or even fourth language.
“This will be our second time collaborating with Immigrant Council for Arts Innovation on this project. Part of the reason we’re collaborating with them is that we’re just really interested in giving newcomer artists an opportunity to integrate a little bit more fully into the local theatre scene,” Preuss said.
“These are folks who have been professional theatre artists throughout their lives in their country of origin, often in different countries along the way, and along their journey to Canada. The notion of memorizing in English, especially if these actors, in particular, have never performed in English… they’re not necessarily working jobs where they can take six weeks or a month off to do a full production.”
Asgarian added that the production was an opportunity to work more deeply with Canadian artists, and exploring the Canadian theatre scene.
Preuss said that there can be really something beautiful for audiences to see something where there has been some rehearsal, alongside a fully lit stage and set, and still getting the immediacy of watching an actor go through the process of reading out a script.
“There’s just like a kind of a different magic about watching people act, and then realizing they’re reading but they also sound like they’re having an experience,” Preuss said.
Readings followed by table discussion
The plays will be followed by a second half, which will invite the audience to become part of the production by joining a long-table discussion on stage about the plays and the theme of climate change.
Audience members will be asked to come up and take a seat in one of 12 chairs on stage, joining climate change and climate grief experts.
“The idea is not that you sit at the table for the entire conversation. The idea is that you come and if you have something you want to say if a topic comes up… you take a seat and have that discussion, and then when you feel like you want to go back to watching, you leave again,” Preuss said.
The All Good Things Must Begin readings are being performed by Tara Beagan, FIlsan Dualeh, Ishani Hemant, Petra Schovankova.
The readings include Annie Furman’s Duet, Emma Gibson’s The Returning, Aleya Kassam’s A Hummingbird’s Ululation, Ethan King’s Actors Ready?, Tira Palmquist’s Wild Parsnips, Nicole Pschetz’s You Are Not Alone, Charly Evon Simpson’s A Little Green, and Kirby Vicente’s 50 Ways to End Mother Earth – In Under Five Minutes!
The performances, said Preuss, touch on topics that are funny, poignant, and sometimes a little beautiful—all with an international feel.
“The idea of what are some of the things that we don’t even see as gifts that are that are gifts, and that future generations will see as gifts and the possibility of those gifts manifesting, is something quite beautiful,” Preuss said.
Tickets are available now at www.downstage.ca/agtmb.