The devastating impacts of climate change, from extreme weather events to rising sea levels, are disproportionately felt by countries with small carbon footprints. For these communities, climate change is not a distant threat: it is real, and has been for decades.
But for Australia, the fossil fuel empire, climate change has only recently begun to be taken seriously by politicians. We are emerging from a decade of climate inaction and ‘climate wars’ which saw politicians deny science and support ever-growing subsidies for the fossil fuel industry. Even now, despite voters showing an unprecedented desire for climate action, the new labour government continues to fund coal and gas projects.
As the impacts of our emissions begin to catch up to us and bushfires, floods and droughts become unavoidable, climate change is becoming a common theme in Australian arts and culture. It is, after all, one of the inescapable issues of our time, and one which we will all need to learn to reckon with throughout our lifetimes.
Whether you choose to avoid the existential anxieties that accompany climate change or embrace them, one thing is certain: it is an uncomfortable reality to live in.
Belvoir St Theatre’s new play ‘Scenes from the Climate Era’ invites audiences to sit with this discomfort. The play is made up of over 50 separate scenes and explores past, present and future experiences within the climate era, with characters ranging from frogs to business executives. It is written by acclaimed playwright David Finnigan, who wrote the controversial satire ‘Kill Climate Deniers’. The director of ‘Scenes from the Climate Era’, Carissa Licciardello, has described it as an “unflinching portrayal of a world in crisis, but also a celebration of the resilience of humanity and our ability to come together and confront challenges.”
Vertigo spoke to three of the play’s actors, Abbie-Lee Lewis, Ariadne Sgouros and Brandon Mcclelland about the challenges, joys and anxieties that accompanied the process of creating the play.
VERTIGO: First of all, there's a lot of conversations around climate media provoking hope in audiences. Specifically, David Finnegan has said the play is ‘not about giving you hope’ but that ‘people may find hope in the work.’ Did you guys find hope in the process of making this play?
ARIADNE SGOUROS: That's a great question.
ABBIE-LEE LEWIS: I don't know if I found hope. I have found a way to come to terms with it… we can't really control what happens on the other side of it. So the play's kind of allowed me to come to terms with that idea of letting go of control.
AS: I feel the exact same. I don't know if hope is the right word. I think there's probably a little bit of it. But I have found it quite a freeing process…I don't think we can affect mass change, because not everyone is going to be on board. But as long as you get to some sort of peace with it. I think what the show does is tell you that when you do find that peace with it, that's probably going to disappear at some point… so I don't think you're ever going to feel one way about it. But there's definitely elements of hope that I found in it – which have then been completely crushed [laughs].
BRANDON MCCLELLAND: Yeah, I suppose. I mean, it's funny because in the show, there is the line ‘Hope is the enemy’, which comes at a fairly pivotal moment. No, I don't know if I found hope. I think I've definitely found that… Well, now it's undeniably happening, we need to find a way to survive it. I think the main thing that kind of crushed my hope is that really as much as you do on a personal scale, it's not going to affect anything, the only people who can change anything are massive corporations and governments, and unfortunately, as evidenced over the last 40 years, they're not going to do anything. They're very good at saying they're going to do something. But in terms of action. No, I think money gets you to sleep at night.
V: Seeing those vignettes made me wonder if anyone in the audience is going to be really challenged- if there's going to be people who see this that will feel uncomfortable.
AS: We hope so!
V: I really hope that there'll be people sitting in the audience who are, like you say, maybe part of those big corporations, CEOs or higher ups who enjoy theatre, and hopefully who can see this. Hopefully, there'll be some challenging conversations had after this.
AL: I think this show is at its best when you have people in the audience scoffing or rolling their eyes. Theatre is evocative. It's supposed to be. I feel like that's our job done; if we have an audience member going, 'Oh, God’! There's obviously something that you have heard and that hopefully has evoked your thoughts
V: I was really amazed at how huge the scope of this is, right? It's through time, through space, you're going into the future, you're looking at the past. Is there difficulty in having such a broad scope? What's the challenge in portraying such a wide variety of experiences around climate change?
BM: I think the one big challenge for me as an actor more than anything is not falling into the stereotyped version or the caricature version of different people, people who have, you know, varying views on whether or not climate change is happening, and what to do about it. It's tricky, because we only have about two minutes with each character over the space of an hour 20. You don't want to do that thing of going into a shorthand that kind of distances the audience; where they go, ‘Oh, no, no, that's that crazy guy from Mudgee’. And it's like, well, but what's he saying? So I think it's trying to find an honesty in approaching the 50 plus characters that we play, finding an honesty that doesn't allow the audience to distance themselves from it.
AL: You want them to see themselves in the scenes, in those circumstances, in those places.
AS: Something that I find quite engaging about the form is that there are so many ways to come at it, from the micro of two people talking at their table to the macro of like, addressing the whole world wide web, or a publicised court. Climate change is not just the facts and figures: it affects people on a personal level. Each scene reflects such a different facet of that. I think that's quite engaging. Challenging as an actor, but hopefully exciting to watch.
AL: It's challenging, but also fun as an actor, because of our cast and crew. We do feel like a team. You're never left out there hanging by yourself.
BM: While we're not going into stereotypes of characters, hopefully, it's still trying to find the genuine moments of fun and joy and bliss. And hilarity, like there's a couple of scenes that took us about four weeks to not break before we got it. I think in front of the audience was the first time we got it. That's the thing, it's undeniable that we're living through it [climate change]. And we're still living our lives, you know. We've got to remember our humanity as well.
AL: It's so hard. I feel like in the day and age that we're in, everything is very individualistic. But climate change, and the climate crisis (or era, as you just heard) is something we have to come together for in order to try and solve it or navigate through it. So for me, what's challenging is looking at these little isolated scenes, when in fact there’s a much broader picture of what we’ve done together, as a theatre. That's the key word: together. We've accumulated people from different worlds, different places and different scenes and we've made something that kind of talks to a broader picture.
AS: And if you don't like it, then the scene is gonna be over in a minute… and you might enjoy the next one!
For every play, Belvoir holds special GEN B events for 30 and under arts lovers with exclusive pre-show chats and reduced ticket prices. These are held throughout the year on the first Friday of opening nights.
Catch ‘Scenes from a Climate Era’ at Belvoir St Theatre from the 31st of May to the 25th of June.