"Climates of Change: A Living Newspaper Play," Dec. 1–4

By: Julian Robison '20,  Department of Performing and Media Arts
November 20, 2017

"Climates of Change: A Living Newspaper Play" Performance Schedule

All performances are free and open to the public.

  • December 1: 7:30 p.m., Film Forum (B21), Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts, 430 College Ave., Ithaca
  • December 2: 2:00 p.m., Enfield Valley Grange, 178 Enfield Main Rd., Ithaca
  • December 2: 7:30 p.m., Film Forum (B21), Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts, 430 College Ave., Ithaca
  • December 3: 7:30 p.m., Community School of Music and Arts, Martha Hamblin Hall, 3rd floor, 330 E. Martin Luther King Jr. St., Ithaca
  • December 4: 1:00 p.m., Cornell Campus Sustainability Summit, G10 Conference Room, Biotechnology Building, 526 Campus Rd., Ithaca

A shared meal and conversation among Cornell students and Ithaca community members spurred Dominique Thorne ’19 to embrace an appreciation for nature: both her experiences with her environment, as well as the varying viewpoints on climate change held by her dining companions.

“There was an incredible shift that I felt,” said Thorne. “In the beginning, we were just eating. And we were connecting, but after about ten minutes there was a shift, and I felt like this was a little more sacred. I felt very privileged to hear these stories because I'm thinking in different ways now.”

The meal and conversation in which Thorne, her classmates, and Ithaca community members participated was one of several Story Circles held this fall as part of the Cornell Performing and Media Arts (PMA) course “Theatre and Social Change,” co-taught by senior lecturer Godfrey L. Simmons, Jr., and associate professor Sara Warner. Throughout the course, Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences climatologist Toby Ault instructed the students in climate change science and contributed scientific advising.

Thorne and the other students in the course learned how to conduct Story Circles, a technique created by Appalachian community-based arts organization Roadside Theater that fosters open conversations on difficult topics. Ithaca theatre company Civic Ensemble’s director of civic engagement, Sarah K. Chalmers, facilitated the Story Circles, which included a range of locals whose lives have been touched by climate change, whether as scientists, farmers, or skeptics.

"As part of this project students leave the campus and sit in a circle with people who have no affiliation with the university,” said Chalmers. “They eat a meal together. They listen to each other’s stories. A new community is created in the span of two hours. The story circle alone can have a huge impact on everyone. It opens us up to new ideas and the infinite possibilities available to us when we realize we are not alone."

Cornell students combined scholarly research with these diverse narratives to craft a unique multimedia performance that highlights climate change’s impact on the Finger Lakes.

Presented in collaboration with Chalmers, students will stage “Climates of Change” in several locations around Ithaca from December 1–4. The play is co-directed by Chalmers, Simmons, Jr., and PMA PhD student Caitlin Kane. The project is funded by a grant from Engaged Cornell.

The shows will be presented as Living Newspapers, a theatrical form originating in Russia that gained popularity in the United States in the 1930s. During the Great Depression, the Federal Theater Project employed out-of-work artists to create performances that presented the public with facts on issues such as global politics, race relations, and urban housing crises.

Living Newspapers use direct techniques such as audience participation to encourage social change. Warner feels that with the rise of fake news during the 2016 presidential election, more artists should experiment with the form.

“The challenge for us is how to dramatize the actual science of climate change and to do so in a way that is engaging and entertaining and gives people a sense of agency and hope so that audiences leave our production feeling inspired to take action,” said Warner.

Participants include community members Heather Duke, John Finn, Amelia Habicht, Denise Katzman, and Lucy Walker; Cornell undergraduates Dajah Abdiel, Katherine Adu-Bonsu, Nash Allan-Rahill, Lisa McCullough, Mane Mehrabyan, Jack Press, and Dominique Thorne; and Cornell graduate students Elaigwu Ameh, Samuel Blake, Xiaolu Li, Elaine Qui, and Kelly Richmond.

All shows are free and open to the public, but space is limited. A talkback with the actors, Story Circle participants, and members of the Cornell Climate Action Advisory Group will follow each performance.

The 7:30 p.m. performances on December 1 and 2 take place in the Schwartz Center’s Film Forum. The 2:00 p.m. performance on December 2 is at the Enfield Valley Grange. The December 3 performance is at the Community School of Music and Arts in Martha Hamblin Hall at 7:30 p.m. The performance on December 4 is at 1:00 p.m. in room G10 of the Biotechnology building. For directions and more information, visit pma.cornell.edu/content/climates-change.

 Julian Robison '20 is a communications assistant for the Department of Performing and Media Arts.

Klarman Hall at sunset