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ASU joins global conversation with Climate Change Theatre Action

Students to stage 3 short plays in free event Nov. 18 with goal of building empathy, driving change

November 12, 2021

The world has been confronting environmental peril at the Glasgow Climate Change Conference this month, and Arizona State University is part of the global conversation.

ASU has once again joined an international event called Climate Change Theatre Action, with readings and performances of short plays about human-caused shifts in the environment. ASU students will stage three short plays on Nov. 18.

“The events that are happening globally vary, with some full-on productions with tickets, and some classroom readings,” said Micha Espinosa, professor of theater at ASU, who is producing the event with Steven Beschloss, founding director of ASU’s Narrative Storytelling Initiative.

“It’s really whatever the community wants to do to bring attention to these really vital conversations.”

Climate Change Theatre Action happens every two years, and ASU has been involved since 2015. This year, the free event will include three five-minute plays, plus a screening of an excerpt of the digital production “Weathering the Storm: Shaping Climate Change Futures” and a Q&A session with Rolf Halden, director of the Biodesign Center for Environmental Health Engineering. The lunchtime event is sponsored by the School of Music, Dance, and Theatre, the Biodesign Institute, the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory and the Narrative Storytelling Initiative at ASU.

All three of the play directors are women who are pursuing a master’s degree of fine arts in directing, Espinosa said.

The plays are:

  • “The Penguin,” a one-character show by Canadian playwright Nicholas Billon, starring Timothy Nipper, a sophomore in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre, and directed by Samantha Briggs. The play, which includes a giant penguin suit, is about climate-change deniers.
  • “Sammie & Gran,” by American playwright Mark Rigney and directed by Clara Kundin, is a comedic piece told through a fairytale and starring Jacob Buttry and Jonathan Matthews.
  • “Listen to Vanessa Nakate,” by Kenyan playwright Aleya Kassam and directed by Marissa Barnathan, deals with Ugandan storytelling, youth activism, colonialism and racism. The play is about Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate, and the cast members are Gloria Appiah Nsiah, Lori Johnson, Honestine Mbuyenge, McKenna Garvey, Allison Watson, Quentin Elms, Kirsten Cordova and Karrah Monce.

The excerpt from “Weathering the Storm: Shaping Climate Futures,” a 45-minute digital production directed by ASU Institute Professor Michael Rohd and produced by Beschloss, carries “an emotional punch,” Espinosa said.

“Weathering the Storm,” produced during the pandemic with six professional actors, tells the stories of people affected by extreme weather events — wildfires, floods, drought and hurricanes. Beschloss said the goal is to stage it as a live performance at some point.

“I’m excited by the Climate Change Theatre Action project and the opportunity to connect with audiences in different ways. In my own work on the climate crisis and the kinds of stories that can resonate and motivate action, there’s not a single storytelling mode that is ‘best,’ ” he said.

“Rather, some may be more motivated by what they read, others by what they see, still others by what they hear. A live performance is a particularly rich way to connect directly.

“But there’s little doubt that the more we can share the human dimension of climate change, the more we have the chance to build empathy and drive change.”

Climate Change Theatre Action includes more than 40 productions in the U.S., Canada, England, Brazil, Germany, Serbia, Hungary, India and Austria.

The ASU production is also working with two student groups on the event — Chispa ASU and Precious Plastic @ ASU.

“I feel very passionate about this and have for many years,” Espinosa said.

“It’s been wonderful to see that there are a lot of people at ASU who are equally as passionate about climate change.”

Climate Change Theatre Action: "A Global Green New Deal" will take place from noon to 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 18, at the Biodesign Auditorium. Find more details at ASU Events.

Top illustration created for ASU’s Climate Change Theatre Action flyer, by Patrick Cheung/ASU

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