Climate Change Play Festival fuses art and environment

Actors rehearse Tonya Ingerson ’18’s play that will take place on Sunday, Oct. 1, in Sanders Classroom. Eight works will be performed, all of which are acted and directed by students. / Courtesy of Tonya Ingerson

This past weekend, the weather was sweltering in the high 80s. In August, this would feel normal, but with Halloween almost a month away, it was unnatural. To deny that climate change doesn’t have an influence on this heatwave is a ridiculous claim. We know that climate change is a problem. We’ve seen the statistics and the animals whose homes are being destroyed, and yet what does it take for more people to finally act? Maybe it’s theatre.

On Sunday, Oct. 1, Sanders Classroom will be the habitat for The Climate Change Play Festival. For one hour starting at 2 p.m., eight student-act- ed and directed works will reflect on climate change and various other environmental issues. Sponsored by Philaletheis and with support from The Vassar Animal Rights Coalition (VARC) and The Vassar Greens, the festival will also include vegan food catered by Kamini’s Love Feast.

Tonya Ingerson ’18 is on the executive board of The Vassar Greens and is both facilitating this festival and directing one of the pieces. As a drama major with a sustainability correlate, Inger- son was exploring the environmental initiatives within the theatre community: “Back in May, I learned about a theatre company that was based in New York City called Superhero Clubhouse, which is an eco-theatre company. I got really excited about the work that they were doing. I was looking through their website and came across something called the Broadway Green Alliance, which is an organization that partners with theatres across the country that tries to implement more sustainable practices in their production and their performers. I became more involved with the Broadway Green Alliance but I found out through their Facebook page about Climate Change Theatre Action. I clicked on it and was very excited about the idea of bringing it to Vassar.”

Climate Change Theatre Action is an international series of 50 environmentally focused plays. Occurring biannually, this series is a collaboration of artistic organizations like the Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts, Theatre Without Borders and The Arctic Cycle. Participant have the option to pick as many plays from the original 50 as they want and perform them in any setting between Oct. 1 and Nov. 18, staging them everywhere from a minimalist reading in a living room to a full production like Vassar’s Climate Change Play Festival. The aim is to begin a di- alogue for this imminent and looming environ- mental concern.

Emlyn Doolittle ’20 will be directing a scene as well as acting in the piece that Ingerson is directing. Regarding the environmental parameters, he stated in an email, “We’ve talked about how going paperless in terms of scripts, advertisement, etc., as well as using found objects instead of new materials or reusing old materials from previous shows for design materials.

Doolittle expanded on the environmental measures he hopes other theatre productions adopt: “Paper is used a lot for design meetings, so we’ve been working on making sure printed images are small so that multiple images can be printed on a page–small things like that, but which add up. I know Tonya has been working as the liaison for Vassar’s chapter of the Broadway Green Alliance on projects such as making it a point that actors should bring reusable water bottles to rehearsal. Reusable bottles are definitely something Vassar as a whole could work on as well, especially at org meetings where there are often drinks in non-reusable containers.”

In addition to having the plays and production embrace this green mindset, the festival also allowed many of the participants to learn more about these prevalent issues.

Marc Milone ’20, who will be acting in the piece “Homo Sapiens,” originally got involved with the festival because of the intersection between theatre and environment in this project. As Milone commented in an email, “It’s been great to get to meet new people and work together through a project that brings awareness to such huge global issues.”

Marc Milone ’20, who will be acting in the piece “Homo Sapiens,” originally got involved with the festival because of the intersection between theatre and environment in this project. As Milone commented in an email, “It’s been great to get to meet new people and work together through a project that brings awareness to such huge global issues.”

Milone continued, “The show I’m in is essentially how humans caused their own demise, reflecting [on] the huge problem that is the impact pollution has on the climate and on ourselves.”

In addition to the festival, there are many other environmental initiatives led by the various student orgs on campus. VARC, for one, advocates the environmental benefits of a vegan-friendly environment. The Vassar Greens are a student-led org that pursue environmental and social justice through activism, one of their most significant and continuous initiatives being the Divestment campaign.

President of The Vassar Greens Ashley Hoyle ’18 discussed the various environmental projects that the org is currently developing, saying via email, “This year, we will continue to run our Divestment Campaign as well as our Free Market campaign. The Free Market also hosts the Textbook Exchange, which is our collaborative effort with Students Against Class Issues Alliance. We will be kicking off a number of new endeavors this year as well including working to get Diva cups to students who want them, investigating the impacts of the new dining system on our communities, and collaborating with some LGBTQ+ rights orgs on some very exciting programming!”

Students hoping to learn more about environmental issues can also take a course in the Environmental Studies Program. The program offers a variety of courses that address sustainability and the dangers that the environment is currently facing.

Ingerson believes the dialogue that The Climate Change Play Festival ignites will hopefully encourage more Vassar students to get involved with the various environmental causes: “One thing I identify with is that climate change is really, really scary. I’m absolutely petrified of what the world is going to look like in 10, 20 or 50 years. I am hoping that this event will give people the space to feel that fear for a moment and acknowledge that it’s there and that we do have the right to have an emotional response to climate change, which is something I think art can help us tap into. I think that once people can acknowledge that fear, they’ll feel empowered to act on it.”

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