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"our theatres have been more or less absent from the political sphere"

Writer-director Chris Bendall shares his thoughts on making a work of environmentally conscious theatre during this election campaign.

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Theatre and The Responsibility of Change

Date: 18 May 2022

I’ve been deep in rehearsals for the past few weeks, preparing the world premiere of a new play inspired by the school strikes for climate movement in Australia.

It’s Black Sun/Blood Moon, a fantasia of sorts about saving the planet.

When we settled the date for the premiere season in Wagga Wagga on May 20-21, we knew that there was a chance it could be near the federal election – but never suspected it would actually be on the day itself.

Suddenly the election added an urgency to our work. To be crafting our story, and a message of hope, at this particular time.

While we have the two major parties doing all they can to avoid talking about climate change in detail, unless it’s to rehash slogans from elections past, we also have the absolutely inspiring #FridaysForFuture school strike marches across Australia, with thousands of young future leaders standing up for what they believe in and making their voices heard.

Change is coming, and it’s inevitable.

Even though our story is a fantasy, it’s at least partially based in truth, and it’s inspired by the conundrum many parents are experiencing at the moment.

How do we talk to our children about what’s happening with climate change?

How do we satisfy their curiosity, build their understanding and knowledge, and somehow inspire hope and not fear?

So, the play we’re making is one for both children and their parents. It’s intended to give families a way to start, or continue, a conversation about how best we can help empower the next generation, and what sort of action we can take that could lead to change. It’s about how even the smallest changes, and the smallest people, can make a difference.

With the election imminent, it adds a certain pressure to the usual process of production. Because, of course, we want this play to inspire conversation and some of that conversation isn’t easy. There are choices to be made about the way forward, about the kind of change we want.

But at the end of the day, we want people to think of the planet, of the climate, and of their children’s and grandchildren’s future on Election Day. We want to do that by telling a story that is optimistic, that offers a vision for the future that is hopeful, and that inspires people to help make that future.

The theatre is a place where historically we have often been able to have difficult conversations, challenge our concept of the world and our place in it, and present dialogues between opposing ideologies.

From the ancient Greeks to 20th Century European playwrights like Brecht or Vaclav Havel, to ground-breaking Australian theatre-makers at places like the Pram Factory and La Mama in Melbourne, or the bold new work at Griffin Theatre Co and Belvoir St in Sydney, our theatres have long been a medium of dissent and struggle, while offering us a glimpse at what could be – for better or worse.

And yet recently our theatres have been more or less absent from the political sphere and, less and less, the big conversations of our day. This is especially true when it comes to tackling the issue of climate change. (With a few notable exceptions, such as Hibernation by Finegan Kruckemeyer or David Finnigan’s Kill Climate Deniers.)

If we want to keep our theatres relevant for audiences, I believe we need our stages to contribute to the national conversation, to engage in (and sometimes inspire) debate.

And what issue is more pressing for Australians right now than this one? It’s the number one issue for the overwhelming majority of voters this election.

So, let’s talk about it.

Of course, we can also do more than talk. We can all take action.

Critical Stages Touring, along with a number of our colleagues in the performing arts, is deeply committed to leading the way in greener touring. We are committed to Net Zero by 2030, aligning us with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Beyond 2030, we will be steering a path towards net positive touring, ensuring our activities make a positive environmental contribution.

Over the last two years, Critical Stages Touring has been leading industry conversation to transform the performing arts touring sector through initiating forums, leading cross-sector dialogue with industry experts, and collaborating with colleagues to develop new industry-wide standards.

We’re building sustainable practices into our entire organisation and looking to the future to ensure our sector is sustainable too. By bridging the independent and mainstage worlds we hope that deeper collaboration between resourced companies and our vital small and medium theatre makers will lead to change on every stage.

With the major parties largely silent on big ideas this election campaign – maybe the theatre is the place that can inspire change. On our stages and in our foyers, let’s come back and do what we can – together – to imagine a better future.

Black Sun/Blood Moon premieres at the CSU Riverina Playhouse, Wagga Wagga Civic Theatre, May 20-21.

Bookings at this link

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