Here's a roughly accurate version of a conversation I had last night:
FRIEND: So, what are you working on? Anything new?
ME: Yes! My company is in the early stages of devising a new play. It's called This Sinking Island.
FRIEND: Cool. What's it about?
ME: Sea level rise and Manhattan's identity as an island.
ME: It's inspired by the sinking island of Tangier in Virginia and the Kiribati Islands in the South Pacific.
FRIEND: (slight look of consternation) Oh.
ME: And it's meant to be Family Inclusive!
It’s true, I haven't quite mastered the pitch. In fact, each time I describe it, it does feel awkward. Like, what were we thinking?!!? A play about sea level rise for kids??!
But today, on the 47th Earth Day, children are at the forefront of my mind.
It’s not only because I have two young daughters, yet being a mother does make me acutely aware that predictions for climate change feel more imminent than ever. The once mythical year 2050 is looming pretty large right now; my own children will be in their 30s then. And if change up until this point has been incremental - particularly for us in the United States - it will soon be changing dramatically in our lifetimes. (Case in point: watch this animated map of NYC).
So yes, why make a show about sea level rise that is engaging and appropriate for both adults and children?
Put otherwise: Should we hide the truth from the next generation?
By shielding children from the realities of climate change and humankind’s negative effect on the planet, are we removing the possibility that they will believe this? If they have to work hard to comprehend the existence of climate change (as far too many people currently fail to do), will they be that much further away from dreaming up solutions?
Our goal with This Sinking Island is to build a bridge between understanding the science and imagining a different - better and more just - future. We wish to cultivate empathy knowing that performance can potentially touch children on a cellular level, imprinting their cultural DNA if you will. I have also learned, through my 3 and 4.5 year old, that children keep the adults in their lives accountable. (They remember the rules and they do like to enforce them.)
So yes, we must make plays about climate change for children, and for their adults. And I hope you’ll join us on this journey.
This post is dedicated to the kids who've collaborated with us!
There are other theatre companies who are also creating excellent, vibrant theatre about climate change (and more!) that includes kids, most notably our friends at Superhero Clubhouse. Do you have any others to recommend? If so, please leave us a note in the comments section.