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Author: Sam Bradfield

‘Climate Cabaret’ hopes to give audiences ‘simple, actionable solutions’ to combat the climate crisis

We can’t escape the climate crisis. California is on fire; the east coast is underwater; places like Phoenix and Denver are breaking high-temperature records almost daily, it seems. It’s all doom and gloom, seemingly all the time. But that doesn’t mean it has to be.

Climate Cabaret,” an event from CU Theatre featuring short plays and songs on climate, hopes to change the narrative by offering audiences a diverse perspective on climate change and the ways it affects so many people differently. But, of course, it’s a cabaret—it’s also fun! In fact, in order to best portray these different perspectives, the piece features nine different plays within the whole, as well as nine short, devised interludes that tie each part together.

“[Associate Professor of Theatre] Beth Osnes created the devised pieces by working with various communities and artists throughout the years,” says artistic director and current graduate student Ben Stasny. “And the devised pieces are like connective tissue. They each have to do with a specific drawdown solution.”

The “Drawdown” is the point at which emissions stop climbing and steadily start to decrease. The Drawdown Review offers a list of solutions geared toward reaching that point. It inspired Osnes to create songs and skits for each tactic as a way to make the cabaret action-oriented.

The event has been created in partnership with the Climate Change Theatre Action, whose theme in 2021 was the Green New Deal. It’s very policy heavy, “but with a super fun, theatrical and artsy sort of flair to it,” Stasny adds. “The whole show has this feeling of, ‘climate change is real and we have to get all of these solutions going.’ But, of course, we want it to be fun and enjoyable so we are putting that cabaret spin on it as well.”

The cabaret features the pieces from Osnes, as well as pieces directed by associate professor of theatre and head of acting Chip Persons, PhD student Sarah Fahmy, Fulbright Fellow Jools Gilson, PhD student Ashlyn Barnett, and Denver-based artist Kenya Fashaw, as well as one from Stasny.

“There are a lot of voices contributing to this,” Stasny says, “which I think is really what we’re trying to go for here. Climate change affects so many people in so many different ways, and you don’t always just want the White American perspective, to be quite blunt about it.”

The biggest takeaway is not only to bring light and comedy to the daunting reality of climate change but also to give audiences simple and actionable solutions that they can do to combat it.

“What we find when we look at the social science for effective climate communications is, ‘keep it solutions-focused,’” says Osnes. “It is framed as a local issue. People feel overwhelmed when we pose climate solutions as a global issue, and they disengage.

“The arts can help all of us process these negative emotions,” Osnes adds. “People just want to avoid those emotions because it’s an unpleasant feeling, but if you can actually process them? Because despair and loss are part of coming to terms with climate—that’s natural—but we don’t have to get stuck there.”

Boulder mayor Sam Weaver will give the “Cabaret” welcome on opening night, and additional community members will deliver the welcome throughout the event’s run. The partnership solidifies how the arts serve as a contributing partner in meeting the climate emergency and achieving progress.

On top of the original show, the Department of Theatre & Dance is launching an open-source education resource through Inside the Greenhouse called “Enacting Climate” where a team of CU graduate students and members of the education and Spanish bilingualism departments adapted top climate solutions to a fifth grade reading level for teachers and community organizers to share with their communities.

With the help of the educational resources, “Climate Cabaret” isn’t “a one-off,” Osnes says. “This isn’t like, ‘Oh we did the show, we closed, we’re done.’ Now that you’ve seen how strong a tool that performance can be, here are some tools for enacting it, too.”

“Climate Cabaret” is a joint production between the CU Boulder Department of Theatre & Dance and Climate Change Theatre Action 2021 in New York City. The piece opens on Sept. 24 in the University Theatre. Tickets are available for $22 at cupresents.org.