Climate Change Theatre Action combines performance and environmental action


Design by Maria Albers

Climate Change Theatre Action performs “to tell the stories of climate change and what it means for all of our communities right now and how we can act accordingly,” said Vivian Cook, a graduate student and director of the show.

Lydia Wede

Approximately 73 percent of Americans believe Earth is currently in the midst of climate change, yet 28 percent say they never hear any discussion regarding the issue, according to a joint study conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.

Vivian Cook, a graduate student in sustainable agriculture and community regional planning programs, and the director of “Climate Change Theatre Action: Lighting the Way,” discussed what the importance of acting on climate change is to her.

“We are facing a crisis right now and communities have to come together to act on it,” Cook said.

Cook said the climate change discussion inspired her to become involved with the production.

“I think it’s really important that we find avenues to talk about it, to tell the stories of climate change and what it means for all of our communities right now and how we can act accordingly,” Cook said.

Climate Change Theatre Action (CCTA) is about promoting conversation about climate change to students, faculty and the community. The free exhibition is comprised of 18 individual performance pieces that all center around the common theme of climate change. Fifteen of those pieces are plays with 14 different international authors and one author from the Ames community. Each scene is about five minutes long and explores climate change from a different angle. 

“It’s very interesting,” said Samuel Elliott-Rude, an actor in CCTA. “Some of these have a contemporary style, others are more rhythmic and musical. Some are very ensemble-based and others are more focused on movement. That’s been a really cool different thing for me on this one.”

The acts also feature a unique blend of viewpoints, characters and settings meant to showcase how climate change is an issue that affects all life on Earth.

“They’re all connected thematically, of course, but they’re also all really different,” Cook said. “We focused on choosing a variety of pieces to have a variety of voices and variety of experiences represented. That’s been helpful for me to explore as a citizen who’s trying to figure out what all climate change entails and who is affected and what I can do.”

In addition to the compact plays, there will also be pre-show music and poetry submitted by local Ames artists and authors.

CCTA is bigger than a campus event. It is an international project that coincides with the United Nations Conference of the Parties meeting every two years. Fifty playwrights are commissioned to provide short pieces to organizations and universities who wish to raise awareness about the issue. Instead of focusing on government action and world-wide policy, CCTA takes a unique approach and focuses on local action everyone can participate in.

This is not the first time CCTA has come to campus. CCTA’s first debut at Iowa State was in 2017, and was also directed by Cook.

“When I did this project in 2017, the emphasis of the project was on interdisciplinary collaborations and partnerships with not only other theater majors who were invested in this kind of work, but also people from a wide variety of fields and backgrounds and experiences who thought that this issue was important,” Cook said.

While CCCTA has many similarities to traditional shows, such as using acting as a medium to convey an important theme to an audience, the differences and obstacles regarding CCTA in comparison to other Iowa State Theater productions are numerous. 

“Every show brings its own challenges and has to be approached from whatever point of view that show requires,” Cook said.

Instead of the typical two-to-three act play with a continuous storyline, CCTA has 18 individual concepts making up the performance.

“We’ve approached each piece as individual and complete on its own. In rehearsal, it’s about, ‘OK, what does this piece need to communicate? What are we trying to tell the audience? What do we want the audience to get from it? What do we want to get from it?’ For every single piece,” Cook said.

Another distinctive quality of this showcase is the way the props and sets have been made. Since CCTA is all about being environmentally friendly and preventing further climate change, Iowa State University Theatre spent time and energy making items from recycled material and by reusing objects that were already on hand. 

“The designers for this show are very dedicated to making their own processes as sustainable as possible — which the world of theatre and the world of making things isn’t super conducive to not creating waste and not creating emissions — and encouraging that process for ourselves and for the department and for everybody involved to continue in the future,” Cook said.

One of the last obstacles for this rendition of CCTA is the venue. Out of the five scheduled performances, three of them will be presented in Fisher Theater. This is also where the cast practices. However, there will also be an opportunity to watch the showcase outside of Parks Library and another at the Ames Public Library. Because of the change in location, the actors will likely have to make some last-minute modifications. Different acoustics, space constraints, weather, lack of amplification systems and even finding a place for the audience are all factors to be addressed individually for those performances. 

 “I’m not entirely sure what it will look like quite yet,” Elliott-Rude said. “But it’s definitely going to be something. It’s going to take a bit of adaptation to pull it off, but I’m confident that we’re going to be able to do it. [We’re] probably going to have to yell very loud.”

The event promotes outside organizations as well. At each performance of CCTA, a Sustainability Resource Fair with 20 local groups will be featured to help citizens find new ways to participate in climate change prevention and support the environment.

Additionally, experts will be present during intermissions to answer questions regarding the status of the Earth’s climate. A big partner for Iowa State’s production of CCTA is the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Environment program. The representatives helped to conduct research and organize community action that fits alongside the plays. A large donor is Humanities Iowa and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Their financial support made it possible for the showings to be free for Iowa State students and the local community. Other contributors are The EcoTheatre Lab, ISU Office of Sustainability/Live Green! Initiative, Parks Library and the Ames Public Library.

CCTA is one of the many shows in this year’s, Iowa State Theatre HERoic season. Every show in this collection is written by a female playwright, including all 18 performance pieces of CCTA. This season is in support of the nation-wide “50/50 by 2020” gender equity movement. They are planning to have half of all plays and musicals be written by women. 

The first set of performances will be 7:30 p.m. Oct. 4 and Oct. 5 at Fisher Theater. A performance at 5:15 p.m. Oct. 10 will be outside of Parks Library, where it is advised to bring a lawn chair or blanket to sit on. In case of inclement weather, the event will be moved to the Parks Library Overhang. The last performance will be 2 p.m. Oct. 13 at the Ames Public Library.