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Drama professor says writing plays about climate change is hard

Professor says speed of climate change creates challenges

The 21st century is proving to be difficult for one playwright, due to the challenges of writing plays focused on climate change.

Madeleine George, a professor at Bard College, was a featured panelist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Kelly Writer’s House, where she explained that a number of issues made writing plays about climate change difficult.

The event was moderated by Penn senior Samantha Friskey, “who wrote a play about sustainability for her senior thesis,” The Daily Pennsylvanian reports.

George, a Pulitzer Prize for Drama finalist, said that “verb tense issues, material waste created by theatrical productions, and the human-centric nature of plays” made writing plays centered on climate change very difficult.

She said she started writing a play in 2010 – written in the future tense with dialogue about glaciers melting – that had become outdated by the time it was produced in 2019, when unspecified glaciers actually were melting.

The speed of the effects of climate change, George said, was only one obstacle to writing about the climate in the theater, while the human aspect of plays created yet another:

George added that theatrical productions tend to focus on the “human scale part of the problem, like questions of guilt, questions of complacency, or questions of betrayal.” Plays are also not a sufficient media for crafting systemic solutions to societal problems, George added.

[Penn student] Friskey raised concerns about the sustainability of theatrical productions, using her own play, “All the Dead Frogs,” as an example. She said she wanted a seven-foot cardboard iceberg in the background of her production, but questioned whether the message of sustainability in her play outweighed the costs of leaving a large cardboard prop in the landfill after the production was over.

George said she too considers the environmental implications of her stage productions, citing her own experience with the Superhero Clubhouse in New York, an ecological theatre group who attended her play. George said the theatre group suggested various practices playwrights can use to keep their productions sustainable that she had not previously known.

Read the report.

MORE: Critics blast Calif. bill to mandate climate change lessons, call it brainwashing and indoctrination

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