When Greenland premiered at SummerWorks Festival a decade ago, it wasn’t meant to be a call to arms. The play’s creator, Nicolas Billon, wanted audiences to reflect on the state of climate change and find ways to make small individual changes.
“What’s scary is that we’re asking ourselves the same questions 10 years later,” says Laura Nanni, the festival’s artistic and managing director.
With the undeniable effects of human activity on the Earth’s climate, SummerWorks is bringing back the play as part of a slate of shows at this year’s festival turning attention to the troubling uncertainty of climate change.
Since its inception in 1991, the festival has curated performances responsive to current issues. Nanni says that “the starting point for me this year was thinking about the role of the public to make change. We’re at a critical moment. People want to feel like they can engage in a way that brings about more positive outcomes.”
One of this year’s featured works is Antarctica, a durational piece created by Syrus Marcus Ware that imagines the southernmost continent as one of the last hospitable places on Earth and an emerging battleground for colonization. The piece explores issues of colonialism and disability through installations, film, textiles and performance.
“Antarctica imagines what our future could look like if we keep going in the direction we’re headed,” Nanni says.
The Breath Between, a show created by the AMY Project (Artists Mentoring Youth), a program offering professional mentorship in artistic disciplines to women and non-binary young people, envisions Toronto’s Church-Wellesley village following climate catastrophe. A giant protective dome covers the area. Queer youth emerge for the first Pride event in years, but find themselves rejecting celebrations to explore the dystopia outside the dome.
“The work interrogates home, what it means to be home and wanting to leave home,” says Nikki Shaffeeullah, the AMY Project’s artistic director. Since participants in the program come from different equity-seeking communities, AMY Project shows typically blend art and activism.
“It’s powerful to see people articulate their own subjective experiences as it relates to larger urgent questions about racial justice and queer justice,” she says.
Meanwhile, the remounting of Greenland will feature original cast members and director Ravi Jain, as well as a Q and A segment after the show as part of a fundraiser for Environmental Defence. Billon says he approached SummerWorks about a fundraiser after seeing a production of Greenland in Montreal earlier this year.
“I was really struck by how, if I was writing the play today, I would literally not have to change a word,” Billon says. “In that realization, I got very frightened. It feels like we haven’t made a whole lot of progress in 10 years. That’s really terrifying.”
Billon says his wish is for audiences at SummerWorks to share their own limitations about what they understand and can do about climate change.
“Talking about the idea of reflection is certainly something I was going through at the time when I was writing Greenland,” Billon says. “Nothing would make me happier than have this play feel dated in 10 years.”