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Theatre Social Justice Tackles Climate Change

Jan 26, 2022
5 min Read
Cindy Workman
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Theater class

THR 467 Theatre for Social Justice students took on the important but daunting issue of climate change this past fall semester as part of the international event Climate Change Theatre Action 2021: A Green New Deal. Through academic service-learning, students partnered with The Arctic Circle, a climate activist group, as a Nebraska representative.

Students explored many different aspects surrounding the climate crisis from politics to limiting meat consumption and from wildfires to ocean pollution. Students found topics that were personal and accessible and researched possible solutions. The class focused on advocacy and ways theater can be used to help educate and advocate for a central issue. The public event included plays from several international playwrights commissioned by the Artic Circle for this year’s event, plus original short plays by student playwrights Brayton Matuska, Madi Barker, Ellie Goecken, and Evan Peterson. The event culminated in an audience discussion with Edgar Romero Gonzalez and Makenna Medrano from City Sprouts and Nick McCreary from Creighton Office of Sustainability Programs.

Creighton student Madi Barker reflected that “utilizing theater to advocate for climate change is a creative, necessary, and integral part of social justice, since theater has the ability to connect with audience members in a unique and powerful way, which then encourages folks to become educated and aware.” By using satire, Ms. Barker said she “raised awareness for how politicians address climate change, and hopefully the audience was able to understand the government’s responsibility they have for the environment and what citizens can do to fix climate change.”

Amy Lane, PhD, has been teaching the Theatre for Social Justice for many years, partnering with many local and national organizations such as The Rose Theater, Project Harmony, and Heartland Workers Center. Dr. Lane reflected that “the best part for me was seeing students take their research which was often overwhelming or depressing and find ways to turn the issue into stories that could help inspire activism.

“Most importantly, I think, was how the students found ways to infuse humor into a bleak topic. The humor lifted a heavy topic and inspired energy and action — it made the audience feel like they weren’t defeated, but that there was something they could do, even if a small step, to help address this issue.”

Students had epic rap battles debating meat consumption, a mock game show called “Let’s Make a Green New Deal,” and an oil executive literally taking a trip off a dock when confronted with his company’s responsibility for an oil spill.

Through her academic service-learning course, Lane says that student learn that “advocacy doesn’t have to be preachy or depressing, but that messages that entertain as well as educate are often more powerful and make a greater impact.”