MU Department of Theatre hosts performance series for climate change awareness

MU Department of Theatre partners with Climate Change Theatre Action to perform a series of plays related to environmental issues.
The works of performance artist professor Cherie Sampson’s will be featured during the University of Missouri’s Climate Change Theatre Action program from Oct. 16-20. As part of the 17th Annual Life and Literature Performance Series, the Climate Change Theatre Action project will present short solo performances, poetry, ethnographic adaptations and plays. Courtesy of Facebook via @MizzouTheatre

As climate change and environmental preservation become more of a priority in society, the desire for change and conversation about what to do moving forward grows across the world. From global climate strikes and famous activists to local steps to limit environmental impacts, the urgency for change is on the forefront of many people’s minds. Although theater may not come to mind when thinking of ways to save the planet, MU’s Department of Theatre is using its resources as part of a national movement to spark conversation on the issue.

The 17th annual Life and Literature Performance Series, a part of the global Climate Change Theatre Action program, will begin at MU on Wednesday. This will be the second time MU participates in the CCTA program.

The CCTA program combines theater and climate change activism to spread awareness and spark a conversation with audience members. The program also partnered with Climate Leaders at Mizzou to incorporate more environmental resources from campus into the discussion.

This year, the Life and Literature Performance Series will feature 12 plays, selected either from the 50 pieces CCTA provided from across the world or from local playwrights, and will be entirely student directed.

In addition to the 12 stage performances featured at the event this year, there will also be “talk backs” at the end of each night, where experts will come in and lead a discussion with audience members.

Joshua Saboorizadeh, one of the student directors this year, believes the panel discussions will create a space for discourse that is uncommon with the topic of climate change.

“We just don’t really talk about it and it’s not because we don’t think that it’s real, it’s just we’re finding ways to talk about it,” Saboorizadeh said. “Hopefully our show will create a space where people can sit with their friends and keep talking about it after the show has ended.”

Saboorizadeh also sees CCTA as a way to connect the Columbia community to the larger global issue. He sees these performances as a way not only to raise awareness on the issue, but also to create a space for audience members to discuss what they see on stage and get their questions answered.

Heather Carver, the artistic director for the program this year, believes that with the selection of pieces and the discussions, there will be a wide range of perspectives on the topic for audiences to consider.

“This is not an after school special that’s going to tell you what to think and how to believe and act,” Carver said. “It’s an invitation to understand how climate change is influencing our future and for students to think about what part they want to have in that future, what role they want to have in shaping the future.”

The CCTA theme this year, Lighting the Way, also holds significance in the pieces being performed and what conversations may happen as a result.

“Lighting the Way is an idea of if we just turn to despair, it decreases our ability to make change just as much as apathy does,” Carver said. “Having people feel like there’s no hope means they’re less likely to do something. Even though we know that climate change is serious and we know we have to do more, having people just sort of say ‘well we’re already in too much trouble, why do anything?’ [is] not working for us either.”

Xiomara Cornejo, a student director for CCTA this year, sees the event as a way to explore new perspectives and interpretations of the global climate issues while also sparking action.

Cornejo is directing “,” a piece written by associate professor Cherie Sampson. The piece documents Sampson’s own battle with cancer, and, for Cornejo, provides new ideas for audience members to consider outside of climate change.

“There are moments … for audience members to really think about what is the role of the environment, what is the role of science, what is the experience of survivors and how it impacts family,” Cornejo said. “Then in the process of chemotherapy and other ways to treat cancer, how is that related to the environment and medicine and things of that nature. In this case I think it would be very different.”

Sampson started documenting her journey through cancer from the moment she got the call from her radiologist, and has been working on the piece for two years. The CCTA performance of “” will only be 15 minutes of the whole piece, as she is still working on the final project. Sampson said the piece can be connected to the environmental issues being discussed in the other pieces for CCTA, but sees the piece more as a movement to educate others.

“One of my goals for the bigger picture for this project is to educate, enlighten, edify … to bring these issues and these experiences into the light,” Sampson said.

The overall hope of those involved in the program is simply to bring awareness to climate issues, especially in a time when climate change is growing in severity.

“There’s so much momentum happening right now with the movement as it is,” Cornejo said. “Last weekend there was a march for the Earth that was led by a fourth grader from Columbia and then a few weeks ago there was the climate strike that was also done here at Mizzou. I feel like there’s this energy of folks who want to get involved and who want to do something … This is a time of urgency, it has to happen now, it has to happen yesterday.”

The Life and Literature Performance Series will last from Wednesday to Sunday. Tickets cost $7 and are available for purchase online in advance or an hour before the show begins. More information can be found on the theater department’s website.

Edited by Janae McKenzie |

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