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No Time Like the Present: Climate Change at #TCG19

By Devon Berkshire posted 04-29-2019 14:30


Me & my kids, 2018

giphy_earthday.gifIt’s fitting that I’m writing this on Earth Day. As far as I can tell, Earth Day is “celebrated” across the U.S. as a politically correct Hallmark holiday. Its roots were well-intentioned, but it’s become a day out of the 365 days of the year when everyone is encouraged to live sustainably. Ride your bike to work! For a day. Don’t throw anything away! For a day. Host an eco-swap! For a day. (These are all ideas from an actual Google search.) 

With no disrespect to those engaging in Earth Day activities by posting gifs on social media (and kudos to institutions who are using Earth Day for something meaningful) – I am running out of patience, even with myself, for performing environmental consciousness. I am running out of patience because we all are, in fact, running out of time.

Do you have a kid in your life? Maybe yours, maybe a grandchild, or a niece, or even just the kids of friends, or the kids you teach? I do. I have kids of my own. I talk about them a lot at TCG events, which are now family-friendly in large part because I started having kids a few years back. I have two: a 5-year-old aspiring breakdancer named Diego and a 2-and-a-half-year-old spitfire named Nina. And because of them, last fall, upon the UN’s release of a special report from the IPCC on climate change – a report that made me sit down and weep – something inside me changed. I can’t move through a day in my life anymore without thinking about the small (and large) actions that I take (or don’t take), that if everyone were to take them (or not take them), we could ultimately keep our planet off the doomed list and could safeguard their future. Like with most things in my life since becoming a parent, it’s certainly not about me anymore, and I can no longer afford it being an afterthought. I at least want to be able to, as my friend Gus put it, be able to look them in the eye down the road and tell them, “I did everything I could.”

What I can do is not just about my personal everyday actions, but my sphere of influence, right? I believe the same expectations should be true for the TCG Conference, and all the people it has the power to touch, and all the people its attendees then have the power to touch back in their communities. Think about how much all of those people and all their networks could collectively affect the health of our planet if we stop making it an afterthought. We should be able to tell my kids, your kids, and the future theatre-makers and -goers of the world that we, a collection of artists with stories as our shared medium, did everything we could. The kids themselves shouldn’t be the only ones trying to save it.

giphy_colbert.gifDon’t get me wrong: we didn’t program in a bunch of new content on climate change and environmental justice to the Miami TCG Conference because of this good-old-American guilt we’re feeling about the state of the Earth. We didn’t inject so much content around this topic into a performing arts convening just so we could feel like we were doing something – we are barely scratching the surface of what’s possible, with respect to living and working purposefully and sustainably. It’s in there because we want you to feel like you’re capable of doing something, if you’re interested in bringing this topic more to the forefront of your work, your office, your practice, or your household. More than that, once you go home, we would love for you to take what you learned and to actually do something.

Also, we’ll be in Miami, rooting our Conference in the extremes of its character and its plight. (Sea level rise, anyone?) To not address climate change and lift up local artists focusing on it through their work would be a glaring omission.

If we do our jobs the way we hope to, and if you choose to opt into some of the climate-focused content, you will not only leave Miami with a visceral urge to address the climate crisis in your work and in your life, but you will have some notion about how to do just that. And you may just have a stronger understanding of how this issue affects you and your loved ones, in ways you might not even have been aware.

giphy_paris.gifAnd to be clear, we’re no experts.

Much of the work being done for the Conference is being shaped and shepherded by our very first Conference Committee on Climate: Annalisa Dias, Elizabeth Doud, Lani Fu, Tara Moses and Jeremy Pickard. It’s their longrunning and tireless work advocating for global health through their art and their activism that has led us to this point, and now it’s their leadership we look toward as we scramble to understand all the aspects of climate change and environmental justice that we never took the time to focus on before. We are humbled and grateful for their guidance.

Much of their work, in turn, has built upon centuries of knowledge built by the people who first stewarded this land. We recognize that Indigenous folks and other People of Color have been leading movements and producing work around environmental justice for a very long time, and we still have much to learn from their legacy and continued influence. 

We’re also very excited to introduce another brand new role into the TCG Conference community, that of Artist in Residence. This year, that role belongs to Miami’s own Xavier Cortada, an artist and professor who channels science into what he calls an “art science practice” that for decades has been “oriented toward social engagement and environment concerns.” Xavier is an artist of many forms, and some of those forms will be brought to life in the public spaces at the Miami Conference. Take a peek at Xavier’s body of work here.

Xavier and the Committee have helped develop a multitude of entry points into the climate conversation in Miami: the Committee is designing and leading a TCG Lab on movement-building around a Green New Theatre; a lunchtime info session on all the ways you can create a sustainable practice in your life and your work; a performance on Thursday evening; meditative activations around the issue as part of WellSpace; a dine-around led by local environmental justice artist/activists; and we’ll feature interactive artistic installations of Xavier’s ongoing work, some of which is open-sourced and can be taken back to your community. And that is just the beginning.

giphy_recycle.gifOf course, we can’t design content around this issue and not take into account our own event practices, which we’ve begun adjusting and will continue to on site in Miami, and for future Conferences as we learn more about what is possible. Repeat attendees will notice that we will have much less paper material available at check-in, and will be asking you to rely on our digital tools to build your schedule (but will provide materials to folks who need and request them). Those lanyards – those keys to the Conference that hang around our necks – will be made of recycled material and we’ll collect those for re-use after the Conference. Our Conference hotel, which is the largest purchaser of wind energy in Florida, has its own green initiatives to read up on, and we are working with them to reduce as much disposable waste as we can. We’ll be using carbon calculators to gauge the Conference’s travel footprint, and encourage you to check that out for your own travel; once you’ve calculated your own you can read more about carbon offsetting here. We will have more we can do in future years, but we’re making a solid start.

This issue should be apparent as a focal point at the Conference whether you opt into some of the smaller group activities or not. But we hope you do. We dare you to challenge yourself here, and to approach these experiences and this art with an open mind. The immediate relevance to your work may not be the thing to lead with in entering these spaces. Rather, how can you make an impact on your ecosystem, by weaving it into your work? Can you take on a new kind of project altogether? Can you affect policy change? Can you at least change any of the ways you do your work, or run your office, to be more sustainable?

You may find yourself getting frustrated or feeling impotent, and when you do, picture that kid in your life, and remember, this time it’s not about you.