Climate cabaret set for Saturday
MONTPELIER — Gather some of Vermont’s most outstanding performers including aerialists, singers, dancers and actors. Hand them the heady topic of climate change. Then put them down on the Statehouse lawn and the result is Saturday night’s Unraveling and Turning: A Climate Change Cabaret — a provocative evening that organizers hope will inform, entertain and enlighten the public.
“When you put an aerial circus rig on the Statehouse lawn, the sky is literally the limit,” quipped Elissa Johnk, who will be co-hosting the multimedia event with Ben T. Matchstick.
The cabaret is crowning a month of events and exhibits in Montpelier inspired by 350.org, the climate change organization founded by author and activist Bill McKibben.
In 2005 McKibben made a speech calling on artists of all stripes to take up the cause of climate change. “Where are the books? The poems? The plays?” he asked.
The answer has been unfolding ever since as artists internationally have started to address the topic. Europe now hosts several festivals of environmental art. Musicians from Coldplay to the Rolling Stones have contributed songs to a series of CDs meant to support climate change projects, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has worked to pair up artists with scientists to create collaborative artworks about the environment.
In November, Burlington hosted Vermont’s first climate change cabaret, which, in turn, inspired local artists and activists Celina Moore and Peter Nielsen to mount the monthlong program in Montpelier, which includes an installation of art influenced by climate change at the Goddard College gallery, film at the Savoy and this weekend’s cabaret.
“In the past couple of decades, a national dialogue about climate change has begun, but it has been dominated by political, corporate and scientific voices,” said Nielsen. “The creative community is now stepping forward to really express the other dimension. To look at a more humane response as to how we can understand the loss, fear and anxiety that people are feeling, as well as their hope and empowerment.”
For Johnk, who is the minister at the Old Meeting House in East Montpelier Center, the reason to become involved was simple: She loved that the purpose of the cabaret was to let artists do what they do best.
“The cabaret says ‘yes’; politics has its role, yes; policies are important, yet they can only from an emotional engagement in the world around us. That is what art and story and movement does for us,” Johnk said.
Kassandra Morse, 17, is a member of Cabot School’s Shadows in the Passage performance group. She’s been exploring her inner playwright under the direction of school art teacher and local musician Brian Boyes. Morse and her classmates have been working on a radio play that explores the adventures of a group of time-traveling teens.
“The play is called ‘2112,’ and it’s about three high school students,” said Morse. “They come from a dystopian civilization where people can no longer live above ground. People can still visit the surface of the planet, but they have to wear gas masks because of the acid rain.”
Morse said she’s always been interested in the environment and that she was inspired after a class visit to the Central American country of Belize, once known for its coral reefs that had been nearly destroyed through pollution.
“I went down on a class trip, and our teachers were expecting everything to be decimated because they’d been going for 10 years,” she said. Instead, the group was shocked at how healthy the reef was.
“It was really beautiful, and we learned what could be done if people want to change things,” she said.
Among the groups that will perform both in and out of the Statehouse are Bread and Puppet Theater, whose work has embraced concerns about the environment for decades.
Christine Harris of the Moving Light Dance Company has made a dance for the cabaret called “All or Nothing.” The piece explores the tension around competition and cooperation and explores the possibilities of creating a world that will be sustainable for future generations.
“I don’t think I would have created a dance piece about climate change independently,” she said, “although this opportunity for creation has inspired me in a familiar way. On my first visit to Vermont I was inspired to create a dance piece on a clearcut piece of land. In some ways this has brought me back to why I am here.”
More than 50 artists will participate in Saturday’s free event, which will begin at 6 p.m. with an outdoor performance on the lawn and then move inside. Among the additional performers are musician Jon Gailmor, storytellers Tim Jennings and Leanne Ponder, and Montpelier singer Eliza Moore. No tickets are needed for the outside performance, but organizers are asking those hoping to attend to register at www.climatecabaret.eventbrite.com for guaranteed indoor seating.
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