Theater is uniquely suited to confronting hot-button topics. By means of subtlety or satire, drama, comedy or music, touchy subjects can be addressed, consumed and swallowed (if not whole, then at least thoughtfully chewed on). Minds can even be changed.
John Tessmer, a Yale graduate and long-time professional actor and director, has always been politically minded and politically active.
Through mutual friends, he heard about Climate Change Theatre Action, a global participatory project founded in 2015 by theater makers hoping to facilitate worldwide readings and performances of short plays about climate change. The plan has always been to bring communities together and encourage local and global action on climate.
CCTA provides the tools — a series of commissioned plays — at no charge to presenting organizations, and offers marketing support and a model that encourages leadership and self-determination.
The international presentations occur biennially, to coincide with meetings of the U.N.’s Climate Change Conferences, called Conference of the Parties, which are scheduled to assess worldwide progress in dealing with climate change.
This year, Tessmer’s ten year-old company, the La Jolla Theatre Ensemble, will be one of 250 community theater groups in 25 countries presenting these plays some time during the U.S. meeting schedule, between September 15 and December 20.
Tessmer himself read through most of the 50 5-minute plays on offer, looking, he says, “for a variety of tone and subject matter which could be performed by an ensemble of 6-7 actors.”
His production (Dec. 15 and 17), called “Lighting the Way: Climate Change Theater Action in San Diego,” includes a dozen short pieces.
“Ten are plays,” explains Tessmer, “one is a ‘prose piece,’ and one is a poem.”
The poem is “A Letter from the Ocean,” by Caridad Svich, an alumna of the UC San Diego MFA program in Playwriting.
One of the plays is called “Laila Pines for the Wolf,” by Hassan Abdulrazzak, an accomplished Iraqi writer who was born in Prague and lives in London. His plays have been produced worldwide, including in the United Kingdom, India and the United States.
“This year’s theme of ‘Lighting the Way,’” says the playwright, “allowed for the inclusion of animals who could be inspirational in the fight for a sustainable future. So I thought it would be appropriate to tell the story of Little Red Riding Hood (or ‘Laila and the Wolf,’ as it’s known in the Arab world) from the perspective of the maligned Wolf who is struggling to survive because of climate change.”
Another short piece is called “A Holiday on Ice in a Warm Climate,” by Julie McKee (US/New Zealand), a graduate of the Yale School of Drama who has had a play (“The Secret Life of Seaweed”) commissioned by The Sloan Foundation of Science and Technology/EST Project.
McKee’s two-character “Holiday on Ice” was inspired by an enormous iceberg that floated by New Zealand a few years ago.
“As there is a bit of a housing shortage there,” the playwright has written, “I wondered if people could live on it and for how long.”
“It’s a really clever piece,” says Tessmer. “Mack is a chef trying to make seaweed as tasty as bacon. Mavis wants to shake up their routine and take a vacation. This play speaks to multiple climate change issues, and yet is about a relationship. It’s funny and quirky.”
La Jolla Theatre Ensemble, says Tessmer, is “honored to be a part of this global event, bringing attention to what we and the world face with respect to climate change. The science is clear to me, that human behavior is contributing to it, but humans, animals and the environment are all being affected. In a variety of ways, these plays and stories explore all three.
“I don’t have kids myself,” Tessmer continues, “but I know that the longer we continue not to act boldly, the more daunting will be the challenges young people will face in the decades to come. Throwing up our hands because we failed to act with enough foresight is not an option.”
Following each performance, there will be talkbacks with special guests. On Dec. 17, La Jollan Mitzi Mayer, a documentary filmmaker, will be on hand, as will Sophie Wolfram, director of programming for the Climate Action Campaign.
Since he co-founded the La Jolla Theatre Ensemble (with Davida Huchel), Tessmer has directed staged readings and play presentations nearly every month. This is his December offering.
When this global event comes up again in two years, he plans to include San Diego playwrights’ work in the mix. Watch for that in 2021.
In the meantime, get going (to the theater) and get active. The climate crisis waits for no one; we don’t have time to waste.
- “Lighting the Way: Climate Change Theatre Action in San Diego” is scheduled on Sunday, Dec. 15, and Tuesday, Dec. 17
- Both performances take place at 7 p.m., at the La Jolla Community Center, 6811 La Jolla Blvd, with talkbacks to follow
- Suggested donation: $10
- More information is available at 858-459-0831 or ljcommunitycenter.org
Pat Launer, a member of the American Theatre Critics Association, is a long-time San Diego arts writer and an Emmy Award-winning theater critic. An archive of her previews and reviews can be found at patlauner.com.