Credit: Eva Merritt

Activism and the climate crisis: what role does theatre play?

By John Archibald

Theatre has been an influential element during COP26 that deserves more recognition.

Theatre has long been a pioneer in driving social and political messages to audiences. Like any medium that takes on the role of storytelling, creating and telling stories that inspire us to take action towards justice is integral to theatre – and the climate emergency is no exception. 

Academics in theatre have a keen interest in the relationship between theatre and the environment. Referred to as “eco-theatre”, performances aim to engage with the environment or the eco-system. With the current political dialogue in relation to COP26, as well as an urge for ordinary people to change their consumption habits, conversations on the climate crisis are at an all-time high. Whether it is intentional or not, eco-theatre is engaged in political activism – and rightfully so. 

“Whether it is intentional or not, eco-theatre is engaged in political activism – and rightfully so.”

The National Theatre of Scotland (NTS) announced within their “Green Plan” the importance of using theatre to inform and educate. The theatre noted that it was vital that the performance arts continue to tell stories where characters and storylines are engaged with issues of climate change. During COP26, NTS also invited young students to join Little Amal, an art piece in collaboration with other theatres, on her journey through the city. The purpose of the art piece was to discuss climate and migrant justice, which are two major activist concerns that Glasgow has been the focal point of in the press and media. 

Another gorgeous example of activism within theatre is Glasgow Girls. A politically-charged play, based on a true story that focuses on a group of young girls, some of which are from asylum-seeking families. The play discusses the difficulties they face when the Home Office arrives to remove them from their homes in Glasgow. Glasgow Girls is an honest and powerful insight into the role communities can play in creating real change, whilst also helping to share stories that can lead to further justice for asylum-seekers. 

Theatre and the creative arts continue to play a role in telling stories that need to be heard. From understanding the experiences of being a black woman in Selena Thompson’s Salt, to using bold art pieces to educate young children on how to protect their planet, theatre has always played a role in politics and activism, whether you care to admit it or not. There is no help in ignoring the role theatre can play in activism – because at the end of the day, what’s more powerful than making people stop and listen? 


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