Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Taking Climate Theater to the Schools

Many people have commented that we should perform our climate change theater in schools. With our next show coming up on June 13, 6pm, at the Labyrinth Bookstore in Princeton, I made a solo journey to Littlebrook Elementary in Princeton to perform CO2--We're an It for 4th and 5th graders during Science Day. Six classes came through for 20 minutes each, enough time to discuss climate change, then perform for them as a carbon dioxide molecule. Aiding the discussion were a few props: a collection of C's, O's and H's, and an exhaust pipe. Together, we found names for things like H2O and CH4 and CO2, and talked about how even good things can be trouble if there's too much of them, whether it be water in a basement or too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Next time they look at a car, they may remember how closed windows create a greenhouse effect. They may notice the exhaust pipe tucked underneath, and think about how the invisible gases coming out of it are transforming the world they will live in this century.

Those ten minutes of discussion were aimed at assisting in their understanding the playfully serious theater sketch that followed, in which CO2 tells the story of how a tiny, invisible, odorless, wonderful and seemingly harmless molecule is, through our doing, turning "the skies and seas into eternal enemies."

Science Day at Littlebrook, by the way, is an extraordinary event, organized by parents Jenny Ludmer and Molly Jones, along with science teacher par excellence Martha Friend.


Thursday, April 26, 2018

If We Only Had a Brain


At a recent performance, the star of the show, planet earth, stood front and center. One recurring theme of climate change is that, though we are individually very intelligent, that intelligence is often not expressed collectively. We are, collectively, faced with a choice, to adapt now to reduce climate change's impact later, or be forced to adapt much more later on, as changing climate wreaks increasing havoc with our lives. Our courage, generosity and resourcefulness are on full display any time disaster strikes, amply demonstrated during last year's hurricane season. At those times, we display a powerful, heroic sense of teamwork and unity. Why don't we exercise these admirable traits to shift now, collectively and as individuals, away from those carbon-based fuels that serve present needs but endanger the future?

To highlight this vexing lack of collective intelligence, Climate Cabaret has "climate-adapted" the wonderful 1939 lyrics by Yip Harburg in The Wizard of Oz.

If We Only Had a Brain
The carbonated version
(Adapted by Stephen Hiltner, from the original lyrics by Yip Harburg)


We could while away the hours,
Conferrin' with the flowers
Consultin' with the rain.
Had we listened to the warnings
We’d have conquered global warming
If we only had a brain.


We’d be givin’ back to nature,
And tell the legislature
To stop being so insane.
Solar panels we’d be linkin’
Of the future we’d be thinkin’
If we only had a brain.


Oh I, can’t tell you why our cities are near the shore.
No one will remember what was there before.
If they all flood, we’ll build some more.


Oh, the oceans wouldn’t be risin’
And continents downsizin’--
A future full of pain.
We’d have listened to Al’s story,
Taken heed of allegory,

If we only had a brain.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Scenes from Climate Cabaret

Leading up to our free performance at the Arts Council of Princeton, April 18, 7pm, here are some scenes from the show--photos from rehearsals, and a videotaped performance. Come check it out in beautiful Solley Theater!

Kitty Getlik plays a therapist in Turf Therapy, as one of her more difficult patients, a Suburban Lawn, works through its issues of chemical addiction and an irrational fear of weeds and bugs.



I don't know, this guy seemed pretty nice, but what's that exhaust pipe doing on his right arm? He said his name is Captain Hooked-On-Fossil-Fuels. Cheryl's thinking "Why do all these guys come with issues?"



Thanks to Dwaine Williamson for videotaping this performance of "CO2: We're an It," in which CO2, not wanting to be the bad guy, tells a packed room at the Trenton Library to "find energy above the ground and leave the carbon underground." (May need to crank the volume a bit. CO2 molecules tend to be soft spoken.)




Steve Hiltner and pianist Phil Orr bring an element of original Sustainable Jazz to Climate Cabaret performances.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Free Performance April 18, Arts Council of Princeton

The tough work of environmentalism needs to be balanced with joy and merrimentalism!


Join in some improbable fun on Wednesday, April 18, 7pm, with Climate Cabaret's "Earth Dialogues" at the Arts Council of Princeton's Solley Theater. 


In Climate Cabaret, theater and music combine to find comedy, poignancy and beauty in the greatest challenge of our time: our relationship to Earth. A stubbornly abstract subject is brought home to our bodies and our hearts. Molecules become characters; carbon becomes a seductive renaissance atom with issues. Hamlet drops in to ask the existential question, "To act, or not to act?" Witness a man's tragicomic breakup with his car. Mock drug ads for Lyatol and Gasoline list troubling side-effects. Classic songs are "climate-adapted" to speak of human folly and love for a planet. Witness this unique, Princeton-born production, featuring the musical and theatrical creations of writer/composer Stephen Hiltner.

Performers: Cheryl Jones, Basha Parmet, Kitty Getlik, Fred Dennehy, and the Sustainable Jazz duo of actor/saxophonist Steve Hiltner, and pianist extraordinaire Phil Orr.


This performance is part of the Arts Council of Princeton’s Community Stage Series.

Program is free, but advance registration is recommended. For more information, please call 609.924.8777.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

CO2 Has Its Debut in Trenton

What a tremendous pleasure, and really an honor, to be able to perform "CO2--We're an It" in the presence of 150 lovers of poetry, including our nation's Poet Laureate, in the Trenton Library reading room this past week. My torso got to play the role of carbon, while my outstretched fists served as oxygens. The piece starts out with "We're an it, not a he, not a she. LGBT has nothin' on us three, 'cause we're CO2, you see? Just a little bit of matter that never used to matter ..." Afterwards, the MC shook my hand and told the audience, "That's the first time I ever shook hands with a molecule."


The open mic session, before poet laureate Tracy K. Smith read from her new book, brought out a wonderful variety of talented writing and deliveries, and a glorious rendition of "Wade in the Water".

I'm told that Dorothea of Labyrinth Books worked with a friend to get the ball rolling on the event, which was run by the African American Cultural Collaborative of Mercer County. The Collaborative will have another open mic Feb. 8, 2018, this time at the Arts Council of Princeton as part of its community stage programming.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Climate-Adapted Popular Songs

Our Climate Cabaret show includes a mix of comic theater sketches interspersed with satirical drug commercials ("Lyatol is packed with the lies you need to get through the day") and music. Some of the music is original instrumental jazz, but we continue to add climate-adapted songs to the repertoire. These are popular songs from the past that are being adapted to survive on a planet transformed by climate change.

My Climate Valentine -- Becomes a love song to a very special planet. "Is your figure less than Greek? Is your jetstream getting weak? When we change you week by week, are we smart?"

My Unembraceable You -- Recasts "Embraceable You" as a love song to the environment, which is constantly embracing us, but can be logistically difficult to embrace back. "How could what is all around me ever leave me, never do, my unembraceable you."

There's a Road -- John Denver co-wrote "Country Roads" in 1970, the same year as the first Earthday. Climate-adapted lyrics turn it into an anthem for the electric car, powered with renewable energy. "There's a road we can take, to the place we belong. West Virginia, keep your mountains. Let the sun take us home."

If We Only Had a Brain -- From Wizard of Oz. "Oh the oceans wouldn't be risin', and continents downsizin'--a future full of pain. We'd have listened to Al's story, taken heed of allegory, if we only had a brain."

I Should Care -- How many lyrics completely change the song's meaning in the last two words? "Maybe we won't find a planet as lovely as you, but I should care, and I do."


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Hamlet's Climate Soliloquy

Some passages of Shakespeare bear an uncanny relevance to the human predicament with climate change. In this climate adaption of Hamlet's famous soliloquy, a failure to act becomes synonymous with death, while taking action becomes the way to sustain life. Ironies abound in climate change. The status quo carries the seeds (or disperses the carbon) of its own destruction. To save our comfortable lifestyles, we must change them. If at some level we would experience the loss of our carbon footprints as a kind of death, or have come to view sacrifice as a self-diminishment rather than a profound expression of who one is and what one believes in, then this climate adapted soliloquy adheres more closely to the original than it seems.

Here's the original, for comparison:

HAMLET: To be, or not to be--that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep--
No more--and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. 'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep--
To sleep--perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th' oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th' unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprise of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action. -- Soft you now,
The fair Ophelia! -- Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remembered.

Friday, August 11, 2017

CO2 Speaks Out About Itself and Earth's Fate

Early in our show, carbon dioxide, a.k.a. CO2, tells the audience in rhyme and reason about how it's really a good molecule that's being made to do bad things. Usually three of us do this sketch, one for each atom, but here it's done solo.

  

Gettin' Funky at the 1867 Sanctuary


We had a great show at Ewing's 1867 Sanctuary. Cheryl Anne Jones sang glorious versions of My Climate Valentine and a love song to the environment--My Unembraceable You--and even CO2 got a chance to talk to the audience about how it's really a good molecule that's being made to do bad things. Earth sat on the piano, taking it all in, as it always does.


Caught on film were performances of some jazz originals. Leader Steve Hiltner has a masters degree in water quality, so it was only a matter of time before he'd write a tune called Funky River (below). The recording's notable for Phil Orr's beautifully conceived piano solo.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

NEXT SHOW: Friday, July 21, 8pm at the 1867 Sanctuary in Ewing


This beautiful building in Ewing was poised for the wrecking ball before a nonprofit swooped in to save and restore it. Now our Climate Cabaret will be performing there this Friday, July 21, with theater sketches and music about another sanctuary, spaceship earth, that also needs some TLC.

The music mixes original jazz with well-known songs recast to make them climate-relevant, as with John Denver's "Country Roads", which in the video below becomes "Let the Sun Take Us Home". The new lyrics were inspired by testimonials from friends about how much they like their electric cars, like the Chevy Volt and Bolt.

In the theater sketches, a guy breaks up with his car, a woman falls for a renaissance atom called Carbon, who turns out to be carrying some baggage (Carbon Dating), and a suburban lawn seeks therapy for feelings of emptiness (Turf Therapy).






Join us in this beautiful space for a show about a beautiful planet. 101 Scotch Rd in Ewing, parking across the street.

Cheryl Anne Jones--acting, vocals
Basha Parmet--acting, vocals
Kitty Getlik--acting
Steve Hiltner--scripts, acting, sax, guitar
Philip Orr--piano, acting (Here's Phil playing a solo on Funky River)