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)

Thursday, July 6, 2017

"GROW UP!" -- A Tiny Play About Vast, Empty Lawns

It's a real treat to see other acting troupes performing our scripts! Lawns are energy-intensive, little-used seas of exotic grass kept in a perpetually infantile state. They seem to make little sense, but they are everywhere. Here's a short play in which a real estate agent is showing his client a community called Quiet Acres, with "stately homes (the two seated actors) and vast, empty, green lawns (the two actors lying down in front)." The client's impressed until the lawns themselves start to bicker about who's greener than whom.

Thanks to director Steve Gaissert and actors Jan Applebaum, John Eldis, Frank Falisi, Rachel Friedman, Susan Gaissert, and Sarah Stryker, for a wonderful performance!

By Stephen K. Hiltner, May, 2017
Two actors each represent a suburban lawn, lying on their backs on the stage, about five feet apart, feet towards audience. Immediately behind each is a house, represented by a chair. (OPTIONAL: A homeowner sits on each chair, stiff posture, looking blankly straight ahead.) The lawns tilt their heads up to argue with each other, but otherwise remain prostrate until the last line, when they both sit up and face the audience to utter their last line.
REAL ESTATE AGENT and CLIENT stroll in from side.

AGENT: (to CLIENT, gesturing clearly towards the homes and lawns) Here at Quiet Acres, you’ll find the neighbors are very proud of their stately homes and vast, empty, green lawns.

CLIENT: (impressed) I’d love to live here. It’s so refined, so peaceful, so controlled.
LAWN 1: (in the direction of CLIENT, who is looking elsewhere) I’m greener than her. (gestures towards other lawn)
CLIENT: (turning towards the talking lawn in surprise) What was that?
LAWN 1: I’m greener than her.
LAWN 2: No you’re not.
LAWN 1: Yes I am.
LAWN 2: No you’re not.
LAWN 1: Am so.
LAWN 2: Am not.
CLIENT: Hey, break it up. You both look great.
LAWN 2: (beat) She’s got weeds.
LAWN 1: No I don’t.
LAWN 2: Oh yeah? Well what’s that dandelion doing down there?
LAWN 1: You’re one to talk.
LAWN 2: How dare you?
LAWN 1: Look over there. (pointing to a weed on LAWN 2)
LAWN 2: Eck. Spray me!
LAWNS 1: Spray me first!
LAWN 2: Spray ME!
LAWNS 1: No, ME!
CLIENT: Stop it! (beat) Why don’t you … grow up?

(immediately LAWNS 1 and 2 react by sitting up, facing audience, feet still stretched out in front. AGENT (and HOMEOWNERS, if any) shows a sudden burst of vehemence.)

AGENT, (HOMEOWNERS), LAWNS 1 and 2: Never!!! (LAWNS 1 and 2 immediately return to lying flat on floor. Agent regains pleasant demeanor.)


Sunday, July 2, 2017

Actors Combust On Stage

It was a rare moment in theater when our Climate Cabaret actors demonstrated in slow motion the highly combustible and fateful moment when carbon dioxide is created out of carbon and oxygen. Our two oxygens (the 2 "O"s on the left) were teamed up in that familiar O2 combination that floats around keeping us alive, but carbon (the guy with the "C") was showing some volatility in that chain of fossil carbons he'd been stuck in for what seems like millions of years. When he got close to the pair of oxygens, all it took was a spark and, well,

you know how it goes. Their combustion right then and there was a totally understandable reaction. The carbon combined with the two oxygens to form carbon dioxide, which they all agreed was a total gas. Liberated from his carbon chains, his energy released to drive a piston or heat a home, carbon floated up and away with the two oxygens, ready to bask in the sunlight while they cook the planet.

Theirs was a happy molecule, feeling very stable in that O=C=O configuration. The stability of the world, however, was less assured, and future life on the planet could not be reached for comment.

Next performance, Friday, July 21, at the 1867 Sanctuary Arts and Culture Center, 101 Scotch Rd in Ewing. The show in this beautifully restored chapel starts at 8pm. Here's a map.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

New Carbonated Lyrics for John Denver's "Country Roads"

"Take Me Home, Country Roads" was written and premiered in 1970, the same year as the first Earthday. Now, 47 years later, we have "carbonated" the lyrics, steering the song's longing towards a new home: a way to travel that's not haunted by the specter of climate change. In its premier at the Labyrinth Bookstore in Princeton, the song worked great as a singalong to close out our performance. I mean, people actually sang along, without even being prompted!

Update: See video of solo performance at this link.

(adapted from John Denver’s recording of
“Country Roads”)

Almost Heaven; West Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River.
Life is old here, older than the trees, younger than the mountains, blowin like a breeze.

There’s a road, we can take, to the place, we belong,
West Virginia, keep your mountains, let the sun take us home.

All my travels have been haunted, trails of carbon, rising up behind me.  
All I want is, some clean energy, captured from the sunlight,
In my batteries.

There’s a road, we can take, to the place, we belong,
West Virginia, keep your mountains, let the sun take us home.

I hear its whisper in the rush hour it calls me,
The promise of a new electric car is here to stay.
And driving down the road I get a feeling
That we should have been home yesterday, yesterday.

There’s a road, we can take, to the place, we belong,
West Virginia, keep your mountains, let the sun take us home.

There’s a road, we can take, to the place, we belong,
West Virginia, keep your mountains, let the sun take us home.

Let the sun, take us home; electric car, take us home.

The aim of carbonating popular songs is to make the song climate-relevant while changing as few words as possible. There's a lot of serendipity in the process. Only through the need to conform to the melody of Country Roads could the line have come to mind, "All my travels have been haunted, trails of carbon rising up behind me", but it captures the feeling that can arise while driving in a car that burns gasoline. Below are the original lyrics.

TAKE ME HOME, COUNTRY ROADS (original lyrics)

Almost Heaven; West Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River.
Life is old here, older than the trees, younger than the mountains, blowin like a breeze.

Country Roads, take me home, to a place, where I belong,
West Virginia, mountain mama, take me home, country roads.

All my memories gather round her, miner's lady, stranger to blue water.
Dark and dusty, painted on the sky, misty taste of moonshine,
Teardrop in my eye.

Country Roads, take me home, to a place, where I belong,
West Virginia, mountain mama, take me home, country roads.

I hear her voice in the morning hour she calls me,
The radio reminds me of my home far away.
And driving down the road I get a feeling
That I should have been home yesterday, yesterday.

Country Roads, take me home, to a place, where I belong,
West Virginia, mountain mama, take me home, country roads.

Country Roads, take me home, to a place, where I belong,
West Virginia, mountain mama, take me home, country roads.

Take me home, country roads; take me home, down country roads

The carbonated lyrics came about after Basha Parmet, who was learning the John Denver version for another group, brought the song to rehearsal, thinking its longing for nature's splendor was relevant to our project. Another inspiration was my neighbor, Peter, who told me the Chevy Bolt he had just bought gets 230 miles on a single charge. That was mind-opening. Basha, by the way, co-founded a nonprofit store called the Whole Earth Center in 1970--a good year all around. 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

June 18 Free Performance at Labyrinth Bookstore

On Sunday, June 18, the Climate Cabaret returns to the Labyrinth Bookstore in Princeton. Show starts at 2pm. The Master Mind has been developing new material, including advertisements for some of the drugs that sponsor the show: Lyatol and Gasoline. Gaining market share in last year's election, Lyatol is packed with the lies you need to get through the day, because truth isn't all it's cracked up to be.

In other theatrical sketches, CO2 will show up to explain how "LGBT has nothing on me, because I'm CO2, you see? Just a little bit of matter that never used to matter." A carbon will break free of its carbon chains and begin a longterm, stable relationship with two oxygens.

We're hoping The Tense Family will come by, but it's always hard to get Present in the same room with Future.

Mr. Sustainable may do a plug for the OK Leaf Corral, and there will be some jazz and singing intermingled. It's a cabaret, after all.

So come on down, take the plunge, to the lower level of Labyrinth Bookstore, and lasso yourself some fun.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Upcoming Performance at Stonebridge: CO2--We're An It

The Climate Cabaret will hold forth at Stonebridge at Montgomery, a retirement community graced by nature's beautiful setting, with a Steinway grand on the stage. We'll perform on April 15, the week before Earthday. Maybe we should bill ourselves as "climate change: a salve for tax season". One of the new scenes in the show features a Carbon with an Oxygen on each arm. The three proceed to speak for the brilliant but mischievous molecule, CO2, which of course cannot speak for itself. Here's an excerpt. For those unfamiliar with scripts, "(beat)" is a direction to the actor to pause slightly before speaking the words.

Update: Usually performed with three, find a video of a solo version at this link.


We’re an it
Not a he,
Not a she.

Has nothin’ on us three,
Cause we’re CO2, you see.

Just a little bit of matter
That never used to matter.
You thought you knew us.

We were harmless,
We were good.
We always did what we should.

We fed the plants.
We kept the planet
Nice and warm,

In a cold,

We never did no one
No harm.
We’re just

An eentsy

Of nothin’ you can see,
Of nothin’ you can smell,
Of nothin’ you can feel.

It’s hard to think we’re really real.
And that we
(beat) Could steal.

(rest of sketch can be heard at this link)

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Team Spirit--Contrasting Sports With Climate Change

For anyone looking for a model of human behavior--some deep motivation that we could tap to shift humanity towards a less perilous course--people's passion for team sports offers a ray of hope. There's the strong tradition of putting the team first. Individual glory lacks meaning if the team doesn't prosper. The fans, too, are devoted body and soul to the collective enterprise, and glory in the feeling of being part of something larger than themselves. In sports, people lose their phobia for numbers. Fans revel in statistics, grasp the immensity while obsessing over the details. Did the receiver have possession when he stepped out of bounds? Show me the rerun, in slow motion.

If only we could channel such collective passion towards activities that really matter. A game's outcome seems all-important at the time, but doesn't change the world one bit. Meanwhile, the climate that sustains life as we know it is being radically altered, and rather than rise to the challenge, many people invent excuses for not taking action. Contrast that attitude with how people react when a team makes a last minute comeback to win the big game. This year's Superbowl 51, in which the New England Patriots pulled off a seemingly impossible comeback, was a case in point.

"Team Spirit" crams that contrast into one minute of theater, through dialogue between fans "A" and "B". The piece was first performed as part of the 2016 NJ One-Minute Festival hosted by the Luna Stage.

by Stephen Hiltner

Two people stand together, center-right. They speak to each other, but address portions of sentences out into space.

A: The climate isn’t changing.

B: And if the climate IS changing, it’s not our fault.

A: And if it IS our fault, there’s nothing we can do about it.

B: And if there IS something we can do about it, it would hurt the economy.

A: And even if it didn’t hurt the economy, we’re just one country.

B: And even if other countries go along and do something, too, I mean, why bother? It’s already too late.

A: Right!

B: (pause) Hey, do we have time to catch the game?

A: (starts heading slowly stage left) Yeah. Let’s go. Did you see the last one?

B: (joining him, slow progression stage left as they continue talking) That was amazing. I don’t know how they pulled it out, but they did!

A: What a team! They don’t give up.

B: (pausing to revel in the team’s attributes) So resilient.

A: Yeah. And they adjust. They aren’t stuck in their ways. They find a way to win!

B: (they resume walking stage left) And they’re unselfish, you know? Everybody does their part. A real team effort.

A: And that last shot, right at the buzzer.

B: Man, I was horse from cheering.

A: I LOVE games like that!

(the last words are spoken as they leave stage. A few moments of silence, with stage empty, before lights dim for next play, to allow the irony to sink in. The empty stage could represent the void in action taken to slow climate change.)