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Emissions: A Climate Comedy runs at the Arts Court Theatre, 2 Daly Ave. Wednesday, June 26, at 11 p.m.; Thursday, June 27, at 9:30 p.m.; and Saturday, June 29, at 8:30 p.m.
Here’s a little hypothetical eco-dilemma: you’re a dyed-in-the-organic-wool, committed environmentalist, doing everything you can to live an environmentally responsible lifestyle that matches your belief system. But after hauling around your baby (and the mountain of baby gear that goes with having a baby) for a year and a half, you finally make the decision to buy a car. A fellow activist takes you task, and even calls you immoral.
For Ottawa playwright Ann Cavlovic, it wasn’t a hypothetical. This happened to her, and it was the catalyst for what would become her new work, Emissions: A Climate Comedy, which is currently showing at the Ottawa Fringe Festival. She says the run-in with a fellow activist did a lot to get her thinking.
“On one hand, he was clearly a pointy-headed jerk,” says Cavlovic of the car-or-no-car incident. “On the other hand, I see the same scientific data he does, and know the magnitude of the issue—that would have a bigger effect on my child than on me.
“Yet I can’t single-handedly save the whole planet. But does that mean I give up? Or make even more personal sacrifice, when others around me won’t? Or does it mean more political pressure for collective solutions, like better public transit? Or is that just a cop-out?”
She wanted to write about her dilemma, and myriad other issues that confront us in the debate about what to do about climate change, but wanted a fresh, and importantly, engaging way to write about it. Typically, Cavlovic writes fiction and essays, and Emissions is her first foray into theatre.
“It hit me: I can’t just write some essay or some short story. It won’t get out of the search engine ‘bubbles’. It has to be something that happens in a room, that happens live, that people physically walk out from afterwards, amid other people they don’t necessarily know. It has to be a play. Oh, and it has to be a comedy, because as a mother, I knew that most of us have enough ‘heavy’ in our day. Humour with intelligence opens hearts and minds,” says Cavlovic.
The play as a medium, says Cavlovic, is a powerful way to spark discussions around climate issues.
“I think plays are even more relevant in our highly digitized world. There is enough solitary activity out there [such as] our Facebook groups and such where we display confirmation bias by only seeking out things that confirm our prior beliefs. And laughing by yourself is not nearly as salubrious as laughing in a room with real living people,” says Cavolvic.
“And maybe you’ll walk out of that room, and talk to someone. Dialogue can be powerful. In some ways I think the conversations that happen after this play are more important than the play itself.”
The show, which consists of a cast of six performing physical comedy also features a treat for audiences: live musical accompaniment by Scott Irving from Ottawa darlings The PepTides.
According to Cavlovic, the audience should be prepared for “sharp-tongued satire, showing how environmental issues are really not that different from other issues we face as humans. How can we meet our own needs, without screwing over others?” The show features a modern-day Adam and Eve who deal with “anything from international negotiations to a dirty microwave, not to mention their own personal warfare.”
She shies away from saying that the show has any one take-away message, and instead hopes the audience leaves wanting to keep the discussion going. “I hope people will chat about personal responsibility versus the responsibility of others [and] government, whether in the context of the environment or life in general. I hope people can laugh away the boundaries we normally set of who’s ‘eco’ and who isn’t, because those boundaries don’t help the planet at all,” says Cavlovic.
As for the fate of Emissions once the Fringe shuts down, Cavlovic says the original plan was to write a show that high school students could perform for free under a creative commons license, and that may still be the plan. There’s the possibility of touring the show. She’s also open to other creative collaborations.
And next for the newly minted playwright? Although she identifies as a fiction writer and essayist, the positive experience with Emissions has left her open to working on another play.
“In any case, I don’t chose the format of my writing from the outset. When I get curious about something, I’ll write about it in whatever medium I think is most appropriate. And if I have nothing useful to say, I’ll shut up, and listen to other people for a while. I always want to have a high signal to noise ratio.”