Many plays and films dramatize the economic, social, and political concerns of their times, often with hopes that such dramatization will lead to change. Henrik Ibsen’s classic play An Enemy of the People comes to mind. The great German playwright Bertolt Brecht also gave us some great examples of this—think of The Threepenny Opera (Die Dreigroschenoper), Mother Courage and her Children (Mutter Courage und Ihre Kinder), Saint Joan of the Stockyards (Die Heilige Johanna der Schlachthöfe), or The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (Der aufhaltsame Aufstieg des Arturo Ui).
You are probably already aware of contemporary works that deal with climate change and energy sources, such as Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth (film). There are also many historical and biographical plays and films that focus on extractive industries, our fossil-fuel-based way of life, and environmental degradation.
Dramatic writing, theatre, film, and video provide students with creative means for exploring their own understanding of sustainability concerns and raising their own consciousness. In addition to dramatic readings of scripts, acting in productions, or seeing performances of plays and films, students can create role-plays to explore possibilities for and barriers to climate action.
Following are a few that were suggested to us. Would they work in your classroom?
- Conference of the Parties (COP) – delegates from the U.S., other developed countries, less-developed countries, island and low-lying nations in a meeting to decide what should be done to reduce and minimize global warming and its impacts.
- What’s the real story? – Establish 5–10 roles and positions and prepare cards for each. Possible roles include government officials, independent climate scientists, fossil fuel executives, climate activists, and ordinary citizens; base their positions on real positions reported in the news.
Distribute a card to each student, and ask each member of the class to interview others to understand climate change.
- Improv — comic/satirical routines with situations and characters suggested by the students themselves.
- Street theater, adapted for a school campus — brief performances and presentations in lunchrooms, hallways during passing, the space around the main entrances to the schools at the beginning and end of the school day, main entrances to gyms, and playing fields for public sporting events. (Be careful not to do anything that would create safety issues).
A few plays that engage the ideas of climate change and/or using drama to create change:
- Forward, by Chantal Bilodeau. Part of the Arctic Cycle. Takes its title from Nansen’s ship Fram (the Norwegian word for forward). A poetic history of climate change and how a spirit of innovation propelled Norwegians through major events of the 20th century.
- Sila, by Chantal Bilodeau. Part of the Arctic Cycle. Looks at competing interests shaping the future of the Canadian Arctic and local Inuit population. (Sila is the Inuktitut word for air, climate or breath).
- This Clement World, by Cynthia Hopkins. The history of Earth, from an alien’s point of view.
- 2071: The World We’ll Leave Our Grandchildren, by Duncan Macmillan and Chris Rapley. An exploration of climate change and the controversies that surround it. 2014.
Books that deal with climate and environmental concerns and offer a variety of stories that could be dramatized
- All Our Relations, by Winona LaDuke. South End Press, 1999. An in-depth account of cases of Native resistance to environmental and cultural degradation, stressing the possibility for healing and building community. (Out of print, but can still be found in some stores and online).
- The Winona LaDuke Chronicles, by Winona LaDuke. A collection of current, pressing and inspirational stories of Indigenous communities from the Canadian subarctic to the heart of Dine Bii Kaya, the Navajo Nation. Spotted Horse Press, 2016.
- Plays and films are powerful ways to dramatize new perspectives and raise people’s awareness.
- Drama, theatre, film, and videography provide students with creative ways to explore their own understandings of sustainability concerns and for raising their own—and others’—awareness.
Additional Resources for Drama & Theatre
- Climate Change Materials for Teachers ClimateChangeLive.org website.
- Disobedience Kelly Nyks (film, 41 minutes, 2016). “The story of the struggle to save the world… the David vs. Goliath tales of front-line leaders around the world risking life and limb for a liveable climate.”
- National Energy Development Project (NEED) Many curricular materials at a variety of levels.
- Political Stages Edited by Mann and Roessel. Applaude Theatre & Cinema Books, 2002. Short plays by 20th-century playwrights, with introductions.