Grantee/Partner News

In Search of a New Aesthetic

April 29, 2015

Grantee News From: The Arctic Cycle

Chantal Bilodeau kicks off the series Theatre in the Age of Climate Change with an account of her trip to the Canadian Arctic and how that changed how she wanted to write plays.

This week on HowlRound, we are exploring Theatre in the Age of Climate Change. How does our work reflect on, and respond to, the challenges brought on by a warming climate? How can we participate in the global conversation about what the future should look like, and do so in a way that is both inspiring and artistically rewarding? 

It all began with a research trip to the Canadian Arctic. After being commissioned by Seema Sueko, then Artistic Director at Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company, to write a play about the intersection of race, class, and climate change, I found myself on a plane heading to Iqaluit in the territory of Nunavut to learn more about the Great North and its inhabitants.

My initial idea was to write about the opening of the Northwest Passage. With sea ice melting and the possibility of an Arctic shipping route opening soon, there was going to be significant impact on local Inuit communities. But after spending three weeks in Nunavut, after talking to scientists and government officials, Inuit activists and elders, environmentalists and tourists, after hiking the pass in Auyuittuq National Park and eating arctic char and caribou, I realized that my idea was too simplistic, and that to capture the complexity and magnitude of the drama unfolding at the top of our world, I needed to rethink how I wrote my plays.


It has become a cliché to say that climate change is the biggest challenge humanity has had to face. But it is nonetheless true that the scope of the problem is unprecedented. No part of our lives remains untouched. Our economies, infrastructures, political systems, environment, societies are all being affected. The impact of climate change is so profound that we now have a word to describe the geological epoch that is being shaped by it: the Anthropocene.

We will all be affected to different degrees, but no one will escape. And since greenhouse gases permeate the global atmosphere, there is no way to address the problem locally, without taking the entire system into account. This is particularly true in the Arctic where the Inuit population is being disproportionately affected by warming temperatures, yet produces very little carbon emissions. The Inuit cannot, on their own, protect their home because the forces threatening it are coming from places that are not under their jurisdiction. If they are to remain in the Arctic, where they have lived for millennia, they need the help of big emitters like the US and the rest of Canada. They also need to develop their economy, which translates into resource extraction. And they need to contend with a federal government that, given the new geopolitics in the Arctic, has huge stakes in maintaining a strong presence. More>

More on Theatre in the Age of Climate Change From:

Jennifer Sokolove, Program Director, Compton Foundation

Supporting the Intersection of Art and Activism




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