Emergency Chorus presents:
ZOO Playground (Venue 186), Edinburgh Festival Fringe, 2-25 August 2019
A beguiling exploration of endings, apocalypse, and life in the wilderness.
A razed forest, a cluster of blooming mushrooms, and two people journeying towards the horizon. One foot in front of the other.
As of 2019, The Doomsday Clock is the closest it’s ever been to midnight. In an age of climate change and nuclear anxiety, we like to tell stories about apocalypse, disaster, endings. This isn’t quite one of those stories.
Landscape (1989) is the second full length work by Emergency Chorus, following their award-winning debut show CELEBRATION. It is a devised piece of performance that combines elements of live art and theatre to look at how we envisage our future through the slow, unstoppable disaster of climate change. It’s about survival and finding hope amongst ruins.
Using the company’s signature style, the show is formed of a collage of choreography, text, music and striking imagery drawn from wide-ranging sources, from films to contemporary folk music and anthropological studies. Compared to the epic scale and bombast of Hollywood apocalypse thrillers, Landscape (1989) is an unusually intimate, reflective and beautiful piece of performance which invites the audience to consider their place in the world, and issues a quiet call to attention – if we listen carefully enough to the ground beneath our feet, what might we hear?
What is the carbon footprint of bringing this production to Edinburgh, and have you incorporated any activities that enable you to reduce this?
As a company made up of people who can’t drive, we’re well-placed to travel in an eco-friendly way! This show fits into three suitcases, and we’ll be transporting them via coach and train all the way up the country – we recently participated in PULSE Festival’s Suitcase Prize, which challenges theatre-makers to do just that.
We’ve partnered with Staging Change, led by the amazing power-houses Alice Boyd and Josie Dale-Jones of Poltergeist and ThisEgg respectively. They’ve got loads of advice on having a #SustainableFringe, from putting together a reusable food kit (KeepCup, reusable water bottle, cutlery) to recycling and swapping props.
We’re also getting our print marketing from a Staging Change-supported printer! Out of the Blueprint in Edinburgh print gorgeous handmade Risograph flyers and posters with soy based inks, banana paper stencils, and recycled waste paper. They take fewer resources to make and since the printer is based in the city, we can collect our order on foot, with no delivery needed.
In terms of props, our show has a consumable that’s actually, well, consumable. We cook and eat a batch of chestnut mushrooms in every performance, so we’re currently trying to find a grocer’s, farmers’ market, or similar where food isn’t packaged in plastic or is grown locally.
In the face of climate crisis, it’s so easy to feel helpless – and angry at the big institutions who won’t change their actions. But these small practical things are welcome ways to change how many resources we use everyday.
In what ways do you feel that theatre can bring anything to this discussion, especially in the light of the recent imaginative activism that has been engaging the media, such as Extinction Rebellion?
Are there methods that theatre can use to do beyond ‘raising awareness’, since it strikes me that much of the audience will at least be aware of the issue?
What Extinction Rebellion has been really good for is getting people’s attention. Everyone was already aware of climate change, maybe even of the dire urgency of the situation, but this time last year we weren’t thinking about it every moment of every day, and now we are – every weather forecast, piece of plastic packaging and restaurant menu is a reminder. It’s unignorable and ever-present.
That’s step one. Theatre can add to the conversation – in ways which are, yes, activist, but also intimate, emotional, nuanced, interdisciplinary. It is a space in which to pause, and think and feel deeply. There’s been a lot of talk about ‘climate grief’ – a feeling of hopelessness, despair and anger in the face of the enormity of the climate crisis. In order to find a way out of grief and into action, we first need to acknowledge that grief and create space to lament and mourn. That’s something theatre is good for: it has the power to heal and transform people. The author Naomi Klein writes that ‘books about social and ecological change too often leave out a vital component: how do we change ourselves so that we are strong enough to fully contribute to this great shift?’ We’d argue that the only way theatre is able to change the world is by changing people first.
We’ve often said that our work tracks a journey from the intellectual to the emotional, and that’s what we’re doing for climate change with this show – making the distant feel intimate and immediate. A character was killed off recently on Russell T. Davies’ new TV show Years and Years, a white middle-class British person who drowned on a refugee boat crossing the channel. There was a shockwave reaction in the show’s audience – they were familiar with the issue, but it was seemingly impossible, and deeply painful, to watch it happen to someone who looks like them. That transformation of ideas from rhetorical headlines to emotional impact is what we hope Landscape (1989) and the arts in general (if the industry survives the coming climate crisis) might do.
What elements of climate change do you explore, and what ideas are you keen for the audience to take away?
We were initially interested in apocalypse narratives – about life after seismic civilisation-wide collapse, and what new ways of living, what new relationships between humans and the wild environment, might occur. We got interested in the ecological tenacity of mushrooms, and the way that some species grow well after forest fires – a lifeform that thrives in disaster. In the wake of the 2018 California wildfires, this seemed like a great metaphor for renewal, for finding beginnings out of endings, action after grief.
When we started to research mushrooms, we were struck by a really powerful sense of wonder and beauty at the things; a kind of magic (not the psychedelic kind) which many others – mycologists, foragers, composers, artists – have attested to as well.
If the show advocates for anything, it’s to listen closer to nature; to its many complexities, its hugeness, its life. It’s quite difficult to properly hold a space for true attention in Edinburgh, where the audience is usually a mix of tired/broke artists and festival-goers packing 6 or 7 shows into a day. We want the audience to feel like they have space to pause, slow down, and reflect. How might we change if we were to put everything down, trace back the destructive, accelerating thrust of progress, and to see ourselves instead as a small part of a wider narrative which precedes and will outlast us?
Landscape (1989) by Emergency Chorus ZOO Playground High School Yards, Edinburgh, EH1 1LZ (Venue 186) 2nd Aug 2019 – 25th Aug 2019 (not 6, 13, 20) 12:45 pm firstname.lastname@example.org | 0131 662 6892
Running time: 60 minutes | Suitable for ages: 12+
Created and performed by Ben Kulvichit and Clara Potter-Sweet Producer Emily Davis Lighting Designer Ciara Shrager Sound Designer / Dramaturg Nat Norland Publicity Image Greta Bendinelli
Supported by IATL (Institute of Advanced Teaching and Learning) and New Diorama Theatre.
About the Company
Emergency Chorus make live performance which engages with the contemporary moment with energy and playfulness. We like loud music, costume changes and getting sweaty.
Emergency Chorus are a New Diorama Emerging Graduate Company for 2018-2019, and were recently featured in the Guardian article ‘Making an Entrance: 5 of the UK’s Best Young Theatre Companies’. They first met with acclaim at the National Student Drama Festival where they won the Sunday Times Playwriting, Freckle Family Show and Festgoers’ Awards for CELEBRATION, which then toured nationwide and gained critical recognition at Edinburgh 2017. Landscape (1989) is their second show.