World’s most Remote Theatre tackles Eco-Anxiety
By Carol Dance
The Blue Room Theatre is in Perth, Western Australia, the most isolated city on any continent, anywhere on Earth. I research cultural activities that relate to the climate crisis, particularly theatre, and came across Blue Room Theatre’s multi-faceted project titled I Feel Fine, showing in Perth. The project deals with eco-anxiety, particularly among young people, and it’s getting good reviews.
“This is a strong statement about climate change and a need for positive action… this funny, irreverent and hopeful show is also an examination of the eco-anxious and a show of support for those who need reassurance” – Stage Whispers
Playwright and producer Zachary Sheridan was kind enough to answer my interview questions.
You are getting good reviews for I Feel Fine. How anxious are people in Western Australia about the climate crisis, including anxiety of mining communities waiting for transitioning to other industries?
I can’t obviously speak for everyone, but within my communities (the younger population; the arts; etc.), there is definitely climate-related anxiety. I feel it. Perth is an isolated place and the city has a very precarious relationship with water considering more than half of it comes from desalination sources. The reports coming out from organisations like the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) are damning and yet governments continue to turn a blind eye. However, something like 30% of homes in Perth now have solar panels. So people are taking action even if governments are letting us down. Of course, we need a just transition and job creation for all fossil fuel industry workers and communities.
Did many school children participate in either the September 20 strike or the Rebellion Extension protests in Perth?
Like everywhere, it was massive! Over 10,000 people packed into Forrest Chase and then marched for the Global Climate Strike. And yes, there were plenty of school children & young people. It was a hopeful experience.
I have searched the Net to see if there is any other theatre doing anything like this anywhere in the world, and can’t find anything. How did your group come up with this original theatrical mix to help with eco-anxiety, especially among young people?
The argument goes that if stories create culture, and our heavy-consumption culture is at odds with solving the climate crisis, then we need to reinvigorate the way we tell stories and what those stories are. For example, narrative theatre that promotes the individual rather than the power of community is arguably not the type of story we need right now. At the same time, we need to recognise that complex global problems like the climate crisis require complex solutions. And I believe theatre and storytelling has a role to play. In the instance of I Feel Fine, it was about creating a piece for those with eco-anxiety to come with their shame and guilt and concerns, and be given space to grieve & heal. These issues are too hard to face alone. We need to come together.
You have various government grants and sponsors. Were these supporters welcoming of the idea of an eco-anxiety project or was there some resistance?
We’ve had no resistance. Something that’s been an interesting attempt with this project – which I’m looking to explore more, further – is having engagements for audience and community that exist in relationship to – but also outside – what happens inside the theatre space. This doesn’t mean site-specific work or guerrilla street theatre, this is more about when you have a performance that exists in the theatre space, and want those ideas and themes to expand beyond the walls. I take inspiration from New Victory Theatre in NYC who excel at foyer engagement. For I Feel Fine, we’ve had dank zines for eco-anxious teens scattered throughout Perth; a place to write postcards for the planet; card decks of emblems to cope with climate-shame, etc. This isn’t extra marketing collateral (although it can act in that way). This is as important as the show. I think with more resources, there’s a lot of exciting scope in this area for change.
Now, please tell us about the program. The postcards? The performances? The pop-up stalls around the city? The Church of the Anthropocene (great idea!)? And the name, Public Service Announcement?
(I see I jumped a question ahead). Like many religions with their missions and pilgrimages, we wanted this work to exist outside the show (sermon) itself. I think it has made the work more accessible. A visit to the website introduces audiences to all of the work’s themes and the process of making it. The idea behind the church is riffing off the notion that there’s actually great value in “preaching to the converted.” For me, just because we all agree climate change is real and devastating, doesn’t mean then that we can’t make theatre about it. The assumption made is that theatre has to change people’s minds about certain things. That’s the sole purpose. Which it can. But performance can also be a place to come together, to reflect, to share in our despair and our hope. It’s a complex world. Every show is different. The purpose of I Feel Fine is to give that space for the eco-anxious… & humour is very important in this pursuit. That’s why we have an entire scene dedicated to the “sin” of forgetting one’s keep cup.
How has it worked having the multi-titles and concepts? Do different groups come to each activity? Is the intent to help to get the story out to various groups who might only go to one kind of activity?
The intent is definitely to assist more people engage with the work and in different ways. Different things work for different people. This is also an attempt & a learning process. Next time we will know better how to get the best out of having such a multi-faceted concept. We have “tarot readings” before the show with our emblems to cope with climate-shame – & some people have got more out of this, or the dank zines, than the theatrical performance of I Feel Fine itself.
And finally, what’s next? Are you going to repeat some or all of the parts of the eco-anxiety project?
There’s been lots of warm feedback from audiences wanting to see more of this world. I think there is more life for the “Church of the Anthropocene” and with different content and in different forms. It needs to change, I suppose. To keep up with our rapidly changing landscapes. For me, this is the most pressing issue of our time. When you read the news, it’s hard to justify to myself making work about anything else. I mean, our species could go extinct.
I’m writing a play at the moment that’ll be on next Fringe World. It’s about endangered species & power structures & water. It’s very silly and absurd and is mostly told by nonhuman characters. It’s more theatrically conventional than I Feel Fine. It’s another attempt to uncover how best to discuss these overwhelming and terrifying issues.