re-telling climate change stories

SHINE: A New Way of Teaching People, A New Way of Reaching People


Meridith Richter

Last fall when I was in the midst of brainstorming ideas for my climate change film, I was determined that when it comes to climate change communication, there needed to be a change in perspective. Much of the detachment people feel towards climate change stems from their belief that the earth is too large for them to really make a difference. When people are busy with their everyday lives, and when the effects of climate change have not yet significantly impacted those daily activities, why should they feel immediately concerned? The threat seems distant, and frightening statistics lack in appeal towards the general public, who is likely to resist the negative news if it comes on too strongly. Therefore, my main goal when creating that film was to shift the perspectives of the viewers, to reframe their points of view. I wanted to connect with them in a personal way, in order to convince them of the crucial role they play individually in this ongoing climate change story.

That story is one which perpetuates from generation to generation, each era passing the Earth on to its successors. The emotional appeal of that story is the emphasis of the Earth’s role in not only our lives, but our children’s lives, our grandchildren’s lives, and so on and so forth. Reconstructing the perspective of a viewer is possible if the Earth is re-identified as a gift, one that we hand off (in whatever shape we’ve left it in) to the future. I did this quite literally in my film, by presenting the Earth in marble-sized form that was displayed, resting within my own hand. I was struck recently that SHINE the musical does this in a much subtler way, and I believe this is a core factor in the communicative success of the show.

The musical begins with this same story: the Earth moving through generations, while humanity develops and begins to depend heavily on fossil fuels. The audience (usually comprised of parents, siblings, and other community members) watches intently as the performers enact this choreographed and scripted timeline. While the music throughout the performance guides the historical narrative, the many intersections of ages, disciplines, and backgrounds (both on and off stage) remarkably widen SHINE’s informative and inspirational reach.

Older kids, younger kids, and adults all gather to play out this climate change narrative, their familiar faces reminding the audience of the generations to come who will be affected by future climate challenges. Dancers, artists, scientists, and all others collect to share their different strengths to construct an equally emotional and logical call to action. As one young dancer from the Connecticut performance of SHINE puts it, dance is “usually just feelings and emotions, and bringing education into it is an amazing experience which I am grateful for. I think it is a new way of teaching people.”

SHINE brings home a topic that, for some, does seem remote. Young people are given the chance to speak directly to their relatives and community members, appealing through song and dance, and then through the personal solutions they author on their own. SHINE effectively bridges the detachment some feel towards climate change by placing the narrative into the hands of those onstage artists, dancers, and scientists alike. These performers, in turn, place the burden of the story’s development into the waiting hands of the audience, in the same way my film portrays the handing-over of a small, marble-sized Earth.