The Butterfly Affect is a guided experience to travel through a butterfly’s metamorphosis from egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, to butterfly. It is an invitation for homo sapiens to go inside and contemplate growth within themselves—to emerge transformed and ready to co-create an equitable, survivable, and thrive-able world for life and the eco-systems upon which life depends.
Effect versus Affect
“The butterfly effect theory” posits that a butterfly’s wing beating on one side of the world can cause a tornado on the other side of the world. Small changes can result in large and distant consequences. “Effect” (noun) is the change that has already happened. “Affect” (verb) is the action that causes change now. If climate is the aggregated effect of weather patterns over time, many of us united in action can change the climate. We can reverse global warming. The beatings of your wings and heart through The Butterfly Affect can travel around the world to create a more equitable, survivable, and thrive-able world.
At the beginning of The Butterfly Affect journey, participants give their guide their camera or phone to document their process of this metamorphosis. Throughout the experience, participants encounter various forms of art-science imagery, sounds, and text. Afterwards, each participant will be invited to reflect and post photos and commentary on their metamorphosis experience on www.thebutterflyaffect.org. The Co-Becoming Gallery is a curated space for sharing what emerges for each participant. This web platform will collect and share embodied ways of knowing to guide the restructuring and reimagining of our world.
This experiential performance can be set up outdoors, in a theatre, or other space. An “audience” of up to three people can enter in half-hour increments. The “audience” are the participants. Three participants enter the experience at a time and proceed from the first stage (egg) to the second (caterpillar), third (chrysalis), and final (butterfly). It takes about 25-30 minutes for each person to travel through the entire experience. Participants will each be led by a guide through the stages, each as one of three different butterfly species, Monarch, Blue Morpho, or Wester Tiger Swallowtail. Participants will move along from one stage of development to the next and be costumed for each stage and guided through a moving embodiment and thoughtful reflection of the transformation. Others who are not participating can watch this “performance.” However, the intended “audience” for whom this entire experience is designed is the people actively going through the stages. Being observed may change the experience for the participants.
An egg, a caterpillar, chrysalis, and a butterfly are all created of the same matter yet are capable of remarkable change from one iteration to the next. This performance experience is designed to impress upon participants that they have within them all that they need to be the change they yearn for right now. For homo sapiens who seek to transition from the current status quo to a radically different one that is equitable, survivable, and thrive-able, humbly tracing the steps of a butterfly’s transformation can guide this co-becoming. Material explorations can be a way to think through the body as a process of interspecies exchange. This is not an attempt to mimic or impersonate these various butterfly species, but rather an assertion of our unity as part of the same natural world in need of transformation for continued survival. It is an opening to the wisdom and guidance of species beyond our own. This performance experience is designed to be a contemplative and immersive invitation to reflect, dream, and imagine.
Co-Creators of this Project
This project began with an artistic urge to embody the beauty of a butterfly’s flight. I wrote the following line as an early expression of that urge, “If a dove is the symbol for peace, a butterfly is the symbol for change. Change is inevitable; making it beautiful is a choice.” I created my first puppet/costume out of a yellow bedsheet bought at a thrift store. I sewed on a hood and asked Juliana to paint it as a Western Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly. The magic occurred when I inserted the poles beneath the wings and held them pointing upwards backwards to enable the beating of the wings from back, out to the side, and back again in quick and seemingly effortless succession. Our first public use of these butterflies was at the 2019 Drawdown Learn Conference at the Omega Institute in NY. We have since used them at various climate strikes, performances at our Boulder City Climate Mobilization Action Plan Event, for photo shoots in National Parks and various cities, and in a procession on International Women’s Day to the United Nations building in NYC.
This project has transformed into an immersive performance experience for participants to travel through all four stages of a butterfly’s metamorphosis, from egg, to caterpillar, to chrysalis, to butterfly. In creating the eggs, caterpillars, and chrysalis/hammocks for this “performance,” I enjoy the material pleasure of imaging how to generate and create costumes for each stage to enrich and deepen this experience. I cherish the sharing of all of this with others to continue our collective transformation in art, life, and interspecies co-becoming as a part of the natural world.
Embodying a butterfly has surprisingly become one of my favorite expressions of self-joy. As a woman of color, I often feel hyper-visible in the spaces I occupy, particularly in nature. When I’m a butterfly puppet, this hypervisbility is transformed into a welcomed, desirable characteristic. I embrace the playfulness of the puppet, and as it expands my physical circumference, I feel a joyous liberation taking up space. The more I puppeteer, the more comfortable and knowledgeable I feel about climate concerns, and I am committed to extending this creative tool to facilitate inclusive eco-activism. It has been incredible experiencing the versatility of these puppets, from the UN Commission on the Status of Women to local climate strikes, to national parks.
Sarah Fahmy is an assistant professor of theatre at Florida State University. She is a decolonial scholartist, the co-founder of the Middle Eastern Theatre focus group at the Association of Theatre in Higher Education, and the author of several interdisciplinary articles, including “Eco-puppetry: playful disruptions for climate agency” in Puppetry International (2022).
My engagement in this project began some years ago with a conversation Beth and I shared about Climate Change. We were musing that the science, our knowledge of the facts, wasn't moving us collectively to action. But we agreed that when we paid close attention to something—whether swallows, clouds, rivers, or butterflies—we often fell in love and this part of nature became a portal into the wider conversation about the health of our planet. And we knew that beauty and something visually unexpected were compelling. Beth was then working with swallows, and I painted a large swallow costume, and have continued working with Beth. It is always an honor to talk with her about the world, and to collaborate on any and all projects that inspire engagement. The climate crisis is an irresistible invitation to change. Paying attention to the earth may offer the most instructive, compelling and beautiful templates for how to change. Juliana Forbes is a professional artist residing in Paonia, Colorado.
To be a butterfly is a powerful thing. A person must step out of their comfort zone, the routine in which they walk, to embrace and reevaluate their connection with the world around them. For me, when I donned the wings of a blue morpho for the first time, when I spread the cloth taught across my chest and held my head high, I viewed myself, one butterfly, one human, as much more. I stood out in my environment to stand in line with my values and aspirations for our future Earth. I was not simply just another face to glance over and then forget, no, I was a butterfly, a thing of nature, a change of perspective. Now, at every climate rally or march where I transform into a butterfly, I revel in the artistic and theatrical take on the movement, letting my voice soar through the air. This project has been an impassioned, joy-filled collaboration with fellow lovers of art and the natural world. I hope through our work we can inspire others to seek new methods of taking action and encourage them to take flight as their own catalysts of change. Ting Lester is an avid rock climber, a 2023 graduate of Boulder High School, and an undergraduate student at Colorado College.
Nancy Yoder CU Boulder Alum with a BS in Creative Technology Design and Computer Science. She works primarily on front end web design and mobile app development. She is passionate about graphic design, as well as other forms of art such as jewelry making and crochet. She started working for Inside the Greenhouse as a student employee graphic and web design, managing their social media accounts and websites as well as designing medias to display their curriculum. She is continuing her work as a post graduate freelancer for the organization.
To learn more or book a performance, contact:
Beth Osnes, Professor of Theatre and Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado
Co-founder of Inside the Greenhouse and the Creative Climate Communication and Behavior Change Center (C3BC) at CU, firstname.lastname@example.org