INSIDE THE GREENHOUSE | Re-telling climate change stories

Youth Shine in Performance for Resilience

Lead Author:

Beth Osnes

Shine is a performance for youth-led community engagement for resilience planning. It weaves climate science and artistic expression into a funny and powerful story that spans 300 million years of geological time to convey the interrelationship among energy, humanity, and climate. Rehearsing each part of the musical immerses youth in the lexicon surrounding climate and energy, and leads participants in embodying different aspects of climate science and human development that brought the earth to this point, where our use of fossil fuels is impacting our climate. The first half of the show is professionally scripted, composed, and choreographed to tell the story that has already been told by history; the second half—our future story—is authored by local youth to generate solutions for their city’s resilience challenges. The design for this performance experience is based on the belief that if people are guided in proposing solutions aligned with their values and priorities, they are more likely to feel ownership for and act on those solutions (Markowitz et al. 24). The purpose of this essay is to demonstrate the efficacy and value of using performance for including the contributions of adolescents, primarily ages 9–14, to their city’s plan for resilience.

Shine has been performed by local youth in eight different communities from 2015 to 2017, five of which are cities that are a part of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) initiative: Boulder, New York City, London, New Orleans, Chicago, and three that are not—Tuba City, Arizona, within the Navajo Nation; Malope, South Africa; and Brookfield, Connecticut. This show falls beneath the applied theatre or applied performance umbrella, since it enlists the participation of nonperformers in mostly nontraditional performance spaces, and uses performance as a tool to work through areas of concern that participants identify (Prendergast and Saxton; Rohd; Taylor; Thompson). As an associate professor of theatre and environmental studies at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder), I wrote and created this performance experience in collaboration with nationally recognized performing artists and climate scientists. Three-time Grammy winner Tom Wasinger composed the music, and master teacher with the New York City National Dance Institute and former Broadway performer Arthur Fredric developed the choreography. Primary scientific collaborators include Paty Romero Lankao of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and Joshua Sperling of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). It is noteworthy to mention that both scientists actively engaged in the rehearsal process and performed beside youth performers in several performances. I traveled to each location of the tour to facilitate each of these performances, which were mostly hosted by a school with student performers ranging from fourth to eighth grade, although I also worked with high school students in Tuba City and university students in Boulder and London. The intention of the tour was to learn best practices from each city’s process to contribute to a deeper understanding of how performance can effectively engage youth in authoring their city’s plan for resilience. A book on Shine, titled Performance for Resilience: Engaging Youth on Energy and Climate through Music, Movement, and Theatre (Osnes), shares the lessons learned and recommendations from all the locations reached by the tour and the open-source materials for producing Shine. Read more ...