Youth Shine in Performance for Climate and Energy 

Shine is a musical performance for youth-led community engagement and 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 how energy, humanity, and climate are interrelated. Rehearsing each part of the mini-musical immerses youth in the lexicon surrounding climate and energy, and leads participants in embodying different aspects of climate science and human development that led us 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 convey this 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. Local youth are facilitated in performing the show in each location. This entire performance experience is designed to support and celebrate youth engagement in community resilience planning. Performance for Resilience: Engaging Youth on Energy and Climate through Music, Movement, and Theatre is a book to guide educators and youth organizers in using creative expression based on (or inspired by) Shine.

Paty Romeo Lankao rehearsing with youth in Shine.

In each city where this show has been mounted, local stakeholders have served as hosts and champions of the effort. Paty Romero Lankao is an interdisciplinary sociologist working as a senior research scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) leading the “Urban Futures” initiative. She was co-leading author to Working Group II of the Nobel prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) and convening author of IPCC: AR5, North American chapter. Born in Mexico, she now resides in Boulder, Colorado. Now imagine Lankao pushing tables to the side to make room for an all-day rehearsal in the finest conference room NCAR boasts – where IPCC negations took place and where the dramatic start of the Rocky Mountains fills the view of the floor-to-ceiling windows. Snacks of grapes, crackers, and cheese sticks are placed on the tables, and costumes are strewn around the carpet in preparation for thirteen young performers to arrive.

Through Lankao’s position at NCAR, she has claimed this place of positive social power for the expression of youth voices for authoring ‘urban futures.’ Throughout the day, she rehearsed the dances and movements alongside the youth, sometimes elucidating a scientific principle or idea brought up by the script. With a group of four other young people, she created and performed in a scene for Act Two that focused on the importance of maintaining our forests to avoid global warming. In the late afternoon, she performed in our public showing of Shine for NCAR scientists, invited guests, and the general-public. No one present could miss the crystal-clear messages she sent through her example: (1) the contributions of young people matter, (2) performance is a valid method for community engagement in authoring our city’s future.

Shine has been performed by local youth in eight different communities, five of which are cities that are a part of the Rockefeller Foundation 100 Resilient Cities Initiative: Boulder (June 2015), New York City (October 2015), London (January 2016), New Orleans (April 2016), Chicago (September 2017), and three that were not: Tuba City, Arizona within the Navajo Nation (March 2015), Malope, South Africa (June 2016), and Brookfield, Connecticut (July 2016).

Performing Shine at NCAR in Boulder, Colorado.

As an Associate Professor of Theatre and Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado (CU), 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 Lankao, energy engineer Joshua Sperling with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and James White, Professor of Geological Sciences and former Director of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (currently Dean of Arts & Sciences) at CU. I travelled to each location of the tour to facilitate each of these performances with local collaborating host institutions. 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.

Youth are often identified as being disruptive. If there was ever a time to disrupt the narrative of the energy and climate, it’s now. Shine invites and celebrates youth’s disruption of the status quo. Tom Wasinger, the composer of Shine, lovingly describes the rehearsal process as “controlled chaos”. The freedom of thought, preposterous ideas, radical concern, and outright silliness that youth have brought to city planning through the tour of Shine has been exceptional. This theatrical approach offers a viable alternative mode for exploring, thinking, and creating modes for living in this world. What we do in these coming decades will determine if we can thrive or even survive on this planet as a species. How we plan for our future and who we include in the planning may determine what that future looks like. Participatory performance by youth is one way to shine a light on a brighter future.

Included in the supporting  Open Source Materials for using this performance are the script, links to the music, videos of the choreography for each song, materials for building curricula, interviews with collaborators, and a professionally shot video of the entire production. These materials, along with a two-minute trailer of the international tour, can be found on the Inside the Greenhouse website. Check out Performance for Resilience for deeper analysis of the lessons learned along Shine’s year-long international tour and conclusions on how to best utilize performance for resilience planning.

(Top image: Weaving the fabric of community in the performance of Shine.)

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Beth Osnes, PhD is an Associate Professor of Theatre and Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado. She is co-director of Inside the Greenhouse, an initiative for creative communication on climate.  She is passionate about using performance as a tool for youth and women to participate in authoring their own climate and clean energy futures. Recent books include Performance for Resilience: Engaging Youth on Energy and Climate through Music, Movement, and Theatre (Palgrave 2017) and Theatre for Women’s Participation in Sustainable Development (Routledge 2014). She is featured in the award-winning documentary Mother: Caring for 7 Billion.

One thought on “Youth Shine in Performance for Climate and Energy 

  1. An excellent article, Beth. Thorough and inspiring. I hope you can arrange a performance of SHINE with and for some of the 21 kids in the Our Childrens Trust climate lawsuit against our government, if tomorrow morning’s court appeal allows their trial to happen, finally, on Feb. 5. As the author of a “climate” play, PRISONERS OF HOPE, I agree with you that theatre can be an effective instrument for social change.

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