Drama students help Barking youngsters use performance to address climate change
Shine project helps Riverside School pupils dance their way to solutions
It may have been overcast outside but the gym at Riverside School in Barking lit up last Friday with ideas from 130 children eager to reduce energy consumption.
The young pupils, with help from University of East London (UEL) students studying Drama, Applied Theatre and Performance, danced and sang their way through Shine – a musical about climate change created by Professor Beth Osnes of the University of Colorado.
The Riverside youngsters showed a Shine audience of their peers how humanity and climate are interrelated and offered ideas about how society can alleviate some of its ills. Giving away bicycles, raising money for the homeless and encouraging the use of Segways were among the proposals.
“The kids were quite open to it. They were open to the play. They were willing to jump in and they had fun,” said UEL student Patricia Akoli, who took on the role of the sun in Shine.
The play is a project of the US-based Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities initiative, which encourages cities around the world to plan for the physical, social and economic challenges of the 21st century.
Shine is designed to give young people a voice in this process, explained Professor Osen, who travelled to Barking from Colorado to coordinate the performance. Professor Osen wrote Shine with input from climate scientists at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research.
“This is a project that is using theatre as a tool for youth to be able to have a voice in authoring their city’s plans for resilience,” she said.
“When you include youth, you include the entire community. Their parents can learn about what they’re learning at school. Parents can be invited to the performance. It’s a tool for community engagement.”
Barking (representing London) is the mid-way point of a five-city tour that includes Boulder, Colorado; New York City; Durban, South Africa and the Bay Area in California. All belong to the 100 Resilient Cities.
Footage of the five performances will be edited together to create one short film that Professor Osen hopes will become “a tool for other cities that want to use creative, embodied methods for including youth”.
UEL students helped out with Shine thanks to the long-standing ties the University’s drama programme has with the University of Colorado.
Patricia studied at the University of Colorado last year and even helped Professor Osen take an earlier version of Shine to the Navajo Nation in the American Southwest.
“One of the things we do in our programme at UEL is try to effect social change or affect the world in a positive way through theatre. It’s something we can do. It’s something we are training to do,” Patricia said.
Professor Osen noted, “I think the University of East London has a fantastic theatre programme. The students I have got to know when they come to the University of Colorado – we have really enjoyed having them. They have added so much good energy and commitment to art that I really love.”