Imagining the Future: Theatre, Magical Realism, and Global Warming
by Adjani Poirier
Climate change frightens me. Like a monster lurking in the shadows, it feels ominous and scary. It’s a BIG situation that merits BIG reactions, often leaving me feeling helpless, unsure of what to do, stuck.
Will the ocean rise and wash me away? Maybe… Will the ocean rise and wash me away less if I buy the correct energy-efficient light bulb? It’s hard to say…
Figuring out what to do in reaction to a catastrophe that’s so much bigger than myself is not an easy feat. When faced with this overwhelm, I look to storytellers to try and make sense of the world.
To quote queer science fiction writer Nalo Hopkinson,
“Marginalized people need a better world, we all do, but people who are on the fringes of it very much need a better world, and in order to figure out how to get there, we first have to be able to imagine it.”
Aha! I love this sentiment; as a queer woman of colour, it rings so true!
Nalo Hopkinson: Who gets left out of the future? from TED Ideas on Vimeo.
This idea is relevant to the discussion of global warming because a) marginalized people are disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change and b) figuring out how to navigate the complexities of climate change requires a lot of imagination.
So, How Do We Imagine the Future?
As a playwright, I use my craft to imagine what the future could be through stories on stage.
Theatre has always been my preferred method of understanding history, of untangling challenging questions, and of working through difficult emotions.
In my play Still Gay When I’m Not In Love, I use magical realism to explore global warming and what might happen if the Earth chose to teach humanity a lesson:
“THE EARTH HAS HAD ENOUGH! Her words, not mine. But I’m inclined to agree. Or rather I would be, if I were not impartial, which I am. She could no longer tolerate the abuses she was suffering at the hands of humanity, so she set fire to herself. To her entire planetary body. The fires will burn for 24 hours, and then: SHE WILL BEGIN AGAIN!”Still Gay When I’m Not In Love, Adjani Poirier
These are the words spoken by the character Angel of Death, a beautiful celestial bureaucrat. They are addressing the entirety of humanity, who has been violently thrust into a kind of purgatory because our lovely home planet decided she was fed up with the environmentally destructive shenanigans we humans were getting up to.
The idea is that when people return to the new “phoenix risen from the ashes” version of Earth, they’ll have the opportunity for a do-over — new forms of society, new ways of creating community, new people in charge. The big question the play asks is: in the face of the ongoing climate crisis, how do we build a better tomorrow for future generations?
Spoiler alert: the play doesn’t have all the answers. But it raises a lot of questions that contribute to an ongoing discussion around people’s thoughts, feelings, fears, and ideas around issues related to climate change.
The beautiful thing about theatre is that it’s a collaborative art form; it requires many artists with a variety of different skill sets to come together and create something. And then it invites audiences to witness and experience the work together. The very act of telling stories through theatre allows us to access an understanding of life on Earth that is connected, playful, and thought provoking. It’s the perfect antidote to the stress imposed by the neoliberal notion that our individual behaviours will make or break the future of our planet.
Stories shape how we think about tomorrow. They move us, change us, wake us up, and beg us to ask difficult questions that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no. They plant seeds of ideas for what is possible and provide roadmaps for how to get there — as well as what to look out for along the way.
Telling stories through theatre makes me feel like I am part of something bigger than myself.
Theatre is like an electric current, carrying us from one place to another and igniting a spark in our imaginations.
And I do truly believe that imagination is a key element in figuring out how to work toward a future that will hold us well.
Adjani Poirier is a queer theatre maker who currently lives and writes in her hometown of Tiohtiá:ke/Montreal where she studies playwriting at the National Theatre School of Canada. Her plays include Scorpio Moon, which was featured in Centaur Theatre and Playwrights’ Workshop Montreal’s 2022 Queer Reading Series; Celebrity Dogs, part of Boca del Lupo’s national project Plays2Perform @ Home; Still Gay When I’m Not In Love; and On Life and Living: A History of AIDS Community Care Montreal. She curated the 2021 edition of QueerCab with Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.
Centaur Theatre invited Adjani Poirier to contribute her thoughts on climate change and theatre-making in relation to the play, A Play for the Living in a Time of Extinction, playing April 26 – May 15, 2022 at Centaur Theatre.
Featured banner image: Adjani dressed up to participate in a May Day parade and performance. Photo by Kristen Brown.