Jay Miller On … Devising a Show About Climate ChangeDate: 17 January 2010
Jay Miller is co-founder of Marvin and the Cats, the devised theatre company whose climate change-inspired show, The Forecast, is running at the Greenwich Playhouse from 19 January to 7 February.
The show, which is the company’s first, tells the story of three tourists who find themselves adrift in the middle of the ocean after their cruise ship sinks. Drawing on European traditions including Comedia dell’arte and mime, as well as acrobatics and circus-style clowning, the company illustrates the trio’s battle for survival, creating in the process what they call an ‘entertaining journey through complex issues’. Here Miller tells WOS about how that journey came about.
We started conceiving The Forecast back in May, coming up with the idea of climate change, what we wanted to talk about and play with and coming up with a situation. Then in the summer we relocated to our resident theatre, ARC in Stockton-on-Tees and spent six weeks developing the show. We premiered it there and it was brought down to London as a consequence of that. We’ve been re-rehearsing and developing it further for another three weeks down here. Because the show is devised it’s constantly changing and developing. It’s very much a live experience; it’ll probably change from night to night. We’re at the stage where we’re busy tweaking things but I imagine we’ll be at that stage until the show finishes because we think that’s what makes good theatre.
What we did in the summer was a show about what we want to say about climate change, and how we respond as people to an imminent, but unquantifiable, threat. Since then we’ve really pushed the story. There’s a lot of devised theatre that tells stories, but not so much in this country that takes political issues and illustrates them, and that’s what we hope to achieve. We’ve decided that our stories should be about things that are a huge concern to us as people, rather than being based purely in fiction.
From the beginning, we absolutely did not want to focus on the science of it. We’re under no illusion – we’re theatre practitioners, not scientists - so although we did a lot of research, we’re not qualified to tell people about the science, to tell people what they should do, or what they should think. That is absolutely not what The Forecast does. What we wanted to do was explore what we feel about climate change as a notion, as a threat. It’s a threat that we’ve created so it’s about society, it’s about us, coping with climate change. We always knew that we wanted to illustrate that and mirror it and, the thing that’s fundamental to our work, make people laugh with it.
It’s about entertainment and performance as much as the issues we address. We know that the issues are of interest, but we put it in a form that is entertaining. It’s funny and people can just sit back and be entertained by the skill of the performers. It’s got lots of clown elements to it and that’s what brings the humour.
We don’t want our show to be a lecture at all, but we do hope to create a piece of theatre that people will talk about, that people will go out and think, ‘how does that relate to me, how does that relate to what I do and the decisions that I make?’ So to that extent, we do want to make an impact, but the show will absolutely not make people feel bad for their actions, because we’ve got too much of that anyway these days. We want to fuel thought, which will then hopefully lead to action.