Combating the apocalyptic portrayal of climate change, Generation Hot presents a series of performances from emerging artists at Vancouver’s Fringe Festival. For six months, these young artists attended workshops and discussions around the topic of climate change prior to the creation of their own productions. Generation Hot’s Program A showcases three separate productions in a span of ninety minutes—Disposable Generation is a theatrical piece about plastic consumption, Amber is an intergenerational family drama and Umizoko is an interactive art exhibit and theatre hybrid.
On a makeshift stage in a Granville Island parking lot, the plastic-wrapped furniture of the Disposable Generation set stands in stark contrast to the surrounding concrete. A peppy housewife pours brightly-coloured candy into a Tupperware container and presents them to her son. She puts the lid on it and throws it onto the ground following every meal, creating a small mountain of plastic on the side of the stage.
The housewife’s movements becoming increasingly robotic, she spins in dizzying circles to the upbeat music with a smile plastered on her face. Her son’s movements get increasingly sluggish, getting sick from his meals of no substance but she does not seem to notice. It is an ominous picture of willful ignorance at the cost of convenience with very real repercussions.
In Amber, we are introduced to Weiling and her son Gerald. Tensions rise when Gerald chastises his mother for obtaining fish in a future world impacted by climate change, with fishing restrictions in place to promote sustainability. Weiling tells her son that the fish reminds her of home, and is resistant to his logic and his authority as a government official.
Amber, played by nine-year old Kerensa Cooper is a welcome refresher amidst the emotionally-charged dialogue. Her arrival dissipates the tension in the room, and serves to remind the adults that there are much more important things at stake in this discussion.
Playing Weiling, Wynn Siu delivers a thoroughly convincing performance as Gerald’s exasperated mother. When Weiling descends into a rant in Cantonese, her frustration is palpable. She rejects her son’s language and refuses to conform to his Western sensibilities of sustainability in protest to the loss of her culture.
The dialogue offers nuance in discussions of climate change often wrought with didacticism. Gerald critiques the dreams of the older generation, including that of his mother, telling her that the accumulation of a big house and a car are unsustainable ways of living. Weiling lobbies back that she sacrificed so much to put her son through school for a more comfortable future, just to have him grow up and tell her that she can’t indulge in her creature comforts.
At the end of the piece, Weiling sings her granddaughter to sleep after she wakes up from a nightmare. The scene poignant, at once exposing us to the strength and vulnerability of the character and reminding us that the story of climate change is one that affects humanity.
The lights dim and people in full body suits appear with gas masks on. Sirens blare, and an overhead announcement calls for an evacuation following a nuclear incident. The audience is guided out of the theatre space into a parking lot. People look around uncertainly until the sirens stop and are invited back into the space. There are not enough seats for everyone; so some of the audience sit on blankets on the floor while the sound of waves echo around the room.
Umizoko successfully immerses the audience in a world recovering from disaster. It begins with the account of three women who recount their experiences in Japan. As they speak, the women prepare traditional Japanese foods; one woman makes onigiri, another prepares a raw fish. The women speak of simpler times, and how food shortages have put stress on their relationships. They do not explicitly explain what has happened, and the audience is left to piece it together.
Through separate stations around the space, the audience interacts with narratives delivered in different formats from people affected by the disaster. A man in a video warns us of impending disaster, there is an audio testimony, a video log narrates a younger girl’s experience of what has happened, and there is a prompt to text a number and ask what has happened to the nuclear reactors. Somebody sends a text back, telling you what has happened, and asks, “Do you remember Fukushima?”
The disembodied voices are effective in invoking intrigue and an ominous tone in the narrative. The use of different media is successful in incorporating the narrative of many different voices in a limited time frame. The sometimes competing media, though unintentional, echoes a reality we are often faced with and evoke a sense of unease and confusion.
Program A of Generation Hot offers three vastly different interpretations of the struggles against climate change without offering easy conclusions. The artists involved, challenge conventions of theatre and offer innovative storytelling techniques in a discussion so often dominated by facts. In the face of the stark realities of climate change, Generation Hot delivers narratives of hope.