Theatre professor aims to get people talking, rather than arguing, about climate change
On all seven continents, people are popping up covered head-to-toe in green.
These green people, who are taking pictures of themselves in front of familiar cityscapes and famous landmarks, are participating in Beth Osnes’ Green Suits Your City, which aims to spark conversation about climate change.
This project gives people a chance to physically embody the concept of greening our cities, says Osnes, an associate professor of theatre and dance at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Green Suits Your City works to change the issue of climate change from an “intellectual concept” to an embodied experience by engaging both performers and non-performers in a form of socially active applied theatre.
Osnes says her project helps people relate to one another on climate-change issues in a way that “bypasses some of the defenses” that people naturally have. It does so by giving them a “relatable and delightful” experience from which to base their conversation.
“It matters how we start the conversation,” Osnes says. “If I start a conversation … with my finger pointed like I’m blaming you, we are going to have a very specific type of conversation.”
Osnes’ project provides an opportunity to start a conversation based on curiosity and not hostility. She challenges the idea that people are not acting on issues of climate change because of a lack of information, but instead because they may feel it does not relate to them.
The idea came from Osnes’ show, Shine, which she describes as “a mini musical for youth engagement in climate and energy issues.” In that show, children don green suits as a way to represent ancient plants.
“Something happens to the kids when they get into them. Their inhabitations change. Their behavior changes. Their performance in their own bodies changes. They get very physically expressive.”
Shine is a part of an initiative she co-founded and co-directs at CU Boulder, Inside the Greenhouse, which focuses on creative climate communication.
Osnes is an applied theatre practitioner, which means that she uses theatre in communities with primarily non-performers to stimulate social change. She obtained her bachelor’s in theology from Marquette University and her master’s and PhD in theatre from CU Boulder.
Osnes uses theatre in her work primarily with women and children to teach them how to use performance to empower their own voices. Currently her focus is on environmental challenges, but this expressive outlet brings her hope in the face of difficult work.
“For me, why I selfishly do this project is to keep myself joyful in this work,” Osnes said. “I have children, and I care so much about our world and our future, and it’s bleak when you look at our current trajectory … To sustain me in this work, I do this project because it is fun, and it’s visual, and it makes me smile again and again.”