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The cast of 2019's Climate Change Theatre Action. There will be two more performances on Thursday and Sunday.

Theatre is more than just entertainment, as demonstrated by Iowa State University Theatre’s performances of Climate Change Theatre Action (CCTA): Lighting the Way. CCTA is an international initiative using skits, monologues and other performance pieces to start a discussion about climate change within a local setting.

Iowa State’s rendition features 18 diverse scripts within one performance. CCTA partners with Humanities Iowa and the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Masters of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing & Environment, The EcoTheatre Lab, Iowa State University's Office of Sustainability/Live Green! Initiative, Parks Library and the Ames Public Library make these performances free for students, faculty and the community. 

Before the show, the cast presented three musical pieces. The intimate folk-style songs had audience members tapping their toes along with the swaying singers. The selections were simple yet impactful as they portrayed a clear picture of how a girl loves the ocean and how animals are affected by the rising temperatures. 

Then, it was time for the show to begin. The series started with a dramatic narrative titled, “Starving to Death in Midtown.” The queen bee of the hive tells the story of how her colony was poisoned by the use of pesticides in New York City and became a nomadic tribe relocating after they were forced out of their homes. The actors used their body language to sell the idea that they were not human. They pinned their hands behind their backs to create the impression of wings and moved their bodies in a coordinated dance of flight. Using these techniques captured the audience’s attention, and set the bar high for the rest of the show.

The next skit was one titled “Bounty.” It tells the story of a son who loves his mother. Quickly, he notices something is not right and becomes concerned. This piece is high in symbolism and never once mentions climate change, yet very clearly gets its point across. This was a case of “show, don’t tell” that helped the performance gain momentum.

While most of the performance pieces in the show were serious, the cast took the opportunity to provide humor with “Pond Life.” The two frogs used physical and verbal humor to make the audience laugh. This piece was also inventive in the way sound effects were made. I was utterly convinced the crew was playing a pond soundtrack over the speakers before I realized that all sounds were produced by cast members crouched in the aisles. There were all sorts of bird calls, whistles, clicks, wind noises, owl hoots and other aquatic sounds.

The piece “Drip” didn’t have as clear of a storyline. Instead, it was featured more on the act of movement and how the performers transitioned jagged, sharp movements into smooth, fluid motion. This scene seemed to be up to the audience to interpret a message unique to the individual.

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Performers Daniel Heddendorf and Sydni Lapsley rehearse for Climate Change Theatre Action: Lighting The Way. 

“Interwoven” was the shortest of all the acts, but not even close to least impactful. This striking choral reading featured a small ensemble of women speaking about the power of Mother Nature herself. The feminist message went to show that girl power is not to be messed with. 

In the scene called “Rube Goldberg Device for the Generation of Hope” there were two entertainers: an optimistic author and her sarcastic inner-narrative. Together, they facilitated a human Rube Goldberg machine while providing an uplifting message and witty side-comments. It ended with the audience and cast coming together to sing a rendition of “Lean on Me,” complete with claps and dancing.

To end the show, the cast drove it home with a segment titled “Earth Duet.” For this piece, the cast spread out across the stage and aisles and spoke in random unisons and divisions, so the audience never knew who was speaking. It was similar to a homemade surround sound effect. This kept the crowd engaged throughout the entire piece. The script also used thoughtful repetition to express humans can’t always change the way the world works, but we can change “the way we work upon the world.”

In addition to humans, the audience experienced climate change through butterflies, trees, dogs, plants, turtles, extinct species, hurricanes, wind, weather, future species, the Earth itself and many more. With each role, the actors took care to change the way they moved their body, and even at times took on an accent. There was also considerable use of sound effects made with the human voice that helped to make the show believable. The diverse viewpoints showed how serious the climate change issue is and how important it is to take action while taking the audience on an emotional roller coaster. 

During the intermission and immediately following the show, Iowa State University Theatre hosted a Sustainability Resource Fair. 

Liz Calhoun, a representative from the City of Ames Smart Watersheds, said, “I have a passion for trying to keep our streets [and waterways] clean. The city is striving to do that through our programs and through educating everybody.”

Another group at the Sustainability Resource Fair was the Climate Reality Campus Corps. They are an international youth organization that promotes local action. Last May, they were proud to have the Student Government unanimously support their campaign to have the Iowa State Campus use only renewable energy by 2035. A few other groups in attendance were the Sustainable Agriculture Student Association, AgArts and the Ames Climate Action Team.

Levi Miller, a local student, said, “It brings to mind a lot of the issues that are going on and makes you think how we’re treating our world and what needs to change… It was interesting to hear the perspective of the animals and the environment working in them. It kind of makes you also think, ‘It’s living things that we’re killing.’”

Trevor Rhedin, senior in engineering at Iowa State, said the piece that was most impactful to him was “Homo Sapiens.”

“It was looking back and being like, ‘You know what? They screwed up but they tried. Probably,’” Rhedin said. “We’re assuming that they did their best, which is what’s going on with a multitude of people trying their best [...] and a multitude of other people are like, ‘We don’t care.’”

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Performers Sydni Lapsley, Lena Menefee-Cook and Olly Manning rehearse together for Climate Change Theatre: Lighting The Way.

There are two more free performances available at 5:15 p.m. Thursday outside of Parks Library and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Ames Public Library.

CCTA was just one piece of Iowa State University Theatre’s HERoic season, a season devoted entirely to showcasing plays and musicals written by females. The next play for HERoic will be “Chasing George Washington.” The show will be performed at Fisher Theater for $10 with a Student ID. Shows will be at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 25, 26, and 31, with a matinee at 1 p.m. on Oct. 27, and at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 1 and 2.

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