Radio Plays Performed by John Jay Students Address Climate Change
By Rebecca Fullan and Kaitlin Mondello
From November 30 to Dec. 5, 2015, Professor Karen Malpede and her Sustainability and Environmental Justice and Theatre and Justice classes produced and performed dramatic readings of four plays on climate change, which aired on John Jay’s RADio568 Studio. The plays were selected from a broad range of volunteer submissions for the Climate Change Theater Action project. The broadcasts comprised the student readings and a recorded follow-up student discussion from Prof. Malpede’s Sustainability and Environmental Justice and Theatre Arts classes. The radio play project is part of ArtCop21, a worldwide arts festival leading up to the UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris (COP21),
“Starving to Death in Midtown” by Mindi Dickstein fictionalizes the true story of displaced bees building hives in Manhattan due to the decline of their natural habitat, partially resulting from the proliferation of pesticides. The play is narrated from the perspective of one of the last surviving bees, who explains the causes and consequences of colony collapse, a major concern for ecosystems in which bees play a crucial role in pollination.
“I didn’t know that it was that accessible for me to get on the radio and make a difference,” says Mohamed Habib, a student at John Jay, who played the bee. “I really appreciate Professor Malpede giving us the opportunity to be part of something great and possibly make a difference around the world.”
“The Cow Is Dead” by Deborah Zoe Laufer is an inter-generational argument about climate change between a mother and her teenage daughter, in which the concerned daughter struggles to convince her recalcitrant mother of these grim realities. In the play, the mother insists that her daughter eat a hamburger, highlighting the role of meat in producing greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.
“The Radio Drama project helped me to become more aware of the negative impact greenhouse gases have on the environment, as well as several ways I can help to prevent those negative impacts,” says Shakiyla Sykes, a student involved with the plays. “I was honored to be a part of the project and would love to do it again!”
In “Portuguese Tomato” by Elaine Avila, an American woman of Portuguese descent travels to Portugal where she discusses agriculture with a local woman selling tomatoes from her garden. The tomato-seller laments the increasing regulation of traditional and local agriculture in the EU. The play also addresses the genetic modifications made to tomatoes and their long-distance transportation, which contributes to global warming. Central to the play are questions of resistance, relating current struggles in Portugal to earlier resistance movements, asking what people can do when it seems like the battles have already been lost. Playwright Avila expressed her excitement to have her play performed. “I’m thrilled!” Avila says.
“The Same Bullshit” by Koffi Kwahule, translated by Chantal Bilodeau, is narrated from the perspective of a woman whose community is facing eviction from their homes in a garbage dump to make way for a golf course. The businessman responsible for this proposal, “3-piece-suit-Bentley,” tries to justify his own economic profit by citing the hazards of landfills, but he is ironically unaware that golf courses also have negative effects on the environment. This play addresses the struggles of those in poverty who are forced to live and scavenge in garbage dumps, as chronicled in the documentary film Waste Land.
In the follow-up discussion, which aired Dec. 5. and concluded the series, John Jay student Jack Nuñez said that “The Same Bullshit” hinges on the suffering and contradictions that arise when these basic needs are treated as luxuries. “Having a safe environment and a home to live in is not a luxury,” he said.
The entire series is available on RADio568.