We recently held our first design meeting for “Sila,” which is being produced at UNH in February 2014. Early design meetings equals a lot of discussion of themes, imagery, and this conversation went on for over two hours with a lot of material being discussed and ground being covered.
“Sila” by Chantal Bilodeau deals with Inuit issues surrounding climate change. Instead of just dealing with climate change from a western perspective, or even a purely scientific one, as I am used to, it delves into how the issue and the conversation surrounding it affects those living closest to the Arctic. I was studying to be a scientist before I became a theater artist, and probably would have gone into conservation biology had I stuck with it, so when it comes to dealing with this and many, many other issues I am extremely pro-science. Does the science support it? Are there peer-reviewed papers in reputable journals on the subject? Where is the information I’m currently receiving coming from – the media? A politician? A scientist? These are questions that are important to me when dealing with some of the more “controversial” issues. To my thinking, the fact that 97% of climate scientists support the theory of man-made climate change should be enough for the rest of us to accept this as fact and work to change it. That should be enough. In “Sila,” it isn’t. Several Inuit characters in Bilodeau’s play express frustration at the unwillingness of climate scientists to work in conversation with them – they feel talked AT, and not included, in this global issue that currently affects them the most. In our meeting (held via Skype, since I am not in New Hampshire) we talked about this and the issue of caring, the role that acts of caring play in broader issues like this. Tragedies occur and lives are broken, but in “Sila,” healing and real change occurs when people listen to each other’s stories and forego preaching facts in favor of showing empathy and working to understand another human being’s life, how it has been affected, how it can be healed.
This discussion resonated with me because of the recent events in the Texas legislature, which I witnessed first hand. I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time when Senator Wendy Davis filibustered an extremely restrictive abortion bill. I was not there when she began, taking my seat in the gallery around 5:30pm on June 25. I stayed in that seat (or standing in front of it) until about 12:30am the next morning and was part of the incredibly moving, powerful experience of shouting the bill to death. Earlier in the day, Davis read letter after letter from Texans about their personal experiences with abortion, and she (and I, and many of my friends who were watching the livestream) began crying during one particular letter about a woman’s experience seeking a late-term abortion. I find myself beyond frustrated when it comes to the right’s insistence on legislating abortions after the 20 week mark because there is a marked lack of LISTENING to women who require this medical treatment. Women attempting to obtain an abortion at this stage of pregnancy are often vilified, and the discussion always centers around how five months should be “enough” time to decide what to do about a pregnancy, instead of centering around the heartbreaking reasons that women frequently need late-term abortions. There are many, many other stories that have surfaced on the website 1 in 10. Read them. And, as I should have expected in a political debate, this one letter and these many stories and the facts surrounding why a small percentage of women seek an abortion after 20 weeks did not matter. There was a lack of listening, a lack of caring.
These are huge issues. Action and inaction on them affects many. How do we incorporate those human stories into the ongoing discussions? How do we listen to the actual experiences of others, and not just the information being fed to us by the media, politicians, or even science?