Reading

Octavia Butler Inspires Climate Change Action in Baltimore and Beyond

Previous Story
Article Image

BmoreArt’s Picks: November 28 – December 4

Next Story
Article Image

BmoreArt News: City of Artists, New BMA Exhibitio [...]

“All good things must begin.” Many years after these words were scribbled in the journal of the late afro-futurist writer Octavia Butler, they have rekindled optimism for a more climate-conscious world. Since the United Nations Paris Agreement—a breakthrough international treaty on climate change signed in 2015, every two years Climate Change Theatre Action (CCTA) has commissioned fifty professional playwrights globally to create five-minute plays related to the crisis based on a quote or question. Butler’s journal entry, All good things must begin, inspired this year’s prompt.

The ongoing festival coincides with the United Nations Climate Change Conference hosted in Dubai, which runs through Dec. 12, 2023. CCTA events in November also occur alongside National Native American Heritage Month in the United States.

 

Octavia Butler, "All Good Things Must Begin"

More than an international festival showcasing talented playwrights—many of whom are of color or indigenous nations—community organizers are urged to emphasize the “action” part of CCTA’s name. Per their website, these actions “may involve the scientific community, other departments within a university, or local environmental organizations.”

Unified by CCTA’s vision, the calls to rally around the global climate crisis in Baltimore are especially loud and several Baltimore-based organizers will facilitate CCTA events of various scales. Events citywide have commenced on the heels of the Baltimore Office of Sustainability’s request for public comments on their own Climate Action Plan in October. With existing synergy at the city level, local events include home gatherings to public performances at cultural hubs and universities. 

On December 1, Towson University’s Department of Theatre Arts and Towson Theatre Lab will present readings along with Eco Theatre Action, the department’s sustainability group. Creative Alliance will also host a presentation of short plays by Vital Matters, “an interdisciplinary laboratory for change,” on December 5. In a city with a storied past of community activists using art as a vehicle for social change, I hope future events in Baltimore will only multiply as the word about CCTA spreads. 

 

The Polar Bears, Parker Matthews and Saraniya Tharmarajah
Vital Matters Director Blue Cavell-Allette consults with Assistant Producer August Bryant

I spoke with two local organizers, Michele Minnick and Anushka Jajodia, who both use CCTA’s public theater resources to connect issues and movements related to the climate crisis on local and global scales. 

For Minnick, art has been her form of activism for over a decade. Minnick hosted her first CCTA event as a visiting professor at Kennesaw State University in 2019, where she also founded Vital Matters as a theatrical production. In partnership with Creative Alliance, Vital Matters will present All Good Things Must Begin! on Dec. 5. 

During this event, Baltimore theater artists, activists, and more will gather to read seven plays from five countries to help attendees connect the dots between climate and environmental justice, globally and locally.

A diverse team of actors, directors, and special guests from Baltimore, Washington, DC, and New York City will collaborate to bring these plays to life. Local artists Maura Dwyer and Sanahara Ama Chandra will also provide visual and musical performances “to help [guests] bring their hearts and minds together.”

The December 5 event will be the first time Minnick and the Vital Matters team host in Creative Alliance’s large theater space. During the initial planning phase, Minnick had a “strong intuitive feeling” that the community hub in Patterson Park would be a fitting venue for the event. “[Creative Alliance’s] values and commitment to both local community and artists, and bringing touring artists and acts through Baltimore, feels very much aligned with Vital Matters,” Minnick says. 

What makes Baltimore a great city to host CCTA events at large? Minnick points out that Baltimore is “a microcosm of the world, ” where some of the greatest wealth, innovation, and inequity exists.

“It’s a city of incredible creativity, amazing communities, and grassroots organizations like the South Baltimore Community Land Trust [who] have been advocating for the rights and health of their community [for years],” she adds.

Doors will open at 5:30 pm to allow ample time for attendees to connect with grassroots organizations combatting the climate crisis and related matters. These organizations include Blue Water Baltimore, The Years Project, and Baltimore Compost Collective.

 

It does not matter how big a step you take; just that you take a step.
Michele Minnick

The show of short plays will then begin at 7 pm (with ASL interpretation available) before moving into a “Community Connections and Conversation” programming segment. Conversation partners like Taylor Smith-Hams of 350.org and Naadiya Hutchinson, an independent environmental justice advocate, will guide the audience toward actions related to local climate matters like Baltimore Gas and Electricity’s recent controversial rate hikes.

Not all featured plays are directly about the climate crisis. But true to Butler’s future-oriented works, they ask important questions about change. Alongside the audience, Minnick says she looks forward to exploring the questions these plays surface, and bridging those reflections with ongoing movements in Baltimore.

She hopes attendees will leave “with a buoyancy and sense of connectedness” that will inspire collaboration on social issues with more ease. “It does not matter how big a step you take; just that you take a step.”

 

Photo courtesy of Anushka Jajodia
Photo courtesy of Anushka Jajodia

Well ahead of the Creative Alliance event, “a step” toward climate justice for Anushka Jajodia transformed her spacious living room into a makeshift auditorium. On Nov. 11, Jajodia hosted twelve people for play-readings of CCTA scripts. Many guests already knew her, but were new to each other. Asked about their birthplaces, they revealed an international crowd. 

A native of Mumbai, India, Jajodia came to Baltimore by way of the M.A. in Social Design program (MASD) at the Maryland Institute College of Art. From North Carolina to Southern California, her guests represented both coasts in the United States, and countries including Mexico, Jamaica, and Malaysia. They bonded over their connections to Baltimore. A guest’s willingness to admit uncertainty to an uncommon follow-up question—“Who are the Indigenous peoples of your birthplace?”—set the stage for an intimate gathering where strangers became comrades around the climate crisis through theater. 

 

Photo by Ramon Knight
Photo by Anushka Jajodia
I know a college back in my city of Mumbai reading plays. It’s happening all over the world, which is amazing.
Anushka Jajodia

Over several hours, guests participated in nine playreadings from CCTA’s fifty-play list. Featured plays included The Polar Bears by Nic Billon (Canada), and That’s the Late Night Show by Vitor Jatobá (Brazil), which left people feeling moved, humored, or contemplative (or all of the above). Guests chose the final playreading selection, an intentional move by Jajodia, who—as a MASD graduate—values maximum participation at her events.

Jajodia is already an avid host of private music gatherings with the tabla, the hand drums native to her birthplace of India. But this event was her first centering either theater or the climate crisis.

Earlier this year, Jajodia says she enrolled in No Name Plant Collective’s herbal medicine-making course as a first step to becoming more active in ecology justice. On the final day of class, her peer, August Bryant, mentioned the upcoming All Good Things Must Begin! event he is co-organizing at Creative Alliance on Dec. 5. After researching CCTA further, Jajodia says she was “fired up” to organize an event.

Asked why she resonated with CCTA’s mission, Jajodia emphasized how they provide public art resources to discuss climate change. The resources felt accessible for Jajodia as a first-time play-reader and budding climate activist. She also appreciated the diverse people represented in a conversation where white voices often dominate marginalized communities, which are most affected by the crisis.

“I know a college back in my city of Mumbai reading plays,” she shares. “It’s happening all over the world, which is amazing.”

Though Jajodia admits she is yet to become a climate expert, the success of her first at-home play readings encouraged her to host similar meetups. “Next, I want to think of more intentional ways to loop in people connected with the land,” she says. 

In the meantime, Jajodia looks forward to witnessing “the on-stage magic” at the upcoming Creative Alliance event—the one that first inspired her humble gathering and catalyzed her climate justice practice. 

The climate crisis is inherently global. But both Jajodia and Minnick demonstrate that steps to center the conversation in Baltimore and beyond don’t have to be. 

 

Upcoming Events

all good things must BEGIN

Friday, December 1 :: 4pm-6pm

Ruth Marder Studio Theater, Towson University 

The Department of Theatre Arts and the Towson Theatre Lab, a new works incubator based at Towson U since 2008, will present concert readings of several CCTA scripts and information from the department’s sustainability group, Eco Theatre Action. Free event.

All Good Things Must Begin!: Climate Change Theatre Action

Tuesday, December 5 :: 5:30pm-9:15pm

The Theater at Creative Alliance

Presented by Vital Matters, this event draws inspiration from Octavia Butler’s journal entry titled All Good Things Must Begin, and Butler’s broader invitation to “shape change,” as expressed in her parable books. Tickets range from $10 – $75.

Related Stories
Murder! Retaliation! And More Reasons to See the New Adaptation of Aeschylus’ Ancient Greek Drama

Chesapeake Shakespeare Company's current production, an adaption of Aeschylus’ Oresteia trilogy by Ellen McLaughlin, is brilliantly directed by Lise Bruneau and features outstanding performances by Isabelle Anderson as Clytemnestra and Lizzi Albert as Electra. On stage through March 10.

A Pop-up Queer Cabaret and Art Space Breathes New Life into Storied North Avenue Market Locale

What happens when you give a group comprising drag queens, vintage furniture enthusiasts, theater kids, and a mixologist free reign over a vacant storefront for six weeks? Find out this weekend at the closing of "Bad Casting and Other Questionable Decisions: Paintings by Alix Tobey Southwick."

Rapid Lemon Production at The Strand Theater Breaks Down the Fences

The Book of Grace opens with a familiar theme, the love-hate relationship between a domineering father and an aspiring son. By the end of the play that conflict has taken on world-shattering significance for both men.

Baltimore's Beloved Dance Collective Finds a New Home

Mobtown is about more than just connecting with a dance partner, it’s about connecting with the city you live in and the people around you.