Connie Orbach writes:
In 2050 the effects of climate change are being felt globally and it has finally made its way to the top of the news agenda, we are “pirouetting on the brink of Armageddon”. Generation Alpha, a youth rebel group, are bent on overthrowing the current political elite, while the UN has been dissolved amidst political unrest. In its place is New Atlantis, the bright hope for climate change. However, New Atlantis is also facing problems. Bryony Weller, the figurehead and current Secretary General is stepping down, leaving her post open to three key departments: Defence, Industry and Reform. It is our (the audience’s) job as agents to interrogate the three parties and decide who is best to lead the world on the all-consuming matter of global warming.
New Atlantis is the latest immersive theatre production from LAStheatre’s Enlightenment Café series, combining science and the arts for an evening of climate change commentary and political wrangling.
On Tuesday the 20th of January, Kate and I left our normal lives behind to be transported 35 years into the future and become agents of New Atlantis. Feeling the weight of responsibility we set off to explore the policies, grill the politicians and, most importantly, meet the scientists who are hoping to save our damaged planet.
The New Atlantis experience is unusual: there is lots of immersive theatre these days and lots of theatre with a scientific grounding, however what these other pieces do not have, is real life scientists talking about their work. That is the kind of thing usually consigned to the lecture or conference hall. With this in mind I was slightly hesitant as I entered the futuristic world, could engaging with a hoard of scientists about climate change be a little too taxing for an enjoyable theatre production? I couldn’t have been more wrong, the scientists were compelling and entertaining. The leap to 2050 seemed tiny when talking to people at the forefront of new technologies, and the political thread running through the story gave we novices an accessible starting point from which to engage. I wandered from room to room in awe and fully absorbed in the decision I was about to make. How could I vote for one party when they were all so convincing?
If only current day politics was this well thought through!
Kate Whittington writes:
What struck me early on was how engaged and immersed in the story the audience quickly became. I had imagined it might be hard work getting people to discuss such seemingly “dry” topics as water shortage, science funding, carbon quotas and the like. But cleverly weaving these into a compelling scenario evoked a sense of urgency and eagerness in the audience to discover as much as possible within the tight timeframe. As a result, wherever I went there was lively debate, opinions being challenged, and pertinent questions being asked. It clearly made people think about their own life choices, candidates’ potential policies, how these would impact their lives, and what actions they would or wouldn’t tolerate in real life. The event struck the perfect balance between being entertaining and theatrical without becoming gimmicky and losing the gravity and contemporary relevance of what they were trying to communicate.
My exploration of the different departments, however, was to be cut short as I was inconspicuously whisked away by the aide to the ex-Secretary General, who had apparently asked to speak with me confidentially. I was then led to a private theatre moment with the frail ex-Secretary who asked me to deliver seemingly integral and secret information to the head of the Department of Reform. En route I pondered my options and, I have to admit, was tempted to see what would happen if I gave it to someone else, or simply didn’t deliver it at all? I’d be intrigued to know if it would have made any difference, but in the end I carried my secret solo mission as requested. It was great fun and really added to the experience, bringing a whole new level of mystery, subterfuge and moral dilemmas around the struggling organisation.
Overall, New Atlantis is an original and thought-provoking piece of immersive theatre with a large dose of science. While it was hard to see what practical steps individuals can take now to combat climate change, the immediacy of the situation was made clear- we need to act now to prevent such a catastrophic future becoming reality.
However, one does have to wonder who exactly the event was targeting and its overall aim? It seems unlikely that it would appeal to people that don’t already have at least a passing interest in climate change and the issues it raises. Are they trying to rally people to a cause? Or is it intended more as an innovative new way to grapple with the growing threats and possible solutions to climate change? As the former it perhaps fell a little short. But as the latter our brief visit to New Atlantis undoubtedly provided an exciting new format to engage with these issues and a refreshing perspective on the decisions we faced on our return to 2015…
Images: Kate Whittington