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Welcome to the Anthropocene

At times it falls from the sky in rain or snow or hail, at times forms great clouds of fine mist. At times it is moved of itself, at times by the force of others; at times it supports the things that are born by its life-giving moisture, at times shows itself fetid or full of pleasant odours….But…what is water?

Anneli Sundin / Published on 14 December 2015

This da Vinci quote comes from the play The Human Scene, an innovative blend of theatre and science staged last week at the Swedish Royal Dramatic Theatre. It was no ordinary play: it aimed to meet the growing demand for communicating science in novel ways in a language which lay audiences can understand.

Water, woodlice, and Greek tragedy

Three group performances reflected on the complexities of the new geological era that many claim that humanity has brought about – the Anthropocene.

The theme of water permeated the first performance, which was inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s work. Against a choral backdrop, actors read from da Vinci’s writing and from a diverse range of other texts that told of the central role water plays in the context of climate change – in sea level rise, droughts, flooding and melting glaciers. The second performance was a comedy involving a woodlouse, a cockroach, a silverfish, a tic and a brachiopod, and the third was a modified Greek tragedy, set in the city of Thebes affected by pollution and segregation.

Behind the scenes

A group of nine researchers, three theatre directors, and two playwrights have worked together for a year on the effort to creatively explain the Anthropocene and reflect on what it means to live in a new geological era steered by humans.

In his introduction, the host of the show, Andreas T Olsson, said “theatre is imagination and science is reality. But here, we get to experience a breaking point, a vertex, where imagination and reality meet.”

SEI Research Associate Nina Weitz, who has been part of the project from start contributing with her research expertise on environmental politics, said: “To have permission to work more abstractly, to leave parts open for interpretation and convey a feeling that raises questions, rather than an analysis seeking to answer them, has been liberating and a lot of fun.”

Weitz also reflected on the intense focus on the process of this project: “Although the process more than the final result was the purpose of this project, the theatrical performance has been an effective tool for formulating ideas and issues and has allowed perspectives from different disciplines to intermingle,” said Weitz. “More than ever it makes us, as researchers, reflect on how we communicate results and knowledge, who we reach and what it is that drives change.”

The long-term goal of this project is to develop in-depth and innovative forms of collaboration between playwrights, performing artists and researchers. New performances are planned for 2016.

 Learn more about the play on Dramaten website »

Design and development by Soapbox.