Climate research meets the performing arts
Climate research meets performing arts in a show jointly developed by two performance companies and a social scientist. Their goal is to invite people to understand and feel climate change through their physical manifestation: the weather.
Grasping the concept of climate, not to mention climate change, has never been easy, given its vastness in time as well as space. Weather, on the other hand, is a topic of great familiarity to all who live in the Nordic countries. We all feel it, our bodies are exposed to the elements in the same way.
Show in Helsinki
This is why, as they embarked on this truly inter-disciplinary collaboration, social scientist Ragnhild Freng Dale and a team of Norwegian and Finnish performance artists decided to focus their creative process on the rain, the wind, sunshine, and snow – various short-term expressions of our climate.
Set up as a project funded by the Research Council of Norway, the consortium comprises Western Norway Research Institute in Sogndal, Ferske Scener in Tromsø, and Reality Research Center in Helsinki. The premiere will take place in Helsinki on 5 November, and a series of shows will be held in the Finnish capital as a part of the contemporary dance festival Moving in November.
The show is interactive, meaning that the actors involved will invite the audience to experience and share sensory experience of weather and climate.
“All of us who are involved, including actors, researchers, and the audience, have one thing in common: we all experience weather and climate through our senses and bodies. We try to build a communal spirit, a setting where we are all equal”, says Kristin Bjørn at Ferske Scener.
Perhaps we need this as a supplement to hearing experts tell us what will become of the climate on Earth?
“This show is everything but instructive, and it is not about illustrating climate change. Rather, one should think of it as an exploration through collaboration between art and science", says Ragnhild Freng Dale.
Turned into an online show
Because of the pandemic, the premiere will take place on Zoom, which is why doorbells will be rung all across Helsinki by couriers handing out packages to everyone who has purchased a ticket to “Talking in the Rain. An Entertaining Show about the Weather” as it runs, online, from 5 to 14 November.
Without letting on what the package contains, the team behind the performance show hint that there will be gadgets to the audience’s disposal in taking part in the show.
The Zoom participants on the acting side will be outdoors and in an apartment in Helsinki, appearing as squares on the audience’s screens, and will, at one point, invite the audience to switch on microphones and cameras if they wish to.
As they have convened to work on the performance, the team has lent methods both from the realm of research and from the arts world. Bare skin has touched water and been exposed to cold winds; goose bums have appeared and been photographed. Shiny, red apples from the orchards of Sogn have been thrown through the air as part of a performance in Sogndal, and actors have waded in snow in the northernmost county of Norway, as the show was performd in Hammerfest. Improvisation and adaptation to local contexts are key principles.
Throughout this process, the researcher has worked closely with the rest of the team, both in the creative process and as an advisor on questions related to research and climate change. As the show airs in Helsinki this week, she will also be cast in a role – as herself, the scientist.
Life-long relation to the performing arts
The collaborative project emerges from Ragnhild’s background in performing arts, both as a stage manager, consultant, and theatre critic. In parallel with studying social antropology, writing her PhD thesis and conducting research, Ragnhild has constantly been engaged in performance arts.
"My personal relation with the realm of theatre and performing arts is life-long. In a professional context, I have had a relation to the field for about a decade", says Ragnhild. In 2019, she received a grant from the Arts Council Norway to work with theatre criticism on the side, a task she managed to combine with her job as a researcher through working part-time for a few months.
The "Raintalk" project is partly a result of her broad network in the field of performing arts.
"I had thought of working with people from the performing arts, and was very pleased that Ferske Scener wished to apply for climate communication funding from the Research Council of Norway", says Dale.
Discovered people's appetite for knowledge
As the pandemic seized hold of Europe and the world at large this spring, the creative team had to learn to appreciate the online meeting facilities when meeting to work on their show. A quarantine for every trip to or from was not an option for everyone involved.
In time, they have come to realise that the online space they inhabit is a place in its own right.
"Our project was always supposed to include a certain element of virtual participation. The coronavirus pandemic has made the internet an integral part of what we do. This is symptomatic of our times; the digital space has become an actual place", Ragnhild says.
She will bring other insights back with her too, greater consciousness of how she speaks, her choice of words, an general appearance in meeting and talking to people outside of academia.
"I genuinely want knowledge to be an accessible commodity for people outside the academic sphere. I have been pleased to discover the great appetite people have for scientific knowledge", says Ragnhild.