Wednesday, June 19, 2013

In a Word...Playwright Ann Cavlovic on Emissions (Fringe: Ottawa)

The Climate, The Comedy and The Pointy-Headed Jerk
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

Ann Cavlovic is an Ottawa-Based writer who, when she touches on the environment, "writes without the preach." 

CHARPO: First, tell us about your play and what the audience can expect from the experience.

CAVLOVIC: Expect a large, talented cast performing physical comedy with musical undertones, with live accompaniment by Scott Irving from the popular band The PepTides. Expect sharp-tongued satire, showing how environmental issues are really not that different from other issues we face as humans. (How can we meet our own needs, without screwing over others?)  Expect an episodic structure, in which a modern Adam and Eve deal with anything from international negotiations to a dirty microwave... not to mention their own personal warfare. Expect to be quickly disabused of any pre-conceived notions about a climate change play.

There was a precursor to the "aha", and then the "aha" itself.

CHARPO: How do you get around the fact that climate change is becoming a kind of paranoia - or does that figure in the comedy?

CAVLOVIC: People either ignore the issue entirely, or freak out (if this is what you meant by paranoia). Both extremes are, quite simply, ineffective. 

The play does include a critique of a certain type of 'hard core" environmentalism, not because their intentions are poor, or that they are misinformed, but because those methods simply alienate people.  That sucks.  

The play also fires a few rounds at "denial", but not on the part of corporate malfeasants. I tried to write a scene in which we could have compassion for a person in comical denial (although it's absurd and ridiculous) because sometimes the biggest things are the hardest to look at. 

CHARPO: Tell us about the aha! moment that gave birth to the show.

CAVLOVIC: There was a precursor to the "aha", and then the "aha" itself.

Precursor: I told an activist I knew that, after being car-free with a baby for 18 months, I was giving up and buying a car. He called me "immoral".  On one hand, he was clearly a pointy-headed jerk. On the other hand, I see the same scientific data he does, and know the magnitude of the issue (that would have a bigger effect on my child than on me). Yet I can't single-handedly save the whole planet. But does that mean I give up?  Or make even more personal sacrifice, when others around me won't? Or does it mean more political pressure for collective solutions, like better public transit? Or is that just a cop-out?

The "aha": So I festered on all this, wanting to write about it somehow (I'm normally a fiction writer and essayist). Then, when pushing my son in a stroller on Bank street, it hit me:  I can't just write some essay or some short story. It won't get out of the search engine 'bubbles'.  It has to be something that happens in a room, that happens live, that people physically walk out from afterwards, amid other people they don't necessarily know. It has to be a play.   

So the sentiment was less "aha" and more "Oh shit, I have to write a play".  Three years later, here we are. 

CHARPO:  I have a friend who is in the environment-protection bizz, if you will, and he said conferences are like a confederacy of dunces - everyone single-minded, naïve and humourless. What advice would you give to "the movement".

CAVLOVIC: I think the environmental "movement" is going through similar progressions to other movements, say civil rights or feminism.  All good 'causes'.  All have a diversity of personalities and tactics that history continues to judge and debate. And I know of some long-time environmentalists who acknowledge that their tactics – what they spent their lives doing – weren't as effective as they could have been. (Ouch.) 

But bottom line, it's only what's effective that counts. And you can't be effective if you appeal to a slim minority of the population. Not much satisfaction in being able to say, while drowning in a flash flood, "I told ya' so, assholes!"

So I don't have "advice" as much as hopes.  I hope climate scientists get a voice, get less geeky, get an ability to communicate better. I hope environmentalists come to understand human psychology at least as well as the marketing industry does. In other words, I'm hoping (and working) for an Environmentalism 2.0. With that, I'd have great hope for this world.   

CHARPO:  The you see from my questions... it's like diving in the deep end. Does that scare you?

CAVLOVIC: Sorry to sound like Lululemon totebag wisdom, but it's good to do things that scare you sometimes. I am Queen of biting off more than I can chew, and then just chewing it. 

And what I've learned from the process is that, when you get down to the root of anything, it will be common across human experience.   

The first few drafts of this play were crap. Preachy, predictable crap. I had to write through that. I got to something more interesting about human experience, about the challenge of meeting our own needs without screwing over others. That is a pretty basic part of human experience.  

So did it scare me? Yes. Quite a torturous process actually. But not doing anything, with a young child in the house, felt worse.  

Emissions runs at the Ottawa Fringe

1 comment:

  1. So why didn't Ms. Cavlovic just take the youth out for a joy ride in the auto rickshaw?


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