“It puts a different perspective on it.”
That’s how acting student Anna Surrell describes the way Climate Change Theatre Action (CCTA) — a global festival on sustainability — affected her thinking about the environment.
According to the CCTA website, the festival is “a collaboration between the Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts, NoPassport Theatre Alliance, The Arctic Cycle, Theatre Without Borders and York University.” Missouri State was one of more than 130 participating organizations in more than 30 countries during a six-week period in fall 2017.
The straightforward concept involved 50 original, short plays that addressed the following prompt: “Assume your audience knows as much as you do. Assume they are as concerned as you are. But they may not know what to do with this information and those concerns. So how can we turn the challenges of climate change into opportunities?”
Each group of performers selected a certain number of plays. CCTA performances took place all over the world, timed with the United Nations Climate Change Conference.
Performing with purpose
Anna’s love of acting first drew her to this experience. “I had acted in high school, but until I came to college, I didn’t realize how much I loved performing,” she says. “So I was looking for opportunities, and (acting program coordinator) Kurt Heinlein had posted about CCTA.”
It seemed like a perfect fit. She says, “In high school, I acted with a program that focused on community-oriented theatre. We were always supposed to be thinking of a purpose that was bigger than ourselves, bigger than just the desire to perform.”
This larger sense of purpose, combined with CCTA’s distinct structure, “definitely drew my interest in,” Anna says.
Anna also appreciated the opportunity CCTA provided for her to direct as well as act.
“We spend a lot of time with professors running things, and I think that’s what most of us think about — those big ‘main stage’ shows,” she says.
“I’ve learned how many smaller opportunities there are for students to take leadership roles.”
This process happened organically as Missouri State’s CCTA team collaborated to produce the plays. Anna remembers, “Kurt would be like, ‘Hey, who wants to direct this?’ So it was very much a ‘jump in, take a chance’ type of thing.”
One of the plays Anna directed was “about two very humanized frogs who are talking about their home, their pond, and how it’s changing. So it’s charming and it’s about frogs, but it’s also about human life.”
Playing this creative leadership role not only offered big lessons in project management and interpersonal collaboration, it also required her to take creative risks.
“It’s a piece of paper with words written by someone I don’t know on the other side of the world. And since this work has never been performed before (the CCTA festival), I really had to interpret the material to bring it to life,” she says.
For Anna, this type of challenge is part of what excites her about the department of theatre and dance.
“There are so many opportunities for students to have freedom,” she says. “We get to do things like CCTA or Tabula Rasa or the Studio Series. And students are working in the costume shop and in technical roles, too. I learn so much about all the work and collaboration that goes into producing something good.”