Interview with Ergon theatre

We need better climate storytelling, just as much as we need better climate policies. So, CEM were delighted to catch up with Ergon theatre – one of Manchester’s most interesting theatre companies.

Tell us who you are, where you’re from, and what you are trying to achieve.

Credit: Nathan J Cutler

We’re a group of four artists – Noé, Catt, Robin and Sam – based in Manchester. We started developing work together around four years ago as we were completing actor training and Catt was working as a Producer for venues across the North. Ergon Theatre creates performance based work about futures and the climate crisis. Our work seeks to empower our audience and open up conversations surrounding important contemporary issues such as the climate crisis. We transport our audience and those big issues into a fictional world in order to make those issues seem a bit less overwhelming. This fictional world has been enriched by years of workshopping, devising and developing, and we have worked consistently with academics and climate experts to make sure the world was always rooted in truth.

You have a new audio piece, ‘The lost summer’ . How does it fit into the work you have done before, and how does it mark a departure? Why does it foreground different generations?

Lost Summer was an invitation from Contact Theatre to react to COVID-19 and the past few months. Of course, the circumstances we’ve all found ourselves in recently have been incredibly intense, and it feels like it’s dominated almost every conversation.

We felt interested in reacting to this provocation in line with our primary focus – futures and the climate crisis. Like a lot of our work, Lost Summer examines potential futures informed by scientific research and predictions. Where the piece perhaps marks a departure from our previous work is that this is our first attempt at creating a solely sound based piece.

Sound is such a powerful tool, it has the potential to move us emotionally and transport us to anywhere in space and time. We found that freedom really liberating. Sound based work is very easy for audiences to access anywhere at any time too which is really important in terms of spreading the message about the climate crisis, particularly during lockdown restrictions when the theatre industry is taking quite a beating.

The conversation between the two characters happens to be between a grandmother and her grandson who are connecting in different timelines and both call for the other to take responsibility for our planet. We wanted the relationship to be a positive one. It is very common nowadays for different generations to blame the other for everything that’s wrong with our world and society. We believe that it’s really important to perpetuate a positive and progressive attitude when it comes to the climate crisis where we support each other rather than attacking. Ultimately we all want the same thing which is positive change – maybe we should focus on that instead of throwing shade.

And you have won a new commission from Contact (congrats!) What will it be about? What do you think the biggest challenge will be?

Thank you! We’re so excited to be working alongside Contact – their artistic output and community engagement work is massively inspiring. The commission we’ll be developing with them stems from a concept that has been in development for four years.

The piece will be set after decades of the world ‘not doing enough’ and a dramatic increase in natural disasters, extreme weather and mass population displacement. The British government has had to implement a dramatic system change. This system change is called Ergon. Everything’s cost is now determined by its impact on the planet, individual spending is limited, and the UK borders have been closed and manned by military personnel. We’ll incorporate short scenes, sound and video scaping, storytelling, audience interaction, conversation and a workshop element to bring together a piece we hope will leave audiences feeling empowered to continue discussing the climate crisis and implement some longer term behavioural and attitude change.

The biggest challenge we’ll be facing will firstly be working under the strict regulations of COVID-19. Universally, we’re all having to reapproach our work and daily lives with much greater consideration, care and flexibility. A longer term challenge we face in developing our work is making the most of the fantastic minds and scientific research we’ve had access to over the last few months, whilst maintaining a focus on making our work accessible for the communities we’re looking to bring it to once we head into production. This really is the crux of our purpose, so it’s a challenge we have a great deal of fun grappling with as we create our work.

Who do you most want to see your work and how will you reach them?

The piece we’re developing with Contact is aimed predominantly at reaching colleges and some universities. Pre-covid we’d started building some relationships with local colleges, and we’re very lucky to receive fantastic support from the Lowry and M6 Theatre who will really help us reach the communities we need to. It’s important young people are able to have a safe space to have their voice heard and valued. This generation is the most important in terms of making change and dealing with the crisis unfolding, they need to be engaged and involved in the shape of their future.

We’ve also previously taken our work to businesses and people with the power to make change. We’ve found that the creative space we offer can really free up more commercial settings and inspire stimulating change based discussion. With the support of several key environmental and policy contacts, as well as support from companies such as Mott Macdonald we’ll be looking to pursue this further with a wider reach in the coming year.

As if that weren’t enough… we’re also at the start of some conversations about using television as a way to grow the scope of our story and the numbers we can engage.

What makes theatre about climate change ‘successful’? And when/why does it not work so well well? (No names need be mentioned).

What makes theatre about climate change ‘successful’? That’s a really hard question! I suppose it completely depends what the theatre makers are trying to do and who it’s for. There are some really exciting projects in development across the UK right now, from street theatre to big musicals – there’s so much work on the way!

We always try and remind ourselves that art has the power to inspire change and share stories people may otherwise not have access to. In this light, we are less about climate change theatre that aims to blame or bombard, but theatre that ignites a fire in audiences and brings them into the conversation.

What we’re trying to do with this commission is take theatre out to communities and engage audiences in an immersive and empowering discussion that can create long term positive change. Theatre is a great medium for communication because it enables audiences to build a world that is separate from our own and a safe space to ask questions without the fear of being condemned. For us it’s really important to create open conversation that considers that everyone has their own pool of finite worry. If you’re worrying about where the rent is going to come from this week or whether you will be able to put food on the table, you’re probably not going to have the climate crisis at the forefront of your brain at all times – and that’s okay. We need to move away from negatively marginalising people who aren’t eco warriors and instead adopt an approach that is informative and supportive. 

We believe that climate art needs to evolve with its audiences. It’s no longer enough to shout statistics at people and tell them that the ice caps are melting and fossil fuels are bad – this is widely populist knowledge now. We need climate art that gives audiences agency to create positive change because universal collaboration is the only way that we can tackle the climate crisis.

Recommend one piece of theatre we should check out (apart from your own!). 

If you’re based in Manchester like us, HOME have just launched a really exciting opening (socially distanced) season of work including brilliant companies such as RashDash, Young Identity, and Javaad Alipoor. We can’t wait to get back in their space (they also have a beautiful sun trap outdoor bar area…)

https://homemcr.org/theatre/

And of course, check out the Season For Change programme. Our commission, with support from Julie’s Bicycle and ArtsAdmin, is a part of this programme alongside many other brilliant artists making work about the climate crisis. ‘Season For Change’ celebrates the environment through culture, and inspires urgent action on climate change.

https://www.seasonforchange.org.uk/events/

https://juliesbicycle.com

Anything else you’d like to tell us?

Check out ‘ERGON: Lost Summer’ and feel free to get in contact via our website: http://www.ergontheatre.co.uk/contact-us

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