BIG GREEN THEATER’S BIG 10: A conversation with Superhero Clubhouse
Bring out the birthday cake, light the candles and blow up the balloons because BIG GREEN THEATER is turning ten years old! Big Green Theater (BGT) is an eco-playwriting program for Bushwick and Ridgewood public elementary students that uplifts the imaginations of young people most impacted by our new climate reality and brings their ideas to life on stage. BGT is a partnership between Superhero Clubhouse and The Bushwick Starr theater, and together they have built the program from its inception, beginning with a small group of students in the Spring of 2010, to now reaching approximately 60 students, in 4 district schools, throughout the school year. There’s a lot to celebrate.
Run by the intrepid Jeremy Pickard and Lanxing Fu, Superhero Clubhouse is an eco-theater collective, which is to say they concentrate on work about environmental justice. Lanxing adds, “We talk a lot about environmental degradation as a sort of slow violence. And it’s so hard to dramatize that.” But over the last ten years, that’s exactly what Lanxing and Jeremy have been doing – telling big stories that exist over time. And as we talk, all of our conversations seem to circle back to time; the passage of time, generations over time, geologic time that the mind can hardly fathom. “It’s hard to ignore when you think about things like climate. Suddenly you feel really small – in time,” Lanxing muses.
But this company doesn’t seem to be interested in ignoring anything. In the last year alone, they’ve done residencies at the New Ohio and HERE Arts Center working on MAMMELEPHANT, a play about the real life Pleistocene Park and the morality of bringing back an extinct animal to try to help save the permafrost in the arctic. They also worked with Pratt Institute’s STEAMPLANT program on a hiking play about humans and trees and their shared climate anxieties, which occurs while on an actual walk through the woods. And they facilitated a six-month paid fellowship in which a climate scientist and a spoken word poet created a piece about Puerto Rican displacement and resilience following Hurricane Maria.
In addition to these ambitious projects, they have continued to grow Big Green Theater. “BGT and the relationship with the Starr is a big reason why we’ve sustained ourselves. In the early years BGT became a testing ground for a lot of our ideas,” Jeremy tells me. In BGT, which happens twice a year and lasts over three months for each session, they work with 4th and 5th grade students from two elementary schools helping students learn about climate change and environmental justice, meeting and talking with experts, writing short plays in collaboration with their fellow students – and culminating in one big production, with environmentally responsible production elements. “We learned right away that kids are way better at writing eco-theater than adults are,” Jeremy smiles. “It’s been really nice over the years to learn from kids.”
So much can happen in a year. Or ten. When I ask them what ten years feels like, Lanxing tells me “Ten years means that you’re beginning to have the kind of relationship with the community that you need in order to begin to have some sort of impact.” Jeremy has a shorter answer, but it carries the same sentiment, “Ten years feels like trust.” And what about the next ten years? Jeremy shrugs casually but his eyes are full of hope. “Is there a way to go further? So here are the problems, but what’s the world we want to live in? And what’s the road to get there? And how can theater help us build this road?” So what’s a year? What’s ten? They are small. And they are so very big.
SAVE THE DATE for the Public Performances April 23 – 26, 2020