Hopepunk Climate Comedy Show Drives Change with Art and Fun

WRITTEN BY Szilvia Szabo

June 16, 2024

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Hopepunk Climate Comedy Show Drives Change with Art and Fun

by | Jun 16, 2024 | Arts & Culture, Featured

Szilvia Szabo

16 Jun, 2024

Our ability to imagine a future, whether dark and doom or bright and kind, is massively influenced by the narratives we are exposed to through media, literacy, entertainment, and other platforms.

Although climate stories are slowly shifting from a `doomsday` approach to more solutions-focused scenarios, the rise of eco-anxiety shows climate change is taking a mental toll on people struggling to find hope that we can solve this challenge. A global survey published in 2021 revealed that more than half of people aged 16–25 felt sad, anxious, powerless or helpless or had other negative emotions related to the climate crisis.

The `We Built This City on Rock and Coal` hopepunk comedy show in Ireland is a fresh breeze in the climate space as artists and researchers are taking over the stage to co-create live events based on the audience`s input to spark positive climate conversations that matter locally.

The play is created and managed by climate experts, actors and performers who believe that “every individual and their community can be part of a solution to climate change, but provoking real behaviour change requires a more adaptive artistic approach.”

Dr Jessamyn Fairfield, Director and Performer in “We Built this City on Rock and Coal”

Dr Jessamyn Fairfield, an award-winning physicist, director and performer of the play, highlights that “barraging the audience with facts has been shown not to work and that comedic approaches to science communication can look at issues more laterally.”

Instead of presenting hard facts, they found a way to extend the theatre element with a citizen science project before each event and follow-up sustainability workshops, where attendees could turn their experiences into actions and find a way to relate.

Promoting a positive climate narrative is part of the emerging hopepunk style, first introduced by fantasy author Alexandra Rowland in 2017 as a subgenre to counteract grimdark, which has since evolved into a philosophy that encourages a more gentle yet rebellious attitude towards how we solve challenges and treat each other.

In this play, every improvisational performance is unscripted, creating scenes that reflect the audience’s interests, challenges and thoughts by asking them to write short, personal answers to the following prompts on site: What have you appreciated about the outdoors recently? What makes climate change hard for you to talk about? What is worrying you about the climate crisis?


Performers then present a comedic interpretation of the randomly selected responses used by international improvisation experts to inspire scenes, songs, and sketches unique to each show and community while evolving larger narratives. Creators emphasise that they chose this format to “explicitly acknowledge the challenges faced by each audience, make space for emotional responses, and inspire hope for action to make a difference at the individual, community, and global levels.”

When asked how the scenes were created, Director and Performer Katy Schutte compared improvisation to a sport where players can practice the skills needed but cannot practice the exact match they will be playing.

“The foundations of improvisation are listening and mutual support, which allow new characters, stories, and ideas to be brought to life from audience suggestions,” she added. This transformational theatre experience captivated people attending the first shows hosted in Galway and Cork, and many stayed for the interactive sessions held afterwards.

Local Green Party politician Niall Murphy was among those enjoying the performance, agreeing with other members of the audience that “different angles on climate action such as those featured in the show might be a useful addition to typical political activism”.

The latest plays featured scenes ignited by theatre goers about ‘freshness’ where humans rubbed their scent on trees, ‘colours in nature’ where a father and son enjoyed walks together, and `climate change being spoken about so much that makes it hard to talk about’ where two people take offence at every word said.

Staying true to the hopepunk genre, performances always end on a positive note, like envisioning greenery returning and coexisting with humans or that the next generation is fuelling the change towards a sustainable future.

Experts such as environmental scientist Dr Gesche Kinderman from the University of Galway and Fergus McAuliffe from the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre in Applied Geosciences are also joining the performers in providing science prompts for hopeful scenes about our personal interactions with the climate crisis.

The tour travels across the west coast of Ireland, inviting people to enjoy a fun night out while exploring what they can do to make change happen.

The idea of bringing `We Built This City on Rock and Coal` to life is rooted in the Caomhnú citizen science project, which is focused on climate storytelling and story sharing to track big and small changes in rural Irish communities and explore local climate action.

Caomhnú is Irish for the conservation of history, culture and nature, and the project was created to get often underrepresented rural voices involved in climate conversations since these communities can already feel the impact of climate change.

Shows are presented at various venues, from arts centres to ringforts, visiting rural areas in Cork, Antrim, Mayo, Donegal and around Galway, including three islands by the end of June.

This could be the perfect opportunity to take out friends or family and be entertained by inspirational performances while sparking meaningful discussions about climate action in a relaxed setting.

The `We Built This City on Rock and Coal` is a recipient of the Creative Climate Action fund, an initiative from the Creative Ireland Programme that supports creative, cultural and artistic projects that build awareness around climate change and empower citizens to make meaningful behavioural transformations.


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