Janie Dee on London Climate Change Festival: "Theatre is a woke community"


With protest groups like Extinction Rebellion gluing themselves to buildings and climbing on trains and planes to spread their message, as well as young activists like Greta Thunberg inspiring millions of children to become involved in the fight for the planet, conversations on climate change are beginning to be heard.  

Starting next month, the London Climate Change Festival, based at the Charing Cross Theatre will run at the London venue from 23rd March to 16th May. Figures from the worlds of science and environmental studies will speak about the issues facing our planet, as well as the London premiere of Christopher Durang's Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

As one of the producers behind the inaugural London Climate Change Festival, we spoke to the two-time Olivier Award-winning Janie Dee about the festival’s line up, what it takes to inspire a generation and how the theatre industry can do more in the quest to go green.

What is the London Climate Change Festival?

The London Climate Change Festival (LCCF) will take place over 40 days and nights, based at the Charing Cross Theatre. There will be discussions allowing people to learn, teach explore the world around us in order to make a real difference. The reason why it’s eight weeks long is because there’s a lot of people with a lot of information that’s helpful, in order to help others. 

I’ve been privy to academic papers which many people have not had the access to, and I want to set up a place people can enjoy themselves and celebrate the beautiful world that’s around us. In order to learn more about the world around us, there’s no other way to point than pointing back at ourselves. We have to do more as a society and I want to know what I can do in order to make a change.

There’s a big team behind the LCCF who are all voluntarily involved with the project. There’s no funder or sponsor except from the Charing Cross Theatre themselves, who are lending their space to the festival.

Why does theatre lend itself so well to facilitating discussions around topics like climate change?

Theatre is a place for learning, it’s a “woke” community as some would say, with a good society. Being in the theatre is a great place to explore diverse topics and produce work that’s boundary-breaking. 

I’m proud to be a part of the theatre industry. The society within theatre is democratic, open and striving for equal opportunities. There have been huge changes in the way that people are trying and succeeding to share their ideas, so we’re hoping to start the discussion.

What events and exhibitions should we look out for during the festival?

There’ll be two-show days, with the bar, coffee shop and book shop all open. Throughout the festival, there will be an exhibition curated by the V&A Museum, who have donated their innovative and inspirational work with food, including bowls, cups and saucers made from coffee.

We’ve got several scientists and actors who’ll be speaking at the festival, including a lecture from Imperial College’s Matthew Genge about the history of the earth, as well as performances by The London Quartet, Jason Manford and Giles Terera. There will also be stand-up comedy acts taking to the stage to perform climate-change inspired sets. If you inject comedy into serious topics, you can create change.

Cambridge University Professor Julian Allwood will share his latest research to do with ‘Earth Warming’ and how our day to day lives are affecting the planet, and how what we’re doing is making the planet worse. There’s also going to be discussions by scientists including Natalie Fee, a personal hero of mine, an actress who’s also the founder of ‘City to Sea’, an organisation that runs campaigns to prevent plastic pollution in our sea. 

Is there a specific moment you’re looking forward to during the festival?

On the opening night of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, there’ll be a group of people who will arrive at the Charing Cross Theatre having cycled through Europe to raise awareness of the festival. The West End will greet the cyclists with open arms, and children at the first workshop will be able to see. It’ll be good for the kids to see “adults who give a shit” about the planet.

You’re currently starring in The Boy Friend at the Menier. Were rehearsals and the show’s creation environmentally-conscious, or are there more steps to take?

I’ve noticed that actors generally are better at being considerate of the environment. All the rig for The Boy Friend at the Menier is LED but I don’t know if it’s solar-powered and that’s what it needs to be. It needs to be clean energy.

I spoke to the office at the Menier to ask: “How green are you here?”. We’re about to turn as green as possible at the Charing Cross Theatre. It’s essential really; if you’re doing a project discussing green emissions and you’re causing them, then it’s no good. We’re going to be working with companies who are going to do everything by bicycle which is going to be amazing.

2020 will mark the inaugural LCCF, are you wanting this to become an annual event?

Yeah, definitely annual. I’ve had people asking about events for next year, because people want to do bigger things with it. I’m sure they will. But, I think it’s useful that it’s starting small because there are lots of people who just want to listen and hear people talk sense about it. People want to know they’re getting accurate information.

It’s a place to come, get first-hand information as soon as you walk through the door that’s going to inspire you and realise what you can do on your own. The events are so diverse as well that there’ll definitely be something for everyone.

What are you hoping that the public takes away from the festival?

We’re hoping that the LCCF will make an impact that’s joyful. If we can get the right people around the table, then who knows what could happen. The LCCF is ultimately for the people.

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