Meet the Sheffield actors making a drama out of the climate crisis
A drama group with a difference has launched in Sheffield – putting the spotlight on the climate crisis through street performances.
If you’ve spotted a walking, talking globe or giant bumble bees in the city centre then it’s the creative work of Act Now.
The first performance was outside Barclays – the group has been targeting the major banks and their financing of fossil fuel projects – followed by a show outside a council meeting ahead of a debate on whether glyphosate weed killer should be banned.
Led by Richard Teasdale, a member of Sheffield Greenpeace, and Janice Brown, who is involved with Extinction Rebellion, the group has a supporting cast of half a dozen people.
The dramatic pieces are intended to draw attention to the climate crisis in short, easy to understand, colourful bursts.
Janice explained: “I think you would call us climate activists that highlight environmental issues in a slightly different way.
“It was suggested that maybe it would be a good idea for some of us to have some training in actual street theatre and Steve Loader, who is a professional actor, very kindly offered to do some training with us.
“It was right in the middle of lockdown so we had to do it online but Steve was brilliant and did three sessions to try and encourage us to think about what makes good street theatre as opposed to drama.
“Then we started to think about getting out on the streets but it was all going on during the pandemic so it was difficult.
“We’ve been rehearsing in a park because we’ve not been able to meet inside in person. We’ve met in the rain and in the sun and I think we’ve entertained some of the people in Nether Edge very loudly.”
Janice comes up with the ideas then Richard knocks it into a three to five minute script.
He said: “We didn’t really know each other beforehand, we thrashed about various freeform things and just sort of made things up but to be honest, we were lacking direction so we put our heads together and said we need to try and write something.
“In the mid 1990s I was in an amateur group called Norton Players doing panto and comedy, which comes in very handy, and my background is in sales so I’m used to talking to people.”
Janice has a background in training which has given her the confidence to get up in front of crowds and – in her words – “make a spectacle of myself”.
There are differences between street theatre and stage drama, as Janice explains: “We’re pursuing some voice training for ourselves. My daughter is a speech and language therapist and was watching some of the videos.
“She said that’s fantastic but you need to get some voice training before you actually do the damage because most people don’t seek help until their voices are damaged.”
Along with shouting over crowds and background traffic, the performers must also be eye catching to entice people to stop and listen.
Richard said: “It needs to be attention grabbing, particularly the visuals. The earth costume was, dare I say, a stroke of genius. We’re not going to use it all the time but it’s brilliant.
“There was a dramatic piece last year and it was good but we learned from it and realised it was too long and there was too much information.
“It’s a learning curve and we know now to keep it relatively simple and to the point so people don’t get confused. It’s basically putting one thing across at a time.
“I have a very high embarrassment threshold and it’s fair to say I’m very loud anyway so it doesn’t bother me.
“I have been hugely surprised and impressed by Janice as when we first met she seemed quiet but when she puts the earth costume on, she turns into somebody else.”
The giant globe may be a head turner but Janice is concerned it’s not very environmentally sound. Ideally they want to make costumes but limited resources, and a quick turnaround of performances, mean they rely on charity shop treasures.
Janice said: “We’ve learned to be noticeable. We’ve got to hype the dressing up because people don’t want to stop, they’re worried they’re going to be made fools of – which we would never do.
“For people to hear our message, something has to arrest them. Then the message has to be really clear so hopefully they find it entertaining but have heard something they might not have heard otherwise.”
“Where campaigners are doing something, we want to complement that and amplify the message they’re trying to get across.”
Janice hopes the big companies will listen as much as Joe Public. “Most people are aware the climate crisis is happening and may be fairly familiar with the science and you need people to take action but it’s a drop in the ocean compared to big companies.
“A couple of years ago Sheffield Council declared a climate emergency but it’s not enough on its own, they have done virtually nothing in terms of change.
“It’s targeting the powers that be who have got the power to make this change, financial institutions that could make a big difference. If I stopped using my car tomorrow, it’s not going to solve the problem. It needs much bigger political action, and that’s where our frustration is.”