How can we imagine the things we did next?

When I travelled with Naomi Klein on the roll out of her 2015 book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate I came to be able to predict key questions from audiences. Whether we were in a warehouse with grassroots activists or a grand theatre with thousands of people in a capital city, a round table with economists or brainstorming with workers drafting a green deal new proposal someone would inevitably ask if it was worth organising, was the future written, were we doomed?

When this question was asked the air would go out of the room and everyone would look to Naomi to provide the rallying cry that whilst things were dire we could build another future. It was a high pressure moment, and no matter how well Naomi nailed the response it felt like people left unconvinced, as if it was impossible to imagine other futures but losing the world.

Alongside this role as Global Impact and Distribution Producer on This Changes Everything I spent a lot of time reading cli-fi. I devoured The Water Knife (Paolo Bacigalupi), Station Eleven (Emily St John Mandel), Margaret Atwood’s MaddAdam trilogy and re-read all of the Obernwetyn series by Isobel Carmody.  At the same time Mad Max and other dystopian fictions dominated our screens.

Despite my reading of these dark and violent novels, exploring narratives of plagues and resource wars it was a period of great inspiration for me. I was in the incredible position of spending my time researching and connecting with social movements around the world. My job was to see how the roll out of the book and film could amplify their work and assist movements to build connections between issues. I wasn’t just looking at climate and anti extraction movements, but to labour rights activists, no borders campaigners, human rights and press freedom orgs and to disability and anti racist work. I felt flooded by possibility and inspiration by my time spent paying attention to campaigns, actions, policy reforms, blockades, legal challenges, writing and deep community work happening the world over.

It soon became apparent to me that for people who didn’t have the opportunity to pay this kind of deep attention to social movements – and given the fact that movements are not given much airtime in the mainstream media, this is most of us – were really needing to hear some of what I was hearing about daily as an antidote to climate despair.

Since then (I was on this project from 2013-2015) even more movements have exploded to shift dominant narratives around climate breakdown – particularly the student climate strikers and First Nations resistance to extraction such as the Borroloola community fighting fracking in the NT and pushing back on pipelines in Wet’suwet’en Territory in Canada. This is a battle for the future, told not just in bodies on the frontlines, but through stories.

I became increasingly preoccupied by this question of the role of our narratives for futures – as many say “you can’t be what you can’t see”. We clearly need to imagine and tell wild new stories, speak of future victories, push our thinking beyond those deep worm grooves of expectation of corporate doom, poisoned water and violent closed borders. We know these stories, we predict them, we slump in to them as if they are inevitable and all that we are capable of.

But we also know, I think, that we are creatures driven by love, even when the fear drives us to behave in horrible and shortsighted ways, I think on a deep cellular level we know we are connected and we know we are love.

So the challenge to myself became; how can I turn my own art making to these questions of future making, possibility of care and love? How could I step up as an artist and encourage different kinds of conversations?

I started to think about what kind of performance and art forms I was comfortable exploring and thinking about what size and shape my art making could take to work with my two young kids (I’ve toured major theatre works with crew of over 30 before, so I was trying to avoid that!) I started to play with the notion of the talk show, of a conversation format and started to imagine the idea of interviewing real people improvising a future version of themselves. We would look at projects and movements they had been involved in in the 2020s and through this future histories lens we could speak about cultural and political change not yet written.

It has been several years in development and with each month that passes the unpredictable news (fire, viruses, global conflicts, First Nations territories declaring independence from colonial states) in the present provides ever more narrative permission to push out our imaginings for the next ten years.

I quickly realised I didn’t want to write these futures myself and so have been slowly building a team and approaching a range of collaborators to join me in the world building. We are borrowing from tv making ‘writers rooms’ and from different theatre methodologies such as body listening (as lead by my collaborator David Pledger).

Together in this in between space of art, interview and conversation I hope we can speak to surprising, preposterous and unusual futures and together as artists and audiences we can together imagine other possible futures.

The Things We Did Next will premiere at BLEED Festival at Arts House Melbourne in June 2020. http://thethingswedidnext.org/

This interview first appeared in The Victoria Writer magazine April 2020 https://writersvictoria.org.au/resources/victorian-writer/

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