In one of William Shakespeare’s most famous plays, King Lear runs into a storm to express rage against his daughters.
When Vancouver theatre artist Anita Rochon learned about this scene back in high school, she concluded that the nasty weather in King Lear was a stand-in for human emotion.
The apocalyptic storm was a “pathetic fallacy” in which Shakespeare was attributing human emotion to a nonhuman entity in nature.
Later, as an adult in a state of high anxiety about climate change, Rochon once again started thinking deeply about the weather.
“I thought at this very particular moment in time, if we were to attribute emotions to the weather, what would the weather be feeling?” Rochon tells the Straight by phone. “What would this weather be saying—the current weather we’re living in?”
That, in turn, led her to write a theatre production, Pathetic Fallacy. It explores the emotional impact of climate change through a performer in front of a green screen who follows instructions on a video monitor.
Another on-stage monitor shows the performer which images are being projected on the green screen, replicating what a TV weather forecaster sees on-air.
Except in this production, it’s not just maps and cloud formations popping up as images on the green screen.
“The piece has a bunch of different things, like historical information, a classical painting, and clips from weather forecasts from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s,” Rochon says. “Then there’s a video of me: a recorded version of me engages with the real-time performer.”
High-profile actors will perform
Rochon, coartistic director of the Chop theatre company, calls Pathetic Fallacy a touring work with no performer on tour.
That’s because performers live where the show has been presented, including at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and Australia’s Darwin Festival.
On November 25, Rumble Theatre will present the Vancouver premiere of Pathetic Fallacy. On opening night, Electric Company Theatre cofounder Jonathon Young will take on the role of the performer in front of the green screen.
He’ll be followed on successive nights by actors Arggy Jenati, Aryo Khakpour, Omari Newton, and comedian and writer J D Derbyshire.
Rochon says that having a meaningful conversation with each performer during the show in other cities has provided her with insights into how people feel they should behave in response to the climate crisis.
In addition, she’s learned some things about how they teach their children and how they interact with their communities.
“Part of the joy of the piece is it’s very different, day to day, depending on who the performer is,” Rochon says. “And I hope it’s also not didactic. There are no starving polar bears.”
Bob Dylan once sang that you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
Rochon, on the other hand, has a great appreciation for meteorologists after extensively researching weather in advance of writing Pathetic Fallacy.
The Chop even considered inviting CBC's climate-savvy meteorologist, Johanna Wagstaffe to be a performer.
That's because Rochon considers TV and radio weather forecasters to be "mini-storytellers".
"They have to translate this very scientific information and this incredible knowledge," she says. "They have to read weather patterns and read the information they've been given and make it into something that the general public will be able to grab onto."
And she points out that weather forecasting has become far more accurate in the past decade.
“It was through kind of breaking down the history of weather—and the history of our relationship to weather—to bite-sized pieces that it made me able to kind of fall in love with the weather in a new way,” Rochon says.