Playwright Pippa Mackie takes a positive approach to climate change with “Hurricane Mona”

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      Climate change and the havoc humans are wreaking on the planet are terrifying daily news at this point in history, making Pippa Mackie’s new play Hurricane Mona nothing if not hyper-topical.

      In the thought-provoking comedy, premiering this Saturday at The Cultch, a rebel millennial activist with an aversion to clothes is arrested after trashing a police car at a “peaceful” climate protest. Her sentence is something worse than jail: she’s forced to serve her time at the home of her boomer parents in suburbia. Hands up if you’ve ever made a casual point about climate change at a family function only to end up in a three-hour war with no winners.

      Mackie understands that the struggle to move toward a greener future is real, especially when dealing with segments of humanity who continue to be convinced that basic science is somehow yet another example of “fake news.” But rather than add to the endless angry discourse with Hurricane Mona, she decided it would be more productive to take a decidedly nuanced approach.

      “What’s interesting about my show is that I’ve actually written all the characters to be left of centre,” Mackie notes. “They all actually agree, fundamentally, that things are bad, and they’re all doing their part in their own way. But it still doesn’t feel like it’s enough, and it still feels very scary. That’s the approach that I really wanted to take.”

      These days, she says, there are more people who acknowledge that the climate is changing, and that it’s not looking great. “So I wanted to have the argument—and that’s what’s happening in the family—to more be about finger pointing at each other,” she explains. “Like, ‘You could do this better, and you could do this better.’ I wanted to highlight hypocrisy and the individual responsibility that we have when dealing with the climate issue.”

      Emily Cooper.

      A veteran of the Vancouver theatre scene who wears multiple hats—actor, director, producer, and playwright—Mackie is not exactly new to the cause when it comes to tackling climate change. Flash back a decade ago to the YouTube skit Weathergirl Goes Rogue, where what starts out as a simple forecast turns into a fantastically unhinged rant about how we’re destroying the planet. Highlights of the clip include Mackie delivering the line, “So if you think it’s bad now, you just wait and see what hell we’re going to unleash once we start drilling under the Arctic and digging up the tar sands so you can drive three blocks to get an Iced Capp!”

      Her deep interest in climate issues can be traced back to her early teens.

      “Believe it or not, in Grade Eight, I had a class called Ecology, and it was taught by an activist teacher named Mister Raoul, who’s quite infamous,” Mackie recalls. “You can see him at protests now playing the bagpipes. I first learned about climate change in his class when I was 13. It made a really big impression on me at that time, even though it wasn’t the dire situation that it’s feeling like it is now—or maybe ‘more urgent’ is a better term for it. So that’s really what started my understanding of climate-related issues.”

      After graduating from theatre school, Mackie became a regular at rallies around the Lower Mainland.

      “I got involved in a couple of different organizations and found myself really motivated to go to protests,” she remembers. “I was able to use my skills as a performer to help spread the word. I’d do things like go to an Ezra Lavent book signing for his ridiculous book Ethical Oil and ask him questions amongst all his devoted followers. And I worked with people like Kai Nagata and Heather Libby, who wrote Weathergirl Goes Rogue, which now has 2.2 millions views.”

      Mackie first got the idea for Hurricane Mona in 2020, when she found herself staring out the window at a smoke-filled sky while isolating during the early days of the pandemic.

      “I was thinking about an apocalyptic satire and absurd comedy, but then I was like, ‘It’s not absurd any more,’" she says. “Throughout the pandemic, I think a lot of dysfunction came to the surface for people in their relationships. So it was a combination of those things—taking family dysfunction and the climate, and putting them together in one piece.”

      One of the points Hurricane Mona drives home is how much things have changed climate-wise since Mackie started going to protests a decade ago.

      “I feel that back then there was still a lack of awareness that things were going to get worse if we didn’t do something,” she says. “There weren’t always direct examples in front of our faces. Now, 10 years later, we’ve got forest fire smoke that’s become more prevalent, and environmental disasters around the world—things that are pretty much impossible to ignore. We’ve got to this point where we kind of talk about forest fire smoke like it’s normal, but 10 years ago people were like, ‘Well, that’s not affecting me.’”

      Before writing Hurricane Mona, Mackie remembers going to climate-change talks and seeing people crying in the bathroom afterwards, distraught at what the future might hold. Her goal with the play is to help raise awareness, but not in a way that has everyone leaving the theatre feeling frantic and panic-stricken. Sometimes the best way to help facilitate change is to entertain rather than stand there screaming on a soapbox—tempting as that might be.

      “We all have these fears, but what I want people to experience in the show is hopefully crying with laughter,” Mackie says. “We are allowed to laugh at things that scare us, and this show is for people to gather and laugh together.”