“This Clement World”, as presented by Cynthia Hopkins is a “live documentary film”. If I hadn’t caught those introductory words I would be at a loss to categorize this wonderful and creative performance. Starting with the thoughtful title, “This Clement World”, I anchored to what is familiar to me; the word ‘clemency’, by definition is giving pardon or mercy as used in the context of religious and/or judicious subjects: To give clemency to a sinner or granting clemency to prisoner. The Merriam-Webster dictionary second definition of the word “clement” is “temperate, mild” .
The earth, to me, is not at all “temperate” nor “mild” as I know it. Populations are around the world are subjected to earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, wild fires and hail storms. This is not a clement world, though compared to other planets like Mercury or Mars, yes it is the most temperate and habitable planet for human beings.
The theme of the play alludes to the first definition of a merciful world that in our briefest lifespan (compared to the world’s long history), it has been mercifully bountiful with giving us the mines of minerals, fields of abundant food, forests of shelters and showers of rain, snow and sunshine among other things. Mother Nature is more powerful than human nature. Its wisdom to nurture us Mother Nature will always exists and evolve, but man may end up exhibiting the “failure of success”, if we should continue to destroy our human habitat.
Three story tellers describe their experiences and perceptions in a series of monologues that are intertwined over the course of the play. They channel their stories through the traveler, a woman who is a recovering alcoholic. She joins a crew of scientists and artists in a voyage to the Arctic Circle. There are 5 marine scientist and 10 artists from Russia, the US, Australia, Spain and Canada. plus the crew of Noorderlich. It is a 100 year old vessel that was restored to its original form by the owner and captain, known as “Captain Ted”.
At the beginning, she steps onto the stage and describes her situation. Afterwards, she steps behind a white screen that instantly turns into a film medium. We are transported to the “live” documentary. We are on the ship, observing her thoughts on paper. Each thought is scribbled across a piece of paper that is flashed across another screen, and moves as quickly as the hand can write down the thoughts. It feels like a silent movie and your attention is focused.
Like a dream, we move from different characters to the real character. The first one is a ghost of a Cheyenne woman who was murdered during the 1864 massacre at Sand Creek. “I was pregnant,” she moans. The symbolism of a future generation already dead imparts gravity of the moment in the past and present. Following her is an alien dressed up as a farmer. He explains his costume as a means of being recognizable. He is afraid that if we saw how foreign looking he is, then he would probably end up dead. The third character is a child from the future, and I’m sorry to confess that I missed this character.
My lack of attention to this detail is mostly due to my inability to “catch on” with what’s happening in the play, because the visual and aural textures of this multi-media performance were full of wonder. It was playfulness at its most inventive crescendo, without losing any balance. The closest experience I’ve had to seeing a live multi-media performance on stage was a long time ago, and the artist was Laurie Anderson. Cynthia Hopkins’ talent crosses over music, words and dance. I don’t know the persons (or groups) who helped her realize the vision of the props and the mediums to convey the various stories. I wish I did so I could give them kudos for their work.
Uhm…. There it is. I see the words jumping out at me on this page after several ruminations of what it is I’m trying to say about this piece of “heart work” by Cynthia Hopkins. It took a few rounds of research including reading Cynthia Hopkin’s blog during 2010. What do I see? “my inability to catch on”, and how we as a human species are slowly (maybe?) catching on that the biosphere is in a serious crisis that it will no longer sustain human habitants.
“Because although I don’t fully understand the climate crisis, I am beginning to grasp the mortality of our currently hospitable biosphere and the inter-related mortality of our human species, and I’m beginning to be possessed by a yearning to understand both the enormity and complexity of the climate problem as well as the thrilling possibilities for its solutions, and I’m beginning to be obsessed with the search for a way to be of service, to serve as a translator or conduit of information in whatever way that might be possible for me with my little voice and arms and legs to dance and sing the information into the hearts and minds of fellow members of my endangered species. – Cynthia Hopkins posted on Day 17 of the journey September 16th, 2010.
We go back to real time, when the woman returns to the stage, stepping out from behind the screen. She is dressed in a lumberjack shirt and jeans and confesses to hitting rock bottom. She lacks experience as an interviewer and on videotaping skills, but she persists to interview the guests on the ship to capture their professional and personal observations.
Despite the gravity of the messages there is lightness and light in the story telling. She apologizes for the poor audio quality of the interview so she mimes them while the interview plays on the screen. Her foreign accents and depiction of the character quirks are skillful and funny.
Towards the end of the journey she tries to draw parallels between her recovery from her alcoholic addiction to human kind’s addiction for things they don’t need; and its effect on others and the environment. She cannot find a metaphor, nor a resolution to the dilemma. Unlike the human lifecycle, the cycle of Mother Nature is vast and long and independent of human activities. It’ll continue to evolve through its volcanic actions, storms, earthquakes, tsunamis or meteor showers. But humans are finite as finite as our imaginations. If our imaginations can only stretch to our immediate gratifications then there is no future for the unborn.
This Clement World was written and composed by Cynthia Hopkins, designed by Jeff Sugg, and directed by DJ Mendel. It was presented at the Redcat theater on October 25th thru October 27th. It is scheduled to be shown in Toronto as part of Cape Farewell’s Carbon 14: Climate is Culture Festival on February 7th – 9th, 2014.