An Interview with Elizabeth Schuetzle and Jessica Doherty, CCTA 2019 Student Directors

by Zury Margarita Ruiz

The two-day USC Visions and Voices Climate Change Theatre Action (CCTA) events kick off this Friday, November 8th with How To Create Your Own Environmental Justice Event, which will take place at Lewis Hall (RGL), Room 101. In addition to the interactive workshop portion of the event, lead CCTA co-founder Chantal Bilodeau, the afternoon will start off with a student-driven staged reading of several short plays from the 2019 CCTA, now in its third iteration. Directing these plays are Jessica Doherty (double majoring in Theatre and Journalism) and Elizabeth Schuetzle (double majoring in Theatre and Political Economy), both USC seniors who believe theater is an effective method for helping people open up and relate to the realities of climate change.

Jessica Doherty (Left) and Elizabeth Schuetzle (Right), CCTA 2019 Student Directors.

I sat down with Jessica and Elizabeth to talk about their involvement with the CCTA 2019 at USC, their artistic vision for this project, and the difficulty and importance of talking openly about climate change.

How did you become involved in directing the student-driven readings of CCTA (Climate Change Theatre Action) 2019 plays and what drew you to the project?

ELIZABETH SCHUETZLE (ES): We were both referred by our professors.

I always like working on theater that has meaning and impact. I think all art is inherently political. Also, I really liked the plays. I thought they were all so unique and different. Of course, that’s because playwrights from like all over the world wrote them. I enjoyed the variety of voices that were in the mix.

JESSICA DOHERTY (JD): I’ve just been really interested in doing work about climate change recently. As a journalist, I write a lot about the arts, mainly art criticism, but I’m always interested in finding ways to communicate the bigger picture of creative works and document how they’ve influenced people, or made them think differently about a certain topic. I agree with what Elizabeth said, art is inherently political and it can impact people. Storytelling can impact people. Working in the newsroom here, its something that I am very aware of and struggle with—knowing when to cross the line of like, “we need to get people to click on this (article)”, but we also don’t want to sensationalize.

(NOTE: Jessica is the managing editor and writer for Annenberg Media.)

It sounds like you’re both very interested in Social Justice Theater.

ES: Jessica and I actually worked in a social justice theater group on campus, One & All, for like two years. We worked together all the time. This year we both decided not to run it anymore, then when we got this (CCTA) sent our way. Now we’re back together again. It’s kind of funny—this (CCTA) is the kind of event that our theater troupe would have been asked to do.

What kind of work did ‘One & All’ all do?

JD: We (One & All) did a workshop with the School of Social Work at Bovard (Auditorium) that utilized theatre of the oppressed activities to work out scenarios that they (Social Work students) would face out in the field. We did a lot of really fun stuff. It’s under new leadership now because we both were like, “we’re old and tired” but now there are some young bright faces running it. It still lives on.

I’m always interested in finding ways to communicate the bigger picture of creative works and document how they’ve influenced people, or made them think differently about a certain topic… Art is inherently political and it can impact people. Storytelling can impact people.

Going back to the CCTA event—what was the process like for selecting the plays that will be featured during the staged reading?

ES: There were some works that were recommended to us by Paula, which we considered.

JD: But we basically just chose the ones that we liked.

Tell me about some of the plays that were selected. What can we expect?

JD: I really liked directing “It Starts With Me” (Chantal Bilodeau)—it’s basically just a collection of voices, female voices, saying that the climate change movement starts with them. It was inspired by a bunch of different women involved in political activism, which I thought was really neat. I think it’s a really effective play to round out the event. Ending on an empowering note is important to me, and I really liked that this piece deals with empowering yourself to make a change and make a difference. Even if it is a small effort because it can build into something larger.

Another one I’m directing is “A Dog Loves Mango” (Georgina Escobar) which is like a really cute piece that tells the story of a woman who gets stopped by TSA because her shoes are made out of mango leather, which is actually a real material. It’s nice to have like a comedic piece in there as well. A lot of people turn away from climate change news because they’re afraid of it. If you scare people too much, they’re just going to back away and not want to listen to you. So I feel like using theater and comedy as a way to talk about this issue is a really effective way to bring it down to a smaller scale that will help people relate and understand the impact that climate change can have on them at a personal level, rather than at a macro scale which can feel too heavy.

ES: Yeah, I think humor is a great way to reach people. I have a couple comedic pieces. I think the one I really like is “Laila Pines for the Wolf” (Hassan Abdulrazzak). It’s a fractured fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood with different iterations that show the Wolf having difficulty getting across the bridge to encounter a Little Red Riding Hood because of climate change. The last iteration is really short because there’s no Wolf in it, he couldn’t get there. It made me think of a book I’m reading right now for my Research and Development class called “The Challenge for Africa” by environmental activists Wangari Maathai. In the last chapter of her book she says something like, “The ecosystem is here—it’s always been here—and the environment’s always been here. It’s completely fine without us as people. It could go on forever. It would be okay. But us as people are not okay without the environment”. And we’re slowly destroying it. I thought it was a nice tie in to the fact that the Wolf is no longer present in the story and that the story itself completely falls apart.

It sounds like if you’re both very interested and informed on issues of climate change.

JD:  I follow a lot news outlets, that I trust, that keep me up-to-date with climate change news. I’m also doing a project for one of my journalism classes that focuses on the small changes people can make to live more sustainably. I also attended a town hall about climate change issues—many of the presidential candidates where there. I like knowing where political candidates stand on climate change—I think its one of the most important issues we’re facing right now because it impacts a bunch of different social, political and economic issues that we have, and as climate change progresses, we will ultimately have more of those issues. So it’s important to do this type of work that will help people consider changes they can make in their own lives.

Can you talk to me about the cast and how they were selected for this project?

ES: It is a pretty small cast too. We’re each working with three actors for the six pieces.

JD: We reached out to people we knew who also care a lot about the environment.

What has the rehearsal process been like?

JD: It’s just been really fun because, you know, they’re staged readings so they’re not really technically involved. I’m lucky that my actors care about climate change and are attuned to the issues present in the plays—we even started talking about the issues openly.

What have those conversations been like?

JD: I definitely feel like we’re on the same page a lot of the time.

ES: Same. It’s been pretty casual and fun. I almost feel like, at least in my sect of cultural peer group, I’ve never had incredibly vocal conversations with people about climate change, even though everyone accepts that it’s a big problem, so this is inspiring. It’s kind of crazy because in the class I’m taking right now (Research and Development), so many of the issues discussed are linked to climate change, yet the materials we’re looking at are from like the nineties.

I understand that you’re working with music composer and fellow student, Cyrus Leland, for this project. Can you talk about that collaboration and what brought about the decision to include music?

ES: I know Cyrus because last Fall I directed a production of FUN HOME and he was my music director. He’s always down to compose and collaborate. Staged readings can be a little lame because you don’t have all the technical stuff involved, but I thought incorporating music would make it feel way more elevated.

Also, one of the plays I’m directing, “The Goddess of Mt. Banahaw” (adapted by Giovanni Ortega) has a lot of Tagalog in it. I was very lucky because Cyrus is also a linguist. So I had him come to rehearsal the other night and he helped out the cast.

I almost feel like, at least in my sect of cultural peer group, I’ve never had incredibly vocal conversations with people about climate change, even though everyone accepts that it’s a big problem, so this is inspiring.

Has your engagement in this project encouraged you to continue to be part of the CCTA project?

JD: I didn’t really know much about it (CCTA) before this, but I would be interested in continuing to do work that focus on climate change because it’s something I really care about.

ES: Definitely. From the very beginning, it’s been a really interesting process. When I first got the email, the first thing I did was go in and talk to Paula (Cizmar) for like an hour. She’s just so cool, and has done a lot of interesting work. She’s just so passionate about it (CCTA), which made me passionate about it. So I would love to do more stuff down the line.

What’s up for you next, creatively or otherwise?

JD: I just directed and self-produced a student show here (at USC) and now I’m doing this (CCTA), but since I’m a double major, next semester I need to do a capstone project for my journalism major. So I’ll be working on my capstone project as well as applying to jobs. I’m already applying to fellowships. While I don’t know what lies ahead for me creatively; I’m excited, focused on graduating, and curious to see what comes next.

ES: Next semester I’ll be working with another student-run company on a theatrical project that focuses on intersectional feminism. I’ll be doing a verbatim theater piece about fem and visibility in the queer community. So I’m like really just getting started on that and am hoping to find people to interview. I’ve always really liked verbatim theater but I have never done it before, so I’ll be learning as I go. I’m trying to really enjoy that process– working collaboratively, taking advantage of all resources, trying and failing–while in my last year at college.

Thank you both and good luck!

Don’t forget to check out How To Create Your Own Environmental Justice Event on Friday, 11/8/2019, starting at 2pm at USC Lewis Hall.

Featured plays from the 2019 CCTA are:

Chantal Bilodeau – IT STARTS WITH ME
Paula Cizmar – APPEALING
Marcus Youssef – DUST
Hassan Abdulrazzak – LAILA PINES FOR THE WOLF
Georgina Escobar – A DOG LOVES MANGO

Actors: Juan Dueñas, Grace Power, Jessica O’Connor, Katherine Jacobs, and Karl Kristian Flores

Musicians:  Cyrus Leland and Owen Boxwell

For more information on this FREE event and to RSVP, please visit:

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