Theatre’s response to the climate crisis

Alongside York Environment Week, there are a number of other local events dealing with environmental issues, including A Play for the Living in a Time of Extinction. York Theatre Royal’s Steve Pratt interviews Mingyu Lin, the director of this new play that tackles the climate crisis head-on and pioneers a new form of low-carbon theatre-making.

Director Mingyu Lin could be excused for feeling a little lonely as she prepares to bring an innovative show to the stage of York Theatre Royal. She has moved from rehearsing a community production company of 100 or more to A Play for the Living in a Time of Extinction which has a cast of just one.

While cast numbers may be small, the idea and thoughts behind the project are big, not least the idea of generating power for the production using bicycles on a zero-travel tour. Or as the pre-show publicity puts it: “a bold experiment in eco theatre-making” which sees the play tour across the country while the people and materials do not.

York-based Ming, a resident artist at York Theatre Royal and a regular director of Channel 4’s Hollyoaks continuing drama (that’s soap to me and you), has been involved with the project from the start. She was working as a Creative Associate at Headlong when “the play passed my desk” and recalls that she and the rest of the team loved the play.

A Zoom meeting was set up with the writer Miranda Rose Hall, who lives in America and Katie Mitchell, who’d directed a version of the play in Switzerland, told how a play about sustainability could itself be sustainable. Pedal power, which has a team of cyclists generating electricity during the performance, was a big part of the answer.

Ming says: “I’m quite passionate about touring theatre and Headlong tours outside London so we knew we had to tour the play. And if you have a play that looks at climate change I’m against a play made in London going around the North telling us how to live our lives.

“What the tour does is use local talent and doesn’t all the things that are damaging where you spend lots of energy and resources when you move people from place to place which you don’t actually need to do because where you’re moving to has got those things already.

“What’s been done is find a way to be both sustainable and tour. The concept of the play never changes but the talent working on it changes at each venue. Cyclists are recruited at each venue to power the show. The only thing that’s moved physically is the technology which transforms kinetic energy into electricity – and that all comes in one big box.”

When Headlong was planning the tour, Ming knew she was joining York Theatre Royal as a resident artist so snapped up the chance to direct the production. “I knew I really wanted the people of York to see it. I knew York would love it in a theatre that’s absolutely unique and gorgeous. The play and the concept fits really well within the theatre and York itself is a cycling city.”

A Play for the Living in a Time of Extinction is on at York Theatre Royal from 27-30 September. York Theatre Royal is also hosting an event as part of YEW: The Arts response to the climate emergency, on Friday 29 September.