After two years of research and a nine-month long creation process, the Terra Incognita Collective is preparing a multimedia performance that explores our current growth culture juxtaposed with the concept of de-growth environmentalism.
The show is a culmination of extensive documentary work, and Collective member Alexandra Simpson, who is completing her MA in documentary media, tells The Theatre Reader about her experiences living in a de-growth community called Can Decreix in Cerbère, France and how it impacted the approach she took to create this piece.
“After living in that de-growth community and trying to think about how I can communicate some of the ideas that I experienced there, it didn’t feel quite right to create a very linear, storytelling narrative,” Simpson said.
Instead, Simpson says she took a multilateral approach to storytelling through two worlds that will be the focal point of the piece: the growth world, which is more representative of the lifestyle of Torontonians, and the de-growth world, which is based on her experiences in Can Decreix.
She explains that the audience is introduced to the growth world once they step into the theatre space. Here, there is a clear beginning and an end, whereas the transition into the de-growth world is when the audience will “see a more circular kind of storytelling.”
Additionally, she notes that the audience has the autonomy to wander around and witness scenes that alternate between story structures, so they can discover what kind of effect this juxtaposition of narratives has on how people perceive the complexity and interconnectivity of environmentalism.
Throughout the performance, spectators will observe the two worlds through the eyes of various masked characters. The mask technique is a prominent feature in Terra Incognita, and Simpson says the Collective decided to integrate this element into the show as a response to society’s lack of imagination in terms of envisioning a different world.
“Many of us in our generation only know (things like) storefronts and coffee shops, so this connection to nature is lost, and maybe we don’t quite know it. I don’t speak for everybody, but there’s this general sense of not being sure what we’re missing,” she said.
Simpson says that through the masks, she, along with the rest of the Collective, hope to invite the audience to experience the worlds they create in the space that can go beyond what we live through in our day-to-day lives.
“It also gives the actors the ability to be anyone regardless of age, gender, sexuality, or race, and to assume different perspectives,” Simpson added.
Given that this is a highly physical performance inspired by documentary media, Simpson gives us a rundown of other interactions audiences can expect to encounter upon entering the space.
“(We’ve included) interviews I conducted while I was (in) Can Decreix, so they are done sometimes in verbatim during the show. There are also speeches from past public figures and politicians that (had) been performing in various public spaces in Toronto,” she said. “We’ve also (documented) the experience of the Collective going through this process, so you’ll also hear their thoughts and feelings towards de-growth environmentalism or their complicity towards the de-growth culture.”
Simpson says that combining theatre with aspects of documentary media that have a history of social importance was crucial in order to co-author an experiment between artists and audience members in hopes of enlightening community members, thus giving this dynamic medium an edge over social and visual media.
The problem, she explains, is that, “there’s so much media out there,” resulting in “a lack of social activity (caused by) image fatigue.”
Simpson says she questions the effectiveness of mobilizing initiatives online: “If you look at successful social movements of the past, they all involved people coming together, and many environmental campaigns for groups are now done online, and so what are we losing by doing everything online?”
There is plenty of time allocated to a discussion portion at the end of each performance, when the audience has the opportunity to ask questions and voice their thoughts about the subject matter at hand, as well as to evaluate how successful or unsuccessful the Collective was in their attempts.
“I hope that audiences become active, or at least start to question what I call consumer spaces where we are just consumers and not necessarily people, (so) rethinking why we have things, why are they necessary in our lives, and the patterns that we consistently do things in,” Simpson said.
It doesn’t just stop at consumption patterns, she says, but also what we expect from ourselves as individuals in terms of our personal achievements in life and wanting more.
“I think in Toronto, we’re always focused on growing and expanding further, and doing more things – but what happens if we switch our focus to taking care of our neighbors and our planet?”
Terra Incognita runs from June 3 to June 6 at the Greenpeace Warehouse. For more information, visit terraincogco.org.