We spoke to Rohan Gotobed of Coast to Coast about their Edinburgh Fringe Festival show, Play Before Birth. They ask the ethical question of whether we should be having children in a planet that is becoming increasingly difficult to live in.
What is your show about?
Play Before Birth is a prenatal eco-activist thriller about four young women and climate change. Klara’s baby shower is meant to be a celebration, but as she brings new life into a dying world there are some uninvited guests. Moira wants to save the planet at any cost. Is it okay to still have children?
We performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2019, at Greenside Infirmary Street from the 12th August. We incubated the show with the support of the Garage Theatre in Norwich and premiered this production there in June, but over the last month we’ve been working nonstop to further develop Play Before Birth into something beautiful and unsettling.
Where did the idea come from?
Coast to Coast are interested in using theatre to interrogate modern life. We wanted to create a show exploring motherhood and the morality of raising children when Donald Trump is president. At the same time wildfires in California were making headlines and we realised we couldn’t ignore the threat of climate change.
There are organisations such as Conceivable Future who believe activists should stop having children until we solve the climate crisis. The array of testimonials and accounts online from people who had gone on #BirthStrike were very moving and so we synthesised the two ideas. What is the morality of bringing children into a world where their lives are going to be extremely difficult?
How did you realise that the show would end up being concerned with
sustainability and carry a message about our environmental impact on the planet?
In the early stages of rehearsals, we were most invested in the responsibility that comes with
motherhood and how that responds to our ‘stewardship’ of the planet. This play would be an
evocation. Then Extinction Rebellion happened. We met members of the organisation and saw the way these protests changed the environmental conversation.
The character of Moira, who had previously been extremely antagonistic, instead became justified in her beliefs. We decided to set the play on the 8th October 2018, as the IPCC report was released so that none of the characters can hide from the environmental consequences of their actions. This inspired us as a company to see what more we could do to make Play Before Birth sustainable and join Staging Change.
What have the highlights been of developing the show? What have you learnt?
It’s been wonderful to work on a single piece of theatre for a long period of time. We’ve been
workshopping stuff with the cast since last December and seeing how the show has changed and improved has really spurred the team on to keep the momentum going in Edinburgh. The cast are staggeringly good and haven’t been afraid to take on some existential crises as we’ve discussed the climate catastrophe and the future of life on earth.
What have the difficulties been of developing the show? What have you learnt?
Trying to maintain a playful rehearsal room when there is such a sense of dread in the play. After our first performances we’ve been adding more jokes (and lots of references to the movie ‘Alien’) to try and show people that you can be challenged and entertained at the same time.
Tips and tricks: What can emerging artists do to be more eco-friendly?
Join Staging Change (obviously). Designate a green champion to try and ensure we continue discussing and discovering better ways to keep the rehearsal process as eco-friendly as possible (using keep cups, turning lights off, recycling).
Whose work inspires you to be more environmentally sustainable?
Everything ThisEgg does and the brilliance of Pigfoot’s ‘How to Save a Rock’. As dramatists we’re also inspired by minimalist writers like Duncan MacMillan, Matthew Lopez and Caryl Churchill. You don’t always need a huge set to convey huge ideas.
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