Feb. 12, 2024

Bold arts production brings activist movement to life

Lights Out challenges the climate crisis narrative using resilience and hope instead of despair
Students dance under yellow light
Student performers in the ensemble cast of Lights Out, presented by the School of Creative and Performing Arts. Tim Nguyen

The University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA) tackles difficult global climate issues and searches for answers in the new production Lights Out. Exploring a world in flux intersecting with the most critical environmental moment in history, Lights Out is a transdisciplinary collaborative effort between the drama, dance and music divisions involving more than 50 student performers and production crew members. 

Lights Out is conceived and directed by Faculty of Arts drama professor and director of the SCPA, Dr. Bruce Barton, PhD, with collaboration from dance sessional instructor Heather Ware; drama alum Beth Kates, MFA’20; music sessional instructor Dr. Christopher Sies, DMA; music associate professor Dr. Laura Hynes, DMA; and music alum Jean-Louis Bleau, BA’05, MMus’11.

An underlying theme of the work is hope and resilience, exploring a transition from a state of inertia into one that defiantly seeks answers.

“The climate crisis is touching every single life around the planet,” says director Barton, “although it’s affecting those least responsible in the most severe ways. Individual responses to eco-anxiety range from apathy to anger — which are, in a sense, both forms of paralysis. Our production asks how it might be possible to move through this inertia and achieve purposeful, collective movement.”

The dynamic choreography and full-length musical soundscape means that the production, in many ways, “draws as much on choreographic principles as on dramatic conventions,” says Barton.

The rhythmic percussive score, composed by Sies, is a vital component of the work, driving the actors/dancers in movement. Each performance features live musicians from the UCalgary Percussion Ensemble, who create the sonic world with four drumkits and a vibraphone.

Planetary stewardship and regeneration are core tenets of the work. Eschewing resource intensive scenery, Lights Out intentionally follows a minimalist approach. The audience is brought into the centre of the performance. With no fixed seating in the production, the audience is invited to stand, sit on the floor or feel free to move through the performance space.

“What remains after a theatrical production is always an issue: once they’re built, set materials have to be stored, reused or thrown away. In our performance we’ve addressed this by having no set,” says Barton. 

“Instead, the world is defined by bodies in space and by the use of complex lighting and projections. While this, of course, also involves resource use, our material footprint is very small.”

Staging an original theatrical work at UCalgary has offered uncommon opportunities for student engagement. Students participated in pre-production workshops on light, sound and movement. The script itself is crafted by Barton from the students’ own perspectives, shared through a series of letters about climate change that each member of the ensemble wrote to four different generations: Boomers and Gen X, as well as their own and the next generations.

The deeply personal messages were distilled into a powerful poem-like script that is performed through choral arrangement.

An ambitious, kinetic experience, Lights Out strives to challenge perceptions by asking us to consider, “What does it take to move, when the world is paralyzed?”

Lights Out runs until Feb. 17 at the University of Calgary's Reeve Theatre. Tickets are $22 (adults) /$17 (students/seniors) and are available online through arts.ucalgary.ca/tickets or at the door.