Arctic environment takes center stage in "Sila"

By Craig Harriman
On February 18, 2014

  • Two students operate life-size polar bear puppets in the dress rehearsal for “Sila,” an eco-drama staged by the Woodward Drama and Dance Initiative as a part of the UNH Sustainability Institute and Cultural Stages. The production revolves around the effects of climate change and how actions we take in our own lives can affect the lives of others across the world. Cam Johnson/Staff

The UNH Sustainability Institute and Cultural Stages:  The Woodward Drama and Dance Initiative are performing the Play "Sila," Wednesday, Feb. 19-22 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 23 at 2 p.m. in the Johnson Theater on campus.

"Sila" recently won the Woodward International Playwriting Prize, First Prize in the Earth Matters on Stage Ecodrama Festival and the Uprising National Playwriting Competition. 

Written by Chantal Bilodeah, a playwright and translator from New York, the play is a mature examination of the Canadian Arctic and the local Inuit population and the effects of the changing climate.

A content warning has been issued that the production contains adult language and themes that may not be suitable for children.

The play follows a climate scientist, an Inuit activist and her daughter, two Canadian Coast Guard officers, an Inuit elder and two polar bears as their paths cross and their values are challenged. 

"Anybody who is interested in the environment, anybody who is curious about climate change, anybody who is interested in theatre as a spectacle should see this play," Deborah Kinghorn, professor of theater and dance at UNH and the director of "Sila," said.

This is an opportunity to better understand the effect that our way of life is having on others in the world.

"Respect for other cultures and how perhaps we here in America, and the rest of the western world, tend to dismiss other cultures as not worthy even thinking about," Kinghorn said. "Because of what they do is so of the earth or natural to the earth or so simple compared to the way we live."

Making a living as a hunter and living off seal blubber and polar bear meat is just as viable up in the Artic as non-Arctic lifestyles and people just don't understand that way of life, according to Kinghorn.

"Everything that we do that affects climate change is affecting the Inuit way of life," Kinghorn said.  "To me, that's a subject worth dramatizing. It's a subject worth dramatizing right now, because it's happening now."

The media talks about global warming, climate change, melting ice sheets and all the damage it will all cause to our economy almost every day.

"The global consequences of pollution, damage to the environment effects all of us over the long term," Kinghorn said. "My hope is that people will see this to perhaps learn what they can do to help besides maybe recycle their bottles, and enjoy a really good tale while they do." 

After the five shows at UNH, the production will have its professional premier at the Underground Railway Theater in Cambridge, Mass. in April.  

The polar bears have been built by the UNH production staff and will be used in the rest of the shows as well. They are life-sized puppets operated by three puppeteers and are going to be quite a spectacle, according to Kinghorn

Some 50 students are involved with the production from actors, stage managers, set construction and technical crews, so go out next week and see this amazing production UNH has put together.  

Tickets are $14 with a UNH ID and $16 for the general public and can be purchased at the Johnson Theater in the Paul Creative Arts Center.

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