Community-based play imagines future of climate change in Ithaca

It is the year 2030 and parts of Ithaca are under water. The future is at stake as the ravages of climate change erode this community’s way of life, leaving a city asking the questions: Who survives? Who decides?

“The Next Storm” (Nov.15–23, Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts) is a community-based play by the Department of Performing and Media Arts, Ithaca-based theatre company Civic Ensemble and playwright Thomas Dunn. Godfrey L. Simmons, Jr., Civic Ensemble co–artistic director and PMA senior lecturer, directs this wry comedy.

The play, presented in the style of a “living newspaper,” was developed over the course of several classes at Cornell and multiple story circles and interviews with community members within Ithaca, according to Sara Warner, producer and associate professor in PMA. That input from multiple generational, class, and racial perspectives is reflected both in the play and in the cast itself, with actors coming from within Cornell and from the greater Ithaca community.

"The Next Storm is the next iteration of our collaboration with Cornell PMA in exploring climate change with community members and students,” shared Civic Ensemble's co–artistic director Sarah K. Chalmers. “This is the story we need to tell right now; the one we need to keep telling and re-creating." 

Central to the play is the representation of the youth climate movement. The teen protagonists are activists trying to make their voices heard as the future—and potential saviors—of the planet. “The youth in ‘The Next Storm’ are inspired by recent youth-led activist movements,” said Allen Porterie ’20, assistant director. “They’ve been forced by birth into leadership positions because past generations have slacked off. It’s important to put them on the forefront, but also to work with the prior generations to figure out where they went wrong and how their community can work toward futurity.”

“The Next Storm” is an Engaged Cornell project and is cosponsored by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Community Foundation of Tompkins County, and WRFI Community Radio.

Performances of “The Next Storm” are Nov. 15, 16, 22, and 23 at 7:30 p.m., with a matinee Nov. 23 at 2 p.m., in the Kiplinger Theatre, Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are $18 for adults and $12 for students, seniors, and the Cornell community at or at the Schwartz Center box office, 1–8 p.m., Monday–Saturday. The Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts is located at 430 College Ave. in Ithaca. More information can be found on the event's Facebook page.

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