Collaborative Event Creation as a Model for Living in a Time of Crisis

The following post was written by Emily Pearlman, about ‘Almonte Lights the Way’; one of the projects that received support from SPARC’s Collaborative Community Initiatives program in June 2019.  

To learn more about the projects the CCI program has supported, log into the Member Network site, and click on “Collaborative Community Initiatives” in the menu on the left! 

“We invite you here to see some people who have never met before, working to build a thing they have never seen before”

Collaborative Event Creation as a Model for Living in a Time of Crisis

On October 17th and 18th, 40 Mississippi Mills community members age 10 – 65 assembled in the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum to perform 9 short shows about the Climate Crisis. Of these shows, 4 were scripts from the international Climate Change Theatre Action project, and 5 were new works created for the event. The performance ended with a rousing call for participation in our community, and then the audience was let loose in a room to share delicious snacks, and chat with local environmental organizations to see how they could get involved in existing projects, and seed new ideas. With the collaboration of 14 local environmental organizations and 5 contributing business, we sold out both nights and raised over $2000 for local tree planting initiatives.

The project sprang from a desire to build something as a group that activated intergenerational dialogue on the climate crisis, with a focus on creating something rather than stirring up existing divisions and anxieties. We chose stubbornly celebrating a sustainable future as the event tagline, as an invitation to collaborate, but it wasn’t until the event was over that I started to understand what that meant.

The pieces, many of which were written and performed by young people, did not offer solutions to climate change, but acknowledged that it was messy complicated business that affects our relationships with other people as well as the planet. “I never knew they felt that” whispered one audience member after one piece saw a young actor ask her mother “But Mom, if we are the future, what are we supposed to do?” The question hit hard. What is anyone supposed to do?

When I look back at the form of the event however, (5 directors who had never met, working with small groups of people who had also not always met), I start to see it as a collaborative model for co-existing in a time a crisis . The participants, did not know what the bigger piece would be until it happened in real time. The event allowed participants to see their contribution was not the whole event, but rather an integral note in the song of the evening. For the audience, watching community members of all ages who have never met before, come together to build something from scratch, presented a working model of the benefits of a community mindset to “Build up” rather than “Tear down.” I believe this mindset is key if you want to be able to get out of bed when the world is on fire – you can decide that your actions won’t make a difference, or you can decide that they are part of a much bigger puzzle that may take a long time before it takes shape.

I do not have the signing authority to make policy changes to benefit the future. But in this project, I identified some guiding principles that I think are useful to any group looking to harness the energy of people to build change.

Everyone is invited. Let every step in the process be an open call that invites people to self identify as interested. If they have mentioned they are interested, but then don’t show up, call them back (but just once), to give them faith in their ability.


No one is obligated. Give people graceful outs if they offer to participate, but then find they can’t. People are busy. People have ambitions that reach beyond their available hours. People are doing the best they can. It’s not about you.

Notice people’s skills. It is way easier to ask for participation from a person if you have a specific thing you would like them to do. Asking “Anyone want to help” is never as effective as “Hey Julie, based on your great eye, do you think you would be willing to take photos?” This requires attending and making spaces to listen and ask questions about people’s interests. Our auditions, were a two hour long affair where we hung out and chatted as well as read scripts – it was not an exercise in figuring out who was in or who was out, but a place to imagine how we could use the skills of everyone who showed up.

If you trust people, and act like you trust them, they will rise to the occasion. At the auditions we mentioned that some of the pieces were yet to be created. A 17 year old auditioner responded by saying “I have always wanted to write a play. Can I?” The collective of directors debated whether this was a good idea or not – “We don’t know this person! We want to make good art! Can we trust her to deliver?” We ultimately said yes. Her piece was a hit. But also, it could have not been and it would have been fine. If you have enough folks working towards a goal, you also have the people power to cover if people need to drop the ball. The best way to build a room that has more ball picker-uppers than ball droppers? Remind everyone of their ability to pick up the ball

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