CCL in Action: Mish Weaver, Can of Worms
During the Creative Climate Leadership residential it became increasingly evident to Mish that the circus can play a role in confronting climate change. She speaks of how she attempted to make a show about climate change in 1998, but after seeing very little similar work, considered her environmental cares and profession to be relatively separate realms. However, attending CCL gave her the opportunity to see how she could marry these two interests. Since her time at CCL she has pursued a number of environmental projects.
For one of her project ideas Mish applied for a CCL in Action grant, which she subsequently received. Mish’s project idea, Can of Worms, centred around using T-shirt sales to start conversations around the topics of mental health, uncertain futures and global change. Mish planned to attend festivals around the UK with a stall selling T-shirts. The seller would be the circus performer, who would draw attention to the stall by using clown and object manipulation techniques. The clown would be exhibiting behaviours based around a ‘Climate Affective Disorder’ called Solastalgia, a term developed by the philosopher Glenn Albrecht. It refers to the feeling of grief that occurs when one witnesses the environments and places they love being destroyed through environmental degradation. To do this, Mish explains how the clown ‘will not act as though they have a disorder; rather present a metaphorical persona, celebrating eccentricities that we perhaps misread as apathy, aggression or madness’.
Unfortunately, Mish says the project did not pan out as she had originally hoped. After either not being granted permission to sell at a couple of festivals, or not managing to engage people enough to sell the t-shirts, she felt that the project idea of having the character exist alongside a T-shirt selling initiative simply didn’t work. She describes how people were confused by the character, and were apprehensive to engage with the ideas. After this experience Mish ‘personally went through some heavy thinking and felt pretty defeated’.
Yet, despite this feeling of defeat, Mish wanted to continue to develop the character. She decided she needed to re-evaluate her approach, and determined that if she was going to make a character analogous of climate change psychology she would need to be prepared to make some material. Mish worked with the performer who played the clown to make a show called Solastalgia. The show is a twenty minute performance piece based on the experience of solastalgia. Mish made the conscious decision to not make the show overtly about climate change. In order to communicate about these challenging issues in an effective way Mish decided to approach the show with some dark humour, saying that ‘it was helpful having the humour there because it made things slightly easier to swallow I suppose’. Solastalgia has since been performed at a Serious Circus Symposium, organised by Mish herself, received exceptionally positive feedback. She also spoke of plans to perform it with the support of the Extinction Rebellion movement.
Mish’s experience of feeling that her project did not originally produce the desired results reflects a common challenge that most people working across the arts and creative industries have experienced at one point or another; projects don’t always turn out how we expect, and it can be hard to predict how successful they might be beforehand. What Mish has demonstrated is how important it is to learn from this process, and take those understandings with you as you go forward. By reflecting on why she felt the first attempt at the project wasn’t as successful as she hoped Mish was able to change her approach to the subject matter being explored, and subsequently produce a second and more successful piece of work.
Photo: Mish acknowledging the elephant in the room at the recent ‘Serious Circus Symposium’. Photo by Rowan Virgo.