In an abstract theatrical journey exploring the effects of climate change, Too Much World at Once, written by Billie Collins. Discussing the impact on mental health that the topic often has, using the notion of birds, the show is an interesting concept that makes you want to know more.
Billie has kindly told us about her writing of the piece, and how she feels about sharing it.
What can be expected from the show, and what was the inspiration behind writing it?
Audiences coming to Too Much World at Once can expect an end-of-the-world story crashing through the roof of a domestic drama. It’s got magical realism, funny bits, sad bits, and lots of birds. The play started with a question: ‘what if a boy turned into a bird?’ I followed that thread to the work of the British Antarctic Survey, the wandering albatross, and the climate crisis. I realised most of the TV, plays and films I grew up loving were genre stories that wove the fantastical into the everyday. I wanted to try my hand at that.
How have you incorporated the climate crisis and queer identity into the piece, and why are these important to you?
The climate crisis became a core theme pretty much as soon as I started researching birds and migratory patterns. As part of that research, I spoke to Dr. Jess Walkup, who once did the job the character of Cleo is doing on Bird Island. Her insight was invaluable in breathing life into the world of the play, and she very kindly came into rehearsals to speak with the cast too. Through writing Too Much World, I’ve become what the character of Ellis calls a ‘bird nerd.’ It sounds obvious, but the more you learn about the non-human world we share our space with, the more you care about it.
As for queer identity… I grew up a geeky gay kid on a very heterosexual peninsula. There wasn’t really a visible LGBTQ+ community around me, and the queer people I saw on telly were generally older than me, male, and living glamorous-yet-scandalous inner city lives. It was a big deal when my hometown got a WHSmith - a thriving queer scene would’ve been a stretch. So, I’m keen to put stories onstage that I would’ve loved to have seen when I was younger. In Ellis, I wanted to write a character who was queer, clever, funny, and loveable. A young person who knows their own mind and is carving out an identity without a fixed mould or template.
How does exploring these in abstract and theatrical terms get across the intended message?
Climate crisis is terrifying. It’s hard to talk about, read about or think about without slipping into despair. There’s an impulse to turn away, and a very understandable one. However, the choice to do so is a privilege not everyone has, and even for those of us living in places not yet significantly affected, that privilege is time limited. I’m interested in how theatre and storytelling can be used as tools to encourage audiences to engage emotionally with nature, environment, and climate emergency. Stories are like little crucibles for ideas. They can translate something big, abstract, and scary into something that feels closer to home. In order to address huge issues like climate crisis, we need to imagine otherwise. Theatre is about doing just that.
How does it feel to have this as your first play premiered, and subsequently touring the country?
Exciting, bonkers, nerve wracking. I’m so happy the play is opening at HOME in Manchester, which is a theatre I love in the city where I live. I feel very lucky that the play will reach audiences across the country, especially in a landscape where fewer and fewer new plays are being programmed. As a script reader, I’ve read loads of brilliant, bold, urgent new plays from so many spectacular writers. They’re crying out to be staged and audiences are hungry for them. But without proper investment and creative and professional support there’s a risk they’ll stay on the page… which isn’t really where plays live.
How would you like audiences to respond to seeing the performance?
I hope they feel a connection to the characters. I hope they see a little of themselves in it, and that it makes them think a little differently about their relationship to the (non-human) world around them. (And, of course, it would be nice if they absolutely bloody loved it and told all their mates.)
If you could have your production shown to anyone, who would you most like to see it and why?
I want as many people to see it as possible, but I’m probably most excited for teenagers and young people to see it. I sort of wrote it with them in mind; young queer people, young people who are worried about the future, the world, and our place in it. (They’re probably the most discerning critics as well– you can usually trust fifteen-year-olds to tell you if something’s crap.)
Many thanks to Billie for this insightful interview- it sounds like a really exciting piece to be premiering soon. Best of luck with the run!
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Additional thanks to Flavia Fraser-Cannon and Lydia Savva for coordinating this interview.