Try to Breathe: A Green Theater Production of “LUNGS” Addresses Difficult Concepts

Solar-powered light bulbs are strung from the ceiling of Taylor Theater at different heights, serenely swaying and waiting to be illuminated. A row of chairs encircled the performance space, and the audience sat still in darkness, vaguely grasping the image of two figures who entered the circle. A single bulb is reached for, then turned on. The bulb’s soft light brightened its pendulous neighbors and the two human figures, who slowly navigated the space, gently reached for and turned on each bulb. The show began.

This past weekend, senior actors Emily Gardner and Theo Merrill starred in a production of the play “LUNGS,” originally written by playwright Duncan Macmillan. The Colorado College performance was directed by Associate Professor Andrew Manley as a fAIL bETTER pRODUCTION and was supported by Theater Workshop.

Photo by Daniel Sarché

“LUNGS” is a comedic and thought-provoking two-person play that discusses the massive carbon footprint of having a baby in the midst of the impending climate change crisis. The characters “M” and “W” grapple with this concept through witty and accessible dialogue. Portrayed by Gardner and Merrill, they navigate the complexities of a modern-day relationship while also wrestling with their fluctuating opinions on having a baby.

“You have two timelines,” Gardner explained. “One is the timeline of the relationship: the ups and downs, the ebbs and flows. Then you have the timeline of the climate getting worse and worse. Even as the climate gets worse, people are still people and are making decisions and having relationships.”

Gardner was first introduced to “LUNGS” in a play reading group two years ago, and she was immediately drawn to the parallel narratives about relationships and the climate.

“The script really resonated with me, with the whole concept of having a child as a decision and the climate and the planet as factors in that decision,” Gardner said.

Recalling her attraction to “LUNGS” last spring, Gardner contacted Manley and addressed her interest in putting on the play for Theater Workshop this year. Excited, Manley emailed Gardner over the summer asking if she and Merrill would act in his production of the play. Both gladly accepted the casting positions.

With countless hours of extensive memorization and rehearsals last block, Merrill and Gardner tackled tough concepts within the play. Merrill contemplated the idea of placing environmental responsibility on either “global” action or “personal” decisions.

“I think that’s a question that recurs when thinking about the environment: how much of climate change is personal and how much of it is ultimately dependent on a few policy-makers and corporations? I don’t know the answer to that,” Merrill acknowledged. “Where is the play trying to put the responsibility? Is it on the characters for having a kid? Is it on everyone else for having kids? Is it on everyone else who didn’t plant forests? Or are we, as individuals, actually resolved of this responsibility, and should it be placed on lawmakers and corporations?”

Despite his uncertainty over global versus personal responsibility, Merrill confidently supports the sustainable impacts of producing “LUNGS.” The production was classified as “green theater,” utilizing sustainable light sources, limiting energy usage, and recycling props and costumes.

“It’s all about modeling things for others,” Merrill said. “Taylor Theater probably wasn’t going to use large amounts of power to put on the show, but I think it’s important to model green practices, even if the substantive effect isn’t that much.”

Gardner agreed: “There were still lights on in the lobby and water running the bathroom, so the net energy that we saved probably wasn’t absolutely huge, but making the play green theater still made a statement and could encourage others to take it even farther.”

Both Merrill and Gardner concluded that while green theater may not be conducive to all shows, they would love to see the theater department continue to exercise the sustainable practices utilized in “LUNGS.”

At the end of the show, when Merrill and Gardner gently reached for and turned off each hanging solar-powered light bulb, they left their audience in lingering darkness, with many big questions, but a very small carbon footprint.

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