It’s time to get emotional about climate change with The Seldoms’ ‘Exit Disclaimer’
“If you exit this page, if you exit this conversation, any action taken is at your own risk.” The Seldoms dancer Maggie Vannucci mimicked the standard exit disclaimer for when you leave a standard government website. She sat in a toppled, old-fashioned school desk, her cheek against the floor as her words hinted at the confusion of facts and fiction to come as we continued into the performance.
Running through Dec. 15, The Seldoms’ “Exit Disclaimer: Science And Fiction Ahead” brought a sold out audience to the Steppenwolf blackbox through aggressive physicality, comedic wit, and stark moments of quiet tension in a compelling iteration of the average person’s deep dive into the messy field of climate change. The work resurfaces after its original creation in 2011 to pretty much the same battle between climate change deniers and believers in the world today—and the same question: What can we do about this climate crisis?
“Exit Disclaimer” doesn’t provide any answers. The school desk toppled across the stage with the cast throughout the piece, shifting as more questions are introduced into the space. How do we have thoughtful conversation with those who don’t believe in climate change, who don’t believe we are at a tipping point in the climate crisis? How can I as an individual offset the world’s carbon footprint? Can I, as one person, actually do anything to offset the carbon footprint?
The Seldoms expertly use humorous dialogue and choreography to counter the fatigue of these questions. I admire how in their creation of dance theater, movement remained the primary method of communication, with text and theatrical moments highlighting the conversational power of choreography instead of replacing it. Three of the company members stood on rotating disks, eating bananas and discussing climate debt, and my eyes were drawn to the other two dancers lying on the floor, spinning these disks through slow, tactile foot movement. Damon Green sat, complacently eating a donut, oblivious to the sparring duets happening behind him. The athletic tension of these duets—where one dancer would jump at the other, then recoil from an attempted elbow jab—juxtaposed Green’s calm eating in an exploration of the different ways we seemingly deal with climate change. We aggressively believe, aggressively oppose, or ignore altogether.
But by the end of “Exit Disclaimer,” I wasn’t satisfied with the stream of questions and lack of answers. While it set up space for dialogue on stage (and in the talkback following the performance), at this point, almost a decade after the piece first premiered, conversation is not enough for me. But I also recognize that in many ways there still aren’t concrete solutions for the everyday person. Even in the talkback, guest speaker Dr. Patricia Beddows gave big, institutional solutions, none of which one person could tackle alone. And in this way, I felt very connected to the dancers on stage—overwhelmed, frustrated, in conflict with myself and others—so much so that I felt it would almost be easier to ignore the drama, chill out and eat a donut.
And why not do that when there is seemingly nothing I can do by myself to offset the world’s carbon footprint, to absolve climate debt? The question then becomes, how do we mobilize the people who can implement mass, dramatic change, and do it now? Paradoxically enough, while this dance didn’t provide answers, the answer is this dance. Or any dance inspired by the imminent pressures of the climate crisis. As Dr. Beddows noted in the talkback, people have become immune to statistics. Facts don’t change minds, but emotions—often best expressed through art—do. This power of emotion is part of how teen climate activist Greta Thunberg has inspired, mobilized and grabbed the attention of so many.
To anyone who doubts the existence of the climate crisis, or who is sitting idly by, eating a donut, ignoring how bad the problem is, you need to see this work. You need to get frustrated, angry and confused, and you need to share what this work makes you feel with the world. Because the only way to cut the stress of this situation is to breathe, and yet our ability to keep breathing this air that we need to survive is sacrificed more and more each day. Complicated, conflicting emotions seem to be the one thing bringing people together on these issues—just as it brought The Seldoms together at the end of “Exit Disclaimer,” a symphony of breath the soundscape for spiraling lifts, dives in and out of the floor, and a sense of unity among the cast despite there not being a lot of unison movement happening onstage.
And to anyone wanting to see some compelling dance theater, “Exit Disclaimer: Science And Fiction Ahead” is that too.