How We Save The World: An interview with Michelle

Tomorrow night, Coney presents How We Save The World, commissioned by the Natural Environment Research Council as part of the Natural History Museum‘s 30th November Lates event.

Besides three pop-up games running throughout the evening, we’re incredibly excited to share a brand new interactive show in the Museum’s Flett Auditorium. Created in collaboration with NERC-funded scientists, audiences can join us on a time-travel adventure to visit moments in our past, making decisions about how we can save the world from the effects of climate change.

It’s completely free to attend, but book ahead to be sure of a getting a place for the story game. Find more information and tickets here.

Photo by Thomas Scott on Unsplash

Photo by Thomas Scott on Unsplash

Ahead of the performance, we spoke with Michelle McMahon, Co-Director of How We Save The World and an Associate of Coney, about her experience of making the piece:

What is How We Save The World, for you?
It’s a playable piece of theatre that challenges our perceptions and ultimately our role in the growing challenge of climate change. The piece invites us to imagine what we could have done differently at several moments in the past; it invites us to take action, and it invites us to hope that the actions we’re capable of taking now will make a real change. Climate change is such a massive thing to talk about, but the team have put a huge amount of work into making it clear and approachable. 

At its essence, How We Save The World is full of hope; that’s what we’re aiming to instil in the room, and what we’d like people to take away with them. By its nature the show is a race against the clock, to explore the worlds we’ve created within the performance. That mirrors the urgency of the issue and the time we have left to make a change, and it’s also a conversation starter. We hope people will leave the room and have new conversations with one another, with people in their lives, even with strangers, that could be the beginning of a change. 


The team have worked with NERC-funded scientists to make How We Save The World. How have you found that collaboration?

It’s been exciting working with research that’s real and dynamic, and grounding the issues we’re exploring in science. The research we’ve encountered is shaping how we live our lives and feeding into recommendations that are made to individuals, industry and government. 

There’s something very compelling in how the science helps to create lines of investigation, reframing and galvanising us. It’s an interesting creative challenge to create a convention where science can live comfortably within imagination, and find a genuine place inside the performance, letting the research push and pull us towards thinking about things differently and shape where we go in the story. 


Can you tell us about the making process for How We Save The World, and your role in it?

It’s a devised piece of work, where we’re constantly building the worlds around lines of interrogation. We’re understanding how to make them playable by sharing and testing them. We’re also devising with the actors, who improvise around the characters inside them. We’re responding to research, to writing and ideas, to people, to an audience, so it’s a really dynamic process.

Testing a version of the piece in development at a Scratch night

Testing a version of the piece in development at a Scratch night

There’s a whole team making the world. A Coney process is really collaborative. We’ve been working throughout with our sound designer Kieran Lucas and Screen Designer & Programmer Gareth Damian Martin, so they’re involved from start to finish.

It’s super collaborative, with all those different components working together – from writing and building gameplay, through to performance and design. It feels fast-paced, open, constantly challenging, playful and a lot of fun. 

As Co-Director, I essentially pull together the different strands; ask the questions that the audience will be asking. Your job is to find the place you want the piece to get to, where the team needs to get to, and make sure we all arrive there. You want people set up to do their best work, and have a good experience doing it. 


What have you found most interesting about making this piece?

I’m always interested in the topic of how to make something ‘live’ and have a genuine conversation in the room. In this case, how do you establish and play with the difficulty of change when you’re looking backwards? We all have a point of reference for where we are right now, so it’s an exciting challenge asking the audience to take a journey with us and think about what might have been possibleThe actors guiding the audience are also on a journey, because there’s no set outcome to each performance. As an interactive piece, it presents a series of options and therefore a series of potentials. In the making and rehearsal room, you have to prepare for and interrogate all of those. 


Has co-directing HWSTW changed your own perspective on sustainability?

All of the research is fascinating; I remember reading it for the first time and really feeling an understanding of why that kind of investigation is so formative. Having an understanding of the science helps to reframe things; like most of us, I’m guilty of feeling that I’m already contributing in some ways – and therefore maybe not challenging myself in others.

For me, one thing that stood out was learning how we can communicate about climate change with people, and how we can change the way we speak about it. The importance of not being judgmental is something you really see by living those conversations out through some of our characters.

The Natural History Museum Lates event tomorrow (Friday 30th November) runs from 6-10pm, with free performances of How We Save The World at 6.30, 7.30 and 8.30pm.

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