"The Big Unknown 1.5°" offers a firsthand experience of climate change

On March 11, 2020

Photo by Emily Melvin

Climate activism has been a growing feature of Ramapo campus life, as it extended into the Adler theater this past week. Ten students came together to write and perform “The Big Unknown 1.5°,” which showcased their passion for making changes for the better of the planet.

This conversation has been going on for some time now. Since the first climate protest last fall, students have been expressing their desire to see change right here on campus in whatever ways they know how. 

"The Big Unknown 1.5°" was an invitation for the audience to experience the way climate change has impacted others, as well as to look at their own experiences through this lens.

How this performance came to be is perhaps the most important part of what a show of activism it is. In just a month and a half, these ten students, with the help of their staff, devised the whole piece themselves from scratch.

“When you do a show, either a musical or a straight play, you start from square one. You have a script you read from, and blocking that’s kind of already preset,” said Julia O’Toole, a freshman cast member. “This is like, you’re building square one.” 

In the beginning, the students did workshops which involved journaling and research to determine exactly what elements the show would involve. As a result, much of their thought process pieces became part of their set. 

“From our journal entries, we took those and tweaked them into the monologues that we eventually finalized,” O’Toole said.

O’Toole also shared that they hesitate to call the piece a “show,” and rather choose to call it a “workshop,” especially because of the audience involvement. 

One element of the show included the cast members sharing a personal story with a bit of the audience and asking to hear their experiences in return. Another asked all present to spend two full minutes writing about their connection to “place,” after a bit about native american connection to land. 

Part of the experience in the name of climate activism had to do with how the show would be physically put together. In the name of conservation, they chose to omit a playbill or a program, instead having a website anyone could visit to learn more about the show.

Besides the cast and the purpose of the show, the website also includes a list of every material used to produce the set and props. This list is further organized into the 17 items purchased, and over 100 pieces which were upcycled. 

The website also has a tab titled “Resource Guide,” which allows visitors to learn more about the information the performance was based on and more to enrich their own knowledge about climate change.

Through a series of personal stories and experiences, the cast demanded an acknowledgement from the audience of the true state of the environment. 

“What makes us so special that we get to stay alive after we took for so long,” said Deckerd Montesanto, during her monologue. 

Every bit called for a different type of engagement. The cast performed several segments based on movement and symbolism, which provoked the audience to make their own interpretations and connections. 

In a performance like this, the students had the chance to do anything, and above all, they chose a response to climate change. They chose to speak out about the disparities they see between what everyone says matters, and the decisions that are actually made surrounding those issues. 

These students showed not only how climate change impacts everyone, but how the pain of the impact has weighed on their lives. 

Students have been at the forefront of social and political movements for decades. What was performed this past week in the Adler is not unlike the protests students spearheaded against war in the 70s. 

It is moments like these that deserve to be highlighted on campus, because they show how powerful our students can be when they come together. “The Big Unknown 1.5°” is a testament to the change that students are seeking and creating for themselves, when no one else will do it for them.



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