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Tackling Climate Change on the Stage

16 Oct 2019
A group of Massey University students are using the stage to bring attention to climate change. Dominic Hoey spoke to Kerris O’Donoghue about the project.

As the recent student-led climate strike that brought around 170,000 New Zealanders into the streets demonstrated, the fight against climate change is largely being led by our youth. Students at Wellington’s Massey University are picking up the mantle by staging a series of plays under the banner Ngaru Ngaru (which roughly translates to “surfing the wave”), that speak directly to the climate crisis. The students are part of Climate Change Theatre Action (CCTA), a global organisation that aims to spread climate change awareness through theatre and performing arts. I spoke to one of the organisers, Kerris O’Donoghue, about the project.

Riding the waves

“We thought the te reo Māori name, Ngaru Ngaru, was appropriate as we honour indigenous voices and portray indigenous issues and experiences with climate change through some of our performances,” Kerris says. “We also feel that we, and the people around us are starting to really ‘ride’ the wave of climate change action – we are seeing more and more people express an interest in wanting to lead more sustainable lifestyles and see positive changes happen for the sake of the environment.” 

The Ngaru Ngaru team in rehearsal 

Ngaru Ngaru will be comprised of two plays and one performance art piece: ‘The Donation’ by Jordan Hall, ‘The Arrow’ by Abhishek Majumdar and ‘The Reason’ by Stephen Sewell. The performances are part of a Massey course where students have been tasked with producing creative work based on a current issue. They were assigned the theme of climate change by their tutor. 

“Over the past twelve weeks we have been working on putting together these performances as well as marketing our work on social media to build an audience, figuring out the logistics of our performances and documenting parts of the process. It has been a very student-led process,” says Kerris.

Starting the kōrero

The group’s main objectives are to start new conversations around climate change and continue existing ones, she says. “We cover a wide variety of issues and perspectives including waste and fast fashion, ethical dilemmas such as whether to have children or not, motivations and responsibilities of people in power, how climate change makes people feel, as well as comparing the relationships of Māori, non-Māori and Pacific Islanders to climate change.”

She feels strongly that art is a valid way to get people talking about the issue. 

“I see art as a raw and emotional form of expression of feelings and ideas, which has the ability to move people in all sorts of different ways. Art, particularly performance art, is a powerful way to capture the attention of a group of people, make them think about the message that you’re sending and ensuring that message sticks with them.” 

The fight must go on

For Kerris, and the other students involved with Ngaru Ngaru, the project has sparked a passion for continuing the fight against climate change. 

“It’s definitely encouraged us to continue partaking in action and to maybe organise more action in future. We are focusing on Ngaru Ngaru right now and we hope we will be able to keep it alive on social media after our performances. We’d love to plan more events under the same name.”


Ngaru Ngaru will be held at Massey University’s Theatre Lab (5D14) on Wednesday October 16th at 12:30pm and Thursday October 17th at 5:30pm.
On Saturday October 19th, two groups will take the action to the streets, performing outside Parliament at 11:30am, on Cuba Street at 1:20pm and on Courtenay Place at 2pm. All performances will be free to attend.