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STUFF in development © Sophie Dean (artwork) and Carolina Mejia Villegas (Photo Montage)

It began as a game: Without worrying about the “why”, I tasked a group of teens to pick an object and to defend its existence, from the point of view of the object. 

Their stuff of choice fought for their lives: a Trash Bag, the Cell phone, Toilet Paper, a Book Jacket, Invisalign, an Eraser, Blue Jeans, a Q-Tip, the Credit Card, and more. And as humans, we pushed back: but do we really need you? Why?  At what cost to the environment?

The game grew into a theatrical “what if”: What if, what a dystopian time that could be now, groups of eleven teens—no, Teenage Task Forces (TTF's)--in all 195 countries of the world corral their determination and fears to convene a Tribunal with one tangible Mission: to create space. What if, day in and day out for 365 days, this generation of climate leaders subpoena thousands of objects and decide what stuff the planet should keep and what should go?

Thanks to the generosity of this Free Rein project, STUFF is becoming a script that is hungry to meet a rehearsal hall. With the project support, I have had the privilege and sheer joy to be mentored in playwriting by theatre artist Martha Ross. Add in 10 youth as my consultants/collaborators and the creative satisfaction triples threefold. I will turn to Martha to put our work into her words:

The process has been like nothing I’ve been involved with before. None of us were ever in a room together, so we had to create a new process of trying on ideas. I’m in BC while Kristina and the teens are in Ottawa. In this cyberspace room, Kristina and I find ideas, pull them apart, massage them and say yes or throw them away. We laugh a lot. And then Kristina takes the ideas to the group of youth and they play with them and pull them apart and laugh a lot while taking it very seriously. They help us decide what to keep, what not to keep, just like the “stuff” in the play. I keep thinking what gifts we keep giving each other. We’re so isolated and yet we’re so together in this search for a theatre piece that addresses the fragility of the planet. It’s almost like we’ve created our own fragile and yet stubbornly resilient ecosystem. My gratitude to the NAC!” (Martha Ross, play creation mentor)

Like the three-tiered process--my writing, working with Martha, and digging with the teens--there are three building blocks to the script: factual information about the birth of objects, their make-up and their cost to the environment; verbatim text from verbal and zoom chats (including delicious debates) with the youth, and my transformation of materials into a dramatic form. Three months later, we have a working draft called Stuff. Here's Olivia, one of the youth, age 15, responding to my question, “So what's Stuff about?”

I guess I’d say that STUFF is a battle between what’s right and what’s human. We all have things we can’t live without, and things that we feel like we can’t live without. It’s human to associate who you are with the kinda stuff you have. And I mean obviously it’s hard to accept that the stuff you love is kinda destroying the world you live in. But who’s fault is it really? That’s what the characters try to decide in “Stuff”. Can we blame the objects when we’re the ones who made them?” (Olivia Smith, co collaborator)

Maybe, just maybe, it’s about identity, the “I am because I have”;  it’s about letting go, it’s about power, it’s about urgent hope and it’s about waste. Maybe it’s about getting silly about the scary stuff. 

And stuff like that. 

Thank you for this gift, NAC.

Project Participants:

Kristina -- writer & creator

Martha Ross -- mentor in play creation & writing

Youth Artists as Collaborators: Ethan, Anna W, Anna CJ, Paige, Natasha, Sofia, Sophie, Olivia, Ines, Kaatje

Artwork: Sophie Dean (age 16)

Photo Montage: Carolina Mejia Villegas

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