Sustainable Humor

Finding fun in serious sustainability

One of the articles in Creating A Future We Can Live With (IC#40)
Originally published in Spring 1995 on page 10
Copyright (c)1995, 1997 by Context Institute

Who says the sustainability movement has no sense of humor? Sustainable Seattle, as a part of its continuing outreach efforts (and just for the heck of it), has developed "Sustainability Night Live" – a performance piece that presents the lighter side of sustainability.

Sustainable Seattle is a volunteer network and civic forum which in 1993 developed a series of Indicators of Sustainability designed to help chart the city’s progress both toward and away from sustainability (IC #37).

"When we first presented the indicators to the civic panel [which had overseen their development], we put together a dramatic reading simply to give them voice," Richard Conlin explains. "And despite its simplicity, it was very effective, not to mention fun."

Sustainability Night Live has evolved into a series of short parodies that poke fun, not only at contemporary TV culture, but also at the sustainability movement itself. Some of the segments also have a clear message.

"The Price is Wrong"

"The Price Is Wrong," for instance, takes as its premise that the real cost of a consumer product doesn’t always show up in the price tag.

In between 2-3 minute skits like "Star Trek," "Mister Rodgers’ Sustainable Neighborhood," and "Lifestyles of the Frugal and Obscure" are a series of advertisements for "The Consolidated Corporation," a corporate behemoth which, the audience realizes as the program progresses, controls the production of everything under the sun.

One of the ads extols the cleanliness and comfort of virtual community:

"Community: everyone talks about it, but do we really experience it? Wouldn’t you like to know your neighbors, join in picnics, or shoot some hoops at the local gym?

"Well here’s a way that you can reclaim that lost feeling, and right in the privacy of your own home: the Virtual Community Center, an electronic simulation of an actual Community Center. Just load our software into your home computer, put on your goggles and headset, lean back and feel all the thrills of a real Community Center, with none of the messy aspects of actually interacting with people.

The Virtual Community Center – just like reality, only cleaner. A product of the Consolidated Corporation. Authentic locker room smells extra."

Performance-In-A-Can

One guiding principle has been to develop something that can be performed at the drop of a hat, by as few as two people, with a minimum of props and as much audience participation as the traffic will allow.

Early in the development of SNL, group members Sheila Kelly and Vicki Robin took scripts along to a conference in Davenport, Iowa ( US Citizens’ Network for Sustainable Development), where they found a perfect venue.

"At these conferences, the need for entertainment is often overlooked. Recruiting a few volunteers for 20-30 minutes of buffoonery can be just the ticket," Robin said.

"You take people who have been just getting to know each other in a fairly serious context, and then suddenly they’re up in front of their peers showing a different side of themselves. I was amazed at how hard people laughed," Kelly said.

Because the skits are short, new ones can be developed in response to current events, and each performance can be styled to suit specific audiences. "It’s a performance-in-a-can, instant comic relief," says Robin, who now carries a script as basic baggage when she’s on the conference circuit.

The Sustainability Players encourage others to develop their own material, and for $5 will gladly send you a copy of their script to get you started. Or if you live in a really cool place, they’ll come and perform it for you themselves.

Contact Michael Weaver 206/284-0247, or write to Sustainable Seattle, c/o Metrocenter YMCA, 909 4th Ave., Seattle WA, 98103.

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