13 Dec 2021

Climate Change Meets Musical Theatre




Written by Polly Ferguson- Carruthers

When I was first approached by Evelyn O’Malley (Senior Drama Lecturer at Exeter University) about collaborating on a project where you merge Climate Change and Musical Theatre, I must admit, I wasn’t 100% convinced.

Could Musical Theatre explore such a serious topic such as Climate Change,  whilst keeping the project joyful and not turning into a depressive pit of doom for our DAS Senior group aged from 14-20yrs.


The more myself and Evelyn discussed our love for Musical Theatre and the vast amount of songs linked to climate change I was astonished there were so many.  Just a few of the songs we discussed were: Hadestown, Once on this Island, Children of Eden, Singing in the Rain, Moana, Billy Elliot, Grease and many, many, more.


It came apparent after our first meeting that this was a project that could and needed to happen. It would be important we provided a safe & nurturing environment for our Doorstep Arts Studio (DAS) participants to discuss climate change, ask questions and debate through a subject that they love……this being Musical Theatre.

We applied for the AHRC funding and were delighted to be successful. The first 6 weeks comprised of the groups learning x2 songs, myself and Evelyn had chosen for the group. These songs were: ‘Anyway the Wind Blows’ from Hadestown & ‘Lost in the Wilderness’ from Once on this Island. These two songs gentle looked at climate, environment, religion, ownership, responsibility and blame in society.

Our aim for the 11-week process was to:

  • Learn x3 songs from musical theatre shows that link in some way to Climate Change. (However this fell to two songs due to timing).
  • Discuss Climate Change and what it means to them?
  • Discuss ways Musical Theatre can make an impact with important topics?
  • Create original songs inspired by research gathered from conversations with professors from the Met Office
  • Share their learnings and creations with a final performance in the last week.

The first 6 weeks of the process was a beautiful opportunity for quiet conversations to arise among the group. It became apparent that DAS didn’t want the process to be doom and gloom. They understood the weight that comes with discussing climate change but also wanted to find the moments of joy and find the ‘funny’ as performers of theatre.


” It’s important to find the funny moments when talking about such a serious subject, otherwise it gets too serious and no one wants to listen to it. Just look at the news, so many people turn off the news now because it’s depressing. We can’t be like that!’

DAS participant



DAS set to work learning songs from Hadestown and Once on this Island each week, learning intricate harmonies and timings. Each participant developing confidence in their vocal ability whilst discussing the character’s journey within each song.

We scheduled for Evelyn O’Malley’s applied students to come and stage ‘Lost in the Wilderness’. This was a lovely opportunity for multiple levels of learning. DAS learning choreography from the Exeter students, the students learning new harmonies from DAS. We also invited Dr Freya Garry from the Met Office to discuss and answer questions that DAS had been raising throughout the project. Freya lead a conversation about climate change in a really considerate way, sheshared her knowledge of what it’s like to work in the Met Office, whilst discussion ways we can all do out part to make positive changes.


Here are just a few questions raised from DAS and Exeter students:

  • What changes can we make in order to make an impact with climate change?
  • What do you think Devon will look like in 40 years?
  • What does climate change cover?
  • What are you worried about as a Professor on Climate Change?

We discussed, we listened, we shared, we sat quietly, we pondered on what future lays ahead and we gathered our conversations to start the next part of the process. With all our information and findings, we then introduced the talented Rachel Thame from ‘Moor To Sea Music.’ https://moortoseamusic.org.uk/what-we-do/

Rachel and Lewis from ‘Moor to Sea’ came to lead on the 2nd part of the term, being a 5-week process to create and devise original songs inspired by the research and conversations from the term. Rachel has a beautiful ability to support and encourage young performers to expand their own learning whilst ensuring they feel able and have ownership of their musical material. DAS worked in groups to create melodies, lyrics and various styles of songs. One group created a letter to the Queen in the style of a RAP, informing her of the issues around climate change and what actions need to be taken in order to help the future of young people in Torbay and the world.

Another song created was from the perspective of the sea called ‘Rise up.’ This 2 part harmony song speaks of mother nature writing to the ‘man’ to share her experiences of what she is observing on earth.

And lastly, DAS created a 3 part harmony song, with 3 different layered lyrics of climate change, then, now and the future. The stunning, melodic song was comprised of 3 verses. Here is a snippet of one of the verses:

Time has changed,

Time to act,

Time to take some action,

And don’t look back.


When it came to the sharing on the last day of the term, not only was it a beautiful chance for DAS to perform to friends and family, after not doing so for 2years (due to Covid19) but also a chance for the incredible work that DAS had created to be shared with a wider audience. DAS spoke about the importance of in order to make a piece about climate change we have to meet a wider audience, get the word out and share their work in a variety of ways.


Not only did DAS manage to share their material confidently to an audience but also were a part of a BBC radio interview with Jo Loosemore discussing their project & COP26 and created a podcast about the project and tackling key subjects on climate change as a young person over pizza and treats. Here is just some of the feedback we received from family and friends who attended the sharing.

“The sharing was beautiful and peaceful’.

‘It made us want to do more”

“I felt calm”




This project was more than just supporting a group of young performers to explore climate change linked to musical theatre. It was a chance for them to voice their opinions on the subjects without judgement or critique. A chance for them to discuss what matters to them and how they can have these big conversations with adults, who sometimes choose not to listen to the younger voices. They were able to learn through a subject that they enjoyed and chose to partake in.



This project was only over an 11 weeks process, 11 hours in total and their learning was paramount, but imagine if we had more time. We need to provide more time and space for our children and young adults to discuss these topics that will inevitably affect them. We need to find new ways of teaching climate change, and other key subjects such as Maths, English, Science, History….(and so on) innovative ways. The more we can approach these subjects and topics through a focus that sparks excitement and enthusiasm for children the more we can and will succeed in nurturing their understanding in important subjects such as climate change.


**Please note our 2 part Podcast with be ready to listen to soon. This will be a chance for you to hear DAS speak of their experience of the project, what climate change means to them and their response to COP26.