theater for CONTRA

Blog: Theatre experiments in the CONTRA Kick-Off week

Published: 14th October 2022 Last updated: 18th October 2022

Conflict can be a good thing. That is CONTRA’s point of departure, CONTRA standing for Conflicts in Transformations. Amongst others, conflicts can make sure that different perspectives on problems can be heard and urgency for policy-making created. In the context of climate change combat and adaptation, there is no shortage of conflicts, nor do we expect a decrease in conflicts in the crucial coming decades. Our question is how climate-related conflicts can be (more) productive.

Theatre & conflict

One of the things we are interested in is the role that theatre can play in improving the ways in which we wage conflicts. Theater could enable dialogue and spark peoples’ imagination. Since theater is an essentially social and political form of art, as Hannah Arendt already noted, we feel that this art discipline is exceptionally well-suited to work within the context of climate change conflicts, that are often highly divisive and emotional. Within CONTRA, we therefore partner up with professional theatre makers to intervene in the conflicts that we study with theatre-methods.

On the 19th of September the CONTRA university partners from Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway and Poland joined at Tilburg University for a kick-off week. Whilst planning for this week we realized that we wanted to ‘practice what we preach’ and explore how cultural expression and theater could be involved in our collaboration.

Warming up

On the second day of our kick-off week, a day full of theoretical discussions was planned. To warm up for this, we first did a theatre improvisation exercise. During a warming up for this exercise everyone was asked to take of their shoes, which immediately created a different setting than the usual research meeting, behind a table with a laptop. Theatre requires our whole bodies to be present. Having our entire bodies present can be a welcome variation to office work or meeting room work. We did four subsequent improvisation exercises, each playing out a semi-realistic setting of climate change related conflict in an urban context. The setting was read out loud to the audience, and each player received a short description of their role and one sentence that they needed to include in the improvisation. One scene, for example, focused on a windmill that was planned to be built on an ‘empty’ plot of land that was currently used by children to play football on. Another story focused on a recycling initiative where people were concerned about bad smells. During the improvisation the players needed to make clear to the others ‘who they were’ and use their sentence. The improvisation provided a good warm-up for the discussions that followed and also allowed for some group-building within the consortium.

Parliament of things

On Thursday another exercise was done, this time initiated by our Norwegian partners: a ‘parliament of things’ discussion about the flooding of Venice. We were first invited to imagine actors (human and non-human) would be involved. In this brainstorm, amongst others the citizens of Venice, tourists, the river, ancient palazzo's, history and doves were identified as stakeholders. A circle of chairs was made and each of us needed to represent the voice of the thing represented, and figure out a solution for the flooding of Venice. Quite soon, the river made clear that it just wanted to flow, whereas the palazzo's and history wanted to create a dam that prevented the water from coming in. Later on, in the discussion, a coalition formed between the citizens, the river and the palazzo's against the doves.


The parliament of things did not result in a clear solution for the flooding of Venice but did give us insight into the non-human perspectives on a catastrophe like this. It also was a great example of the type of theatrical interventions that we may do with CONTRA in a ‘real’ climate conflict. Altogether, our kick-off week made us very excited for the project and to explore many more ways in which theatre can enable unusual dialogue and collaboration.

For more information on the CONTRA project see 1.6 million for interdisciplinary project ‘Conflict in Transformations’ | Tilburg University.