Chantal Bilodeau is the Artistic Director of The Arctic Cycle, which is an organization created to support the writing, development and production of eight plays that look at the social and environmental changes taking place in the eight Arctic states.
The first play of The Arctic Cycle, “Sila” examines the competing interests shaping the future of the Canadian Arctic and local Inuit population. Set on Baffin Island in the territory of Nunavut, it follows a climate scientist, an Inuit activist and her daughter, two Canadian Coast Guard officers, an Inuit elder and two polar bears as they see their values challenged and their lives become intricately intertwined. “Sila” features puppetry, spoken word poetry and three different languages (English, French and Inuktitut).
Baffin Island in the territory of Nunavut in the Canadian Arctic.
LEANNA (50s): Inuk. Climate change activist.
JEAN (40s): Québécois. Climate scientist with a specialty in sea ice.
THOMAS (40s): English Canadian. Officer for the Canadian Coast Guard Marine Communications and Traffic Services.
VERONICA (30s): Inuk. Leanna’s daughter. Teaches at the high school and performs spoken-word poetry.
MAMA: An adult polar bear. Played by a puppet or by the same actress who plays Veronica.
DAUGHTER: A young polar bear cub. Played by a puppet or by an actress.
RAPHAËL (30s): Second-generation Québécois. Officer for the Canadian Coast Guard Marine Communications and Traffic Services.
NULIAJUK: Inuk Goddess of the Ocean and the Underworld. Played by an oversized puppet or by the same actress who plays Daughter.
TULUGAQ (60s): Inuk Elder
SEA ANIMALS: Played by the company.
– 1 –
A conference. LEANNA stands at a podium.
LEANNA: I come from a place of barren landscapes and infinite skies. I come from a place of rugged mountains, imperial glaciers, and tundra- covered permafrost. I come from a place where North is where you stand and South, everywhere else. Where there are five seasons and no trees. Where the days last twenty-four hours and the nights too. I come from a place where skyscrapers are made of ice and proudly ride winds and currents. I come from a place where the only crowds are air, sea, and land creatures that gather each year by the thousands. I come from a place where you can walk onto the ocean and, if you’re lucky, beyond the horizon itself. I come from a people who have kept accounts of the early days when the world was rich and urgent and new. When unknown forces lay like pebbles to be picked by those who stumbled upon them. When spirits roamed the land like polar bears and muskoxen and caribou. I come from a world where life and death walk hand in hand like giggling teenagers. I come from a land whose wisdom reminds us of our humanity.
This place I come from we call Nunavut. It means “Our Land” in Inuktitut. It’s where we, Inuit, have thrived for more than four thousand years. It’s where we strive to realize our full potential. It’s where we nurture our knowledge of who we are. But Nunavut, our land, is only as rich as it is cold. And today, most of it is melting.
– 2 –
The coast. Two silhouettes clad in warm winter gear. One of them is looking through binoculars.
JEAN: Là-bas out by the—out by the pressure ridge. Tu vois? A mother and a cub.
THOMAS: Oh yeah…
JEAN: Extraordinary animals. They can weigh up to fifteen hundred pounds and travel on ice so thin it wouldn’t support a man.
THOMAS: Mean motherfuckers though. One of them attacked a man in Cape Dorset last year. By the time the search party tracked it down two hours later, there was no flesh left on the bones. I’m telling you, one comes within a hundred feet, endangered or not, I’m shooting it down.
JEAN: They’re listed as threatened not endangered.
THOMAS: Whatever. Have you given some thought to our conversation?
JEAN: I can give you the names of other very accomplished—
THOMAS: Jean, they don’t need any old scientist who’s gonna set up his fancy instruments and three years later hand them a pile of data the size of a phone book. They need YOU.
JEAN: I’m busy.
THOMAS: Doing what?
JEAN: One of the last remaining sheets of multi-year ice is predicted to break away from the coast this summer.
THOMAS: So? Put a graduate student on it. Isn’t that what they’re for?
JEAN: Plus the environmental assessment is just a marketing ploy. You know that. They’ll look at it and drill anyway.
THOMAS: What happened to you? I don’t see you for three years and—
JEAN: I needed a break.
THOMAS: Yeah ’cause now that you’re a Time Person of the Year, you no longer have time for—
JEAN: Okay premièrement fuck you. And deuxièmement I learned my lesson: science and politics don’t mix. And I’m a scientist so let me focus on the science. Others can do the politics. (Long beat.)
THOMAS: How’s Liz?
JEAN: We’re not in touch anymore.
THOMAS: She still in New York?
JEAN: As far as I know. I think she’s getting married again.
THOMAS: That was fast.
JEAN: Yeah well …
THOMAS: Ever think about moving back?
JEAN: To Montreal?
THOMAS: Be nice to have you in Canada again.
JEAN: How’s Ottawa?
THOMAS: Thank God I only have to live there six months out of the year. (Looking through the binoculars) You an American yet?
JEAN: Résident permanent.
THOMAS: You gonna get the citizenship?
JEAN: J’sais pas …
THOMAS: Tough decision. (THOMAS hands the binoculars to JEAN.) You know, biologists used to think polar bears followed the movement of ice around the Pole. They’d have the babies in Canada, raise them in Russia, and breed again in Svalbard or Greenland the following year. But turns out, polar bears are extremely faithful to where they come from.
JEAN: They can wander pretty far.
THOMAS: But they always come back. Something to be said about that.
JEAN: I guess.
THOMAS: Makes it clear which territory to fight for.
JEAN: Parce que tu penses que c’est une affaire de territoire?
THOMAS: Yes. It’s about national security, control, diplomatic relations and most of all, money.
JEAN: That sounds like politics.
THOMAS: Somebody’s gonna drill, Jean. If it’s not us, it’ll be the Americans, the Chinese, the Arabs, whoever the fuck, but somebody’s gonna drill. There’s too much money at stake. If we wanna maintain sovereignty over our Arctic territory, we need to establish a strong presence. Nunavut is huge. It has a very small population: point zero one person per square kilometre to be exact. There’s practically no one around to say, “Uh-uh, not here, this is ours.” Taking the lead in exploiting our resources is one way to assert sovereignty. Having you, a CANADIAN and one of our most prominent scientists, doing research is another. It shows that we’re interested. It shows that we care. And as a bonus, it’ll benefit the Inuit. You should think about that.
“Sila” excerpt reproduced courtesy of Talonbooks.
Chantal Bilodeau is a playwright and translator whose work focuses on the intersection of science, policy, art and climate change. She is the Artistic Director of The Arctic Cycle, whose mission is to use theatre to foster conversation about our global climate crisis, create an empowering vision of the future and encourage people to take action; the founder of the blog and international network Artists and Climate Change; and a co-founder of Climate Change Theatre Action. She is a recipient of the Woodward International Playwriting Prize. Her work has been presented in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Italy, Finland and Norway.