Glass Half Full Theatre's Once There Were Six Seasons

Using innovative puppetry, Glass Half Full Theatre dukes it out with climate change in an invigorating way

Connor Hopkins in <i>Once There Were Six Seasons</i>
Connor Hopkins in Once There Were Six Seasons (Courtesy of Glass Half Full Theatre)

Last Friday night, I stood outside under the full moon over the Dougherty Arts Center and Instagrammed a picture of the marquee for Once There Were Six Seasons, the latest production by Glass Half Full Theatre. Under the picture, I wrote: "I'm reviewing an interactive puppet show about climate change. Keep Austin Weird."

I've been drawn lately to these kinds of shows, which offer unusual ways of experiencing or using theatre. Once There Were Six Seasons is just this kind of "play," in the other usage of the word. The actors tackle the very serious and timely subject of climate change, but do so by finding new and spirited entryways, examining it through innovative puppetry.

Now, when you think puppetry, you most likely think of an actor's hand stuck inside a puppet; or maybe you think of a marionette on a string. Glass Half Full's production is better described as "miniature theatre." The "puppets" in Act I are 5- or 6-inch dolls manipulated by sticks: polar bears that skirt and skate on melting ice caps; tribesmen attempting to survive a drought; or, as is referenced in the title, farmers in India who no longer experience the additional, important rain and mist seasons so crucial to their livelihoods. It's a strange phenomenon that an adult audience will watch miniatures or puppets rather than the actors that manipulate them, but watch them we do. Mesmerized by tiny, beautifully constructed sets, soft sound effects, and music, we fall into this dialogueless dream space, taking in the scenes of various global disasters, the miniature farmers or tribesmen more real to us than the actors behind them.

The Six Seasons ensemble doesn't leave us with just the problems we are, most of us, all too familiar with at this point. Instead, they transition at the act break into a raucous wrestling spoof, where various climate change solutions portrayed as larger-than-life characters duke it out. Alternative Ener­gy (think: solar, wind) and The Resourcerer (Recycle Man) tag team against Mad Cow (aka the Vegan Avenger) and Rubberman, an anti-patriarchal warrior screaming for male birth control and limited reproduction. They are later joined by Carbon Capture, who helped to educate me on this new, 90% effective way of trapping and burying carbon emissions deep in the earth and out of harm's way.

But don't get it twisted. The actors are dressed like wrestlers, but it's their dolls that do the actual smackdown. Energy is high, and the ensemble seems to really enjoy this section of the show, which they also co-wrote. As an audience member, it is cathartic. The chimerical first half is exquisite and terrible as the iceberg calves, separating bear from bear, but it is the second half's cheering and chanting – and also its solutions – that really get us going. By the time the true villain, Mz. Extinction, shows up, we feel there is, in fact, something we can do rather than just slide down into her inevitable final conclusion, humanity's erasure.

Like any good villain, Mz. Extinction is so evil, so seductive in her rationality, that I actually did find myself rooting for her just a little bit. But hey. This is a play. You can root for the bad guy onstage and not want to meet her outside in a dark alley. Kudos to Glass Half Full for approaching something as critical as climate change in such a fun and invigorating fashion. Now, please remember to recycle your program on your way out the door.

Once There Were Six Seasons

Dougherty Arts Center, 1110 Barton Springs Rd.
Through May 4
Running time: 1 hr., 35 min.

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