Hannah Gwatkin is the creative force behind the one-person show Eco-Worrier: A climate cabaret, which will return to the Sydney Fringe Festival from September 2–7. Gwatkin spoke to Green Left's Alex Bainbridge in May, just after her show's run at Brisbane's Anywhere Festival.
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What can people expect when they come to see your show?
People can expect a show that is funny, uplifting, thought-provoking and engaging.
There is a lot of information in the songs. One of the reasons I like doing raps is because you can spit out so much in a tiny amount of time.
The ideas are related to the climate and ecological crisis that we're in but it's a very eclectic, variety show which reflects the kind of performer I am.
Where have you played and where can people see your show?
I've done two versions of the show in Sydney before, one with a piano accompanist — which was the earlier workings of the show. Then I took the best bits from those shows and turned them into the version I took to Brisbane.
That version is different in that I don't have a piano accompanist anymore so I have loop pedals, piano, ukulele to make sure the musical background is there.
This should allow me to perform the show in more places at more community events.
The new version of the show is on at the Sydney Fringe Festival in September.
What are the messages you're trying to get across in the show?
It is less of a message, and more of a feeling. I want people to feel empowered.
The collective feeling of people power is what makes change happen.
It's okay to feel like you can't do this alone because we can't do this alone.
It takes a lot of mental energy to [resist consumerist bombardment and to] remind yourself that “this is not the way I want to live my life”.
I want to validate the feelings of audiences that come that “no, you're not crazy”. There is a better world out there and we and future generations do deserve a better world.
What are your thoughts about combining art and culture with politics and activism?
It's so obvious. The best artists have done that.
Art usually does reflect the culture and the times but there is something more powerful about using your art as a tool to make change. I've found nothing more satisfying.
My biggest inspiration is Nina Simone and she used her art in the civil rights movement to sing the truth.
I wish more people would use their art in a more political way. All art is saying something but it's just fun to lean into that.
Everyone has their own talents and skills. We need everyone, everywhere doing everything they can and cabaret is just the way I'm supposed to do this.
One of our biggest challenges is to battle despair and to give people a sense that it is possible to solve the climate problem. What are your thoughts for a young person today or a person concerned about climate catastrophe: how do we keep on going?
It's really easy to just give up and it's very easy to get burnt out.
Because you get rewarded [in this society] for being quiet and running the rat race. The restrictions and penalties being put on protesters are just ludicrous. All the systems that are in place are to keep everything the way it is and to keep earning profits.
It's important to be aware of what's happening so you can speak out about it but it's also very important to keep actively engaging in communities that are taking action. I don't want to say you can only have hope if you're taking action but the real feeling of hope does come from taking action.
Can you comment on the slogan "system change not climate change"?
One hundred per cent we need system change.
The systems that are in place now are very much about creating even more of a wealth divide. It's just so wrong.
The more you learn about the climate and ecological crises, the more you realise that social issues are intertwined. Racism, gender inequalities, climate change, pay gaps, Indigenous issues particularly — they are all the same thing.
If we can take a step back and look at everything holistically and think where are we going wrong here? Let's put the people first.