PREVIEW: How to survive an apocalypse

Sebastien Archibald and Claire Hesselgrave in "How to Survive an Apocalypse" at the Firehall Arts Centre, June 3-11 - Photo: Emily Cooper

Sebastien Archibald and Claire Hesselgrave in “How to Survive an Apocalypse” at the Firehall Arts Centre, June 3-11 – Photo: Emily Cooper

The destruction of humanity, or of life as humanity knows it, has long been a reliable central problem for stories. It often serves as the backdrop for more personal drama, as well.’s Max D’Ambrosio sat down with playwright Jordan Hall and director Katrina Dunn to find out exactly how their new project, How to Survive an Apocalypse, handles the hallowed topic of the end of the world.

Max D’Ambrosio: I know the play’s already getting made, now, but would you like to practice your elevator pitch on me?

Katrina: What’s great about this piece is that it is a comedy with a really fulsome social commentary associated with it. So we get to laugh, and laugh at ourselves, because it’s set in Vancouver, there’re a lot of Vancouver-based jokes and things that are analyzed in the script. But you kind of get the best of both worlds, you get a really enjoyable experience, along with a very perceptive take on a sort of socio-economic bracket and an age group, and what might be happening to those people.

We also have an amazing set of actors. Local, young actors that are really top-notch, and are really well suited to the style of this piece. One of the great things about Flying Start is we get to workshop over a long period of time, and through that process you bring a lot of different actors through, and so you get the opportunity to really feel out the voice of the characters. These people are really the people that we felt were the best match for them.

Jordan: It’s a romantic comedy for the End of Days, and I think for me, it’s very important that it’s this sort of portrait of where I could see a generation of people grappling with the concerns of the moment.

Give it to me straight: how long do we have, as a species?

[Both laugh]

Jordan: It’s interesting… I think we’ve probably got a couple more generations in us! And I think, in a lot of ways… I don’t think it’s the end of humanity as a whole, necessarily, but I think we’re watching the end of a particular way of life… I think, in terms of corporate feudalism, rising inequality, and the pressures of scarcity and climate change, all those things, we’re coming to a point where we’re going to have to make some kind of shift in how we think about prosperity, how we think about community. Or, if we don’t, we can kind of see what’s coming up on the horizon! Which, some of it… doesn’t look particularly pleasant.

For the last 30 or 40 years, we’ve kind of steadfastly not reacted well to the warnings about what is going to occur, and by most scientific measures that we can understand, things are in progress already. We’re starting to see what they told us was going to happen, 30 years ago. And that’s going to continue. So now we’re in this space of “what can we do to mitigate?”

So yeah, I think it’s less that the human race is coming to an abrupt, screeching halt, and more that… much in the way that it always does, life may look very different, 50 years from now. In terms of the texture of our daily lives, what we eat, how long we live, what is accessible to us in health care.

Also, ah… if you want to sound like an idiot, make predictions. Maybe I’m entirely wrong. I’m always sort of fascinated by this sort of tension between “maybe this is the way we’re going,” or “maybe science will save us!” But lately, for me, science itself seems so dependent on resources that are finite…

Katrina: I also think there’s a big sort of negotiation around “can we change our way of life?” When you’re dealing with governmental edicts for things like this, there’s always this idea of “we can change our way of life, but still be comfortable.” And I think that is actually a lie.

A lot of the comfort that we have created for ourselves comes at great cost to the environment, and creates social inequality. It is not going to be comfortable while we change our way of life in order to survive as a species or save the planet… It’s actually going to bite, to those of us who have grown used to a certain comfort level. And a lot of what you see in the play is people trying to navigate that shift, and its kind of comic repercussions.


Jordan, you dealt with similar themes of the human race’s wellbeing in your first full-length play, Kayak. What are the similarities and differences between how you treated those issues in Kayak, versus How to Survive an Apocalypse?

Jordan: The major similarity is that the concern about what is going to happen permeates both. When I came into Kayak, I was very much interested in writing a piece that did not go over to the bizarre debate that was happening at the time, the “maybe climate change is happening, maybe it’s not.” Noooo… This is a foregone conclusion. This is definitely happening by any measure of scientific consensus. So, what did that mean for activism, and what did that mean for apathy?

[How to Survive an Apocalypse] is a different kind of lens about some of the same concerns. I think I was witnessing the evolution of a lot of us moving on from this sense of “okay, we’re going to be activists! We’re going to get out there and we’re going to protest!” The narrative that’s presented to us about activism… is this sense of “you get out there, you protest, it changes things, and things are better!” And then, I think, a lot of us spent about ten years protesting about climate change and advocating for various things, and watched almost nothing happen. And yes, some of that may very well have been that Stephen Harper was uninterested in listening to any of us, but anyway, in terms of positive change, a lot of it didn’t seem to occur.

And right around that time, I was noticing the push of the “prepper” movement into mainstream culture. There was something so fascinating about that as a response, as opposed to this sense of “we’ll get out there, we’ll change things, and we’ll save things.” It was a sense of “well, clearly no one is listening to us… and we’re doomed… none of you can be saved… but if I get a kit, and a gun, and some stockpiled soup, I can maybe save myself.” That was, perhaps, not a really hopeful evolution, but definitely a lens that I could see as an extension of those kinds of themes.

Is the social commentary in your work more about prescriptive advice and moral guidance, or is it simply raising questions about an issue, to make an audience think and come to their own conclusions?

Jordan: For me, I’m not particularly interested in propaganda. I think one of the reasons I gravitate towards comedy is… I want people to come into the theatre and have a good time, and be entertained. But the next part of that, for me, is that… I’m frequently not entertained by things that are empty. And so, it’s a question of trying to present, as authentically as possible, both the humour of it and… what I continue to think of as “the knotty part of the problem.” To me, that’s where the interest in most narratives lies.

To sum up, I want to present the most authentic and entertaining picture of this scenario. And I think that has a lot to do with… not just the big metaphor of the apocalypse, but the relationship. The little, personal apocalypses. The professional apocalypses, the relationship apocalypses. Because if that metaphor doesn’t resonate, then the piece doesn’t really work.

Check out our review of How to Survive an Apocalypse

How To Survive An Apocalypse
by Jordan Hall

Firehall Arts Centre

June 3 to 11

Preview June 2

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