Author Archives: Chantal Bilodeau

Chantal Bilodeau

About Chantal Bilodeau

Chantal Bilodeau is a Montreal-born, New York-based 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, an organization that uses theatre to foster dialogue about our global climate crisis, create an empowering vision of the future, and inspire people to take action. Awards include the Woodward International Playwriting Prize as well as First Prize in the Earth Matters on Stage Ecodrama Festival and the Uprising National Playwriting Competition. Her plays and translations have been presented in a dozen countries around the world. She is currently at work on a series of eight plays that look at the social and environmental changes taking place in the eight Arctic states.

Whale Song

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Author’s Note: This 15-minute play was written for Women of the Arctic at the UArctic Congress 2018 and presented in Helsinki, Finland, on September 6, 2018.

*

WOMAN

Hello. Good evening. I hope you’re having fun. I found out about this conference on Twitter and wow…. I just had to be here. I won’t take too much of your time, I promise—I know you have important things to do. Like saving the world. Or saving the Arctic…. Can we actually do that? Save the Arctic?

(Checks her phone)

Oh, that’s my husband. (Dictates) Reply: Screw you, period. (To audience) Sorry.

(Pause)

Is anyone here named Harvey? No? Good. (Or “Oh, I’m sorry” if the answer is yes.) I don’t like Harveys. Harveys suck. First it was Harvey the hurricane. When it hit Texas, I spent days glued to the TV, obsessing over the news. I don’t live in Texas but for weeks afterwards I dreamt of Biblical floods, floating furniture, and wet cats. Then it was Harvey the Hollywood producer. When it came out that he had been assaulting women for decades, I was overwhelmed with hashtag MeToos on social media and ate nothing but ice cream for weeks. That’s how we deal with crises in America. I highly recommend Ben & Jerry’s. But it was the third Harvey, my husband, who finally broke me. Actually, what he broke was my cheekbone. The only thing I remember is fist, floor, and then I was magically on a bus headed North. Though I have no recollection how I got to the bus station. My father used to say, “When in doubt, go North.” He never explained his logic but I always assumed he liked the North because there are less people there. People weren’t his thing. Anyway, the most North place I could think of was Alaska.

(Pause, she surveys the audience)

Can I just say: It’s so nice to be here with all of you. And I’m hoping you can help. Since Trump, we’ve been desperate for help. Actually, speaking of Trump….

(Takes out her phone, dictates) Tweet: Screw you @realdonaldtrump. That’s his Twitter account.

(The phone refuses to do it)

I shouldn’t go there anyway.

(Puts her phone away)

Alaska is where my friend Teri lives. Teri is fierce. She’s a Raven. In her culture, you’re either a Raven or a Wolf and she’s definitely a Raven. Her people come from Glacier Bay. Teri is a traditional weaver who fights to keep her culture alive. She weaves these amazing robes and she always calls me girlfriend. “Hi, girlfriend!” I love Teri. Alaska is also where my friend Allison lives. She’s an Inuk social worker from a tiny town in the Canadian Arctic. She has lots of traditional tattoos on her chin and on her hands. Allison is a powerhouse of a woman who keeps her community together and she has the biggest warmest smile ever. I love Allison. I don’t remember much about the bus ride. I mean, I remember staring out the window but I can’t tell you what I saw. Rain, fields, industrial wastelands…. I was staring out to try to see what was inside of me but there was nothing so I just kept staring at emptiness.

(Pause)

Excuse me for a second. (Takes out her phone, types) Note to self: Try—the—Finnish—saunas. (To audience) They’re supposed to be very healing. Though I don’t know how I feel about getting naked in front of a bunch of strangers. What if there are Harveys there?

(Pause)

Harveys are very clever. By the time you realize what they’re up to, it’s too late and your only option is to get out. Or, as I like to call it, to migrate. Which means to go from one place to another. Or to empower yourself by adapting to changing circumstances rather than being victimized by them. The opposite is to remain. Do not remain. Under any circumstances. Because you can’t fight a Harvey. Look at what happened in Texas. Look at what happened in Hollywood. Look at what happened to me.

(Pause)

(To Think Corner’s staff) I don’t suppose you have Ben & Jerry’s here, do you? Oh, well. Allison met her Harvey when she was a teenager. The melting Arctic attracted a mining company to her town, the mining company brought in a bunch of workers—mostly men—and that became a breeding ground for Harveys. Because what else is there to do up there but to prey on young women and sell them to your friends? By the time Allison migrated to Alaska, her Harvey had made enough money off of her to buy a fancy sports car. Animals migrate too. They migrate for food, better climate, to escape predators, or birth their young. Whales in particular are expert migrators. These big mamas kick ass, excuse my language. I mean, you gotta hand it to them—they can evolve faster than you can say hyppytyynytyydytys.

(To audience) Isn’t that the craziest Finnish word? I don’t know if it’s real. I found it on the Internet. Say it with me: hypytyynytyydytys … hypytyynytyydytys. It means “bouncy cushion satisfaction.” (Laughs) I mean, how do you put that in a sentence? “Honey, today while you were at work, I experienced bouncy cushion satisfaction.” Or “Thank you so much for having us over! Your couch has such good hyppytyynytyydytys.”

(Pause)

Whales used to be land animals. Fifty million years ago, they had four legs and huge teeth. Then the ice sheets melted, the oceans rose, and when it became clear there wasn’t gonna be enough land for everyone, the big mamas were like: “We’re outta here.” And they migrated to the ocean. How’s that for a winning strategy? “Shrink those legs and grow some fins, ladies! We’re diving in!”

(To an audience member) Have you ever heard a whale sing? It’s amazing, right? (Or “It’s really amazing” if the answer is no) Listen.

(She plays whale song on her phone. Listens for a while)

I wish I spoke Whale…. Or is it Whalish, like Finnish? Or Cetaceanese? I’d ask them: “How did you know?” Because, think about the people in Texas who didn’t leave until the water was up to their second floor. Think about the women in Hollywood who didn’t walk out of that hotel room until he had gotten his way. Think about me and Teri and Allison and all the beautiful wonderful women out there who have found themselves in the same situation. Why didn’t we know? Why didn’t we migrate before it was too late? Is there something wrong with us?

(End whale song)

For Teri, it was different. Her Harvey came from upriver, from a place she had never been where they decided to throw toxic industrial waste into the water, so how could she have known? The doctors called it “cancer,” which, if you ask me, is just fancy medical talk. A Harvey is a Harvey is a Harvey no matter what name you give it. It’s fed and fattened by money and power and preys on vulnerable people. Particularly women. But whales are smart. They didn’t wait until it was too late. And some of that migrating was tricky: they had to move their nose up to the top of their head, develop a communication technology that would work under water, and grow baleen for filtering food. Me? Nothing that elaborate. I’m still trying to grow a thick skin so I have a long way to go.

(Her phone rings)

That’s him calling…. (Hesitates) I’m not answering.

(Puts her phone away)

Harveys will follow you everywhere—I have learned that by now. It’s in their nature. Ignoring them doesn’t work. Confronting them is not exactly recommended. But preventing them—that’s the answer. You have to defeat a Harvey before it becomes a Harvey. Can you help?

(Pause)

You know, I did make it to Alaska. And when I got there, something really beautiful happened. Me and Teri and Allison and the whale from 50 million years ago—we all converged in one place. It was the most amazing thing. Four warrior females on completely different journeys and, somehow, our migration paths magically converged. Like what’s happening right now in this room.

(Pause. She holds the moment)

Well, I have to keep moving before Harvey catches up with me. Before I leave, here’s a song. It’s kind of a whale song. Not really but let’s just say it is. At the very least, it’s a migration song. “To go from one place to another.”

Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind but now I see.

No more Harveys, OK? For me. For Teri and Allison and the whale. For all of us. Please. No more Harveys.

(Pause)

Oh, and if you have time, it’d be great to save the Arctic.