North Shore students learn water conservation from superheroes
Joni Mitchell’s famous environmental anthem lyrics rang true in Tofino. Vanessa LeBourdais’ landlord paved paradise and literally put up a parking lot.
LeBourdais is the executive director of a water conservation skit, H2WHOAH, currently touring North Shore elementary schools. She awoke one morning, in 1992, to the sounds of the rainforest under attack outside her bedroom window in Tofino.
“There was a note on the kitchen table that said ‘don’t go outside, there are trees falling,’” recalled LeBourdais, who was abhorred to learn her landlady was in the process of clear-cutting a couple acres of trees on her property to make way for a parking lot.
A year later LeBourdais was on the front lines peacefully fighting for the preservation of Clayoquot Sound, through song.
“When I saw a clearcut, I thought I have to go stand in it. What was so lush and beautiful and had animals running through it became dead,” said LeBourdais.
After the events in Clayoquot Sound, she felt a calling to go back to theatre, which she studied in the ‘80s. But LeBourdais was also conflicted with the decision.
“The forests are dying, why am I going to do musicals?” she asked herself.
Then an opportunity arose for her to strike a natural balance between activism and developing light-hearted, yet educational environmental awareness.
LeBourdais, backed by her non-profit theatre company DreamRider, was hired by the City of Vancouver to create a play aimed at curbing vandalism, littering and graffiti.
By 2008 she “grew tired of the poverty stricken life of an artist” and starting thinking like a business person. That’s when LeBourdais started selling eco-message plays to municipalities to get her message across to the residents in an entertaining fashion.
Each year, DreamRider reaches 65,000 students at no cost to the schools thanks to community partnerships. In January and February, students in North and West Vancouver were the lucky viewers of H2WHOAH, a play which teaches water conservation.
LeBourdais’ husband Ian Gschwind gets all the attention from the moment he walks into each school’s gymnasium.
“He can flip himself in the air and throw himself on the ground. He just knows what kids find funny,” said LeBourdais.
There’s an art to presenting the information in a non-patronizing manner, she added. Perhaps even harder for LeBourdais is sugar coating climate change.
“Whether or not you believe in climate change, it expresses itself in water, tsunamis and droughts,” said LeBourdais. “Humans have an impact on climate change. As we go forward our water sources could be threatened.”
In the play, an evil super villain named Evaporator enters the stage and menacingly dries up the water in the fictional reservoir.
Meanwhile, Esmeralda, a superhero from the Planet Protection Agency, has to figure out how to stop him. Her goofy sidekick Goober, played by Gschwind, starts to panic because he had a long shower this morning.
In between the laughs and hijinks the students are taught to turn off the tap when brushing their teeth and take a five-minute shower, among other water conservation tips.
“The kids become deputized as apprentice planet protectors. Their mission is to go home and protect water,” said LeBourdais.
DreamRider wraps up its North Shore elementary school tour on Feb. 23.