Sila – Szu-Feng Chen

Sila was the winning play of the Woodward International Playwriting Award and was one of the productions of the Cultural Stages: Woodward International Drama and Dance Initiative. The story takes place in Canadian Arctic, the realm of Nunavut, and it involves the issues of climate change and the crisis of disappearing polar bears as well as the native Inuit culture. The set involved a constant shift between locations, from the vast ice covered nature to the stifling office. Because of the intention to raise awareness for climate change within Sila, I felt it was a wonderful opportunity to incorporate recycled material in the set design.

My main inspiration came from a plastic bottle building in Taiwan, the EcoARK Exhibition Hall. It was an eighty-five meter long (279 feet) building that can be dissembled and reassembled anywhere. One of the images showed how the wall was backlit with blue LED lights, which reminded me of frozen ice. Meanwhile the man-made, artificial quality in the icy plastic was ironic to the fact of disappearing ice land. I also felt strongly the clear plastic bottle represented the ego inside each character in the play. It is an invisible wall that prevented them from listening to each other from their hearts. I wanted to create a world that blends both organic natural elements as well as artificial man-made objects. It hinted the drastic impact of humanity’s choices and how they changed the mother earth. Therefore I decided to use the plastic bottles to build the human interior space in contrast to the soft fabric covered Arctic landscape in my design.

In order to create the vision I had in my mind, the production team collected almost two thousand plastic bottles for the scenery, of which 90 % was obtained from Durham, New Hampshire. The unique process of realizing the Sila Scenography through the use of thousands of discarded plastic bottles, caps, and bags has sparked more ideas of how sustainability principles can be infused into all areas of theatrical design while still serving the purpose of storytelling to the production. The design journey of Sila has provided me with a tangible way I can take direct action to carry forward the message of sustainability in both culture and environment.


2014 February / University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH

Written by Chantal Bilodeau
Directed by Deb Kinghorn
Set design by Szu-Feng Chen
Lighting design by Megan Reilly
Costume design by Sara Demos
Puppet Design by Carol Jo Fisher

Polar Bear design by Carol Jo Fisher and David Fichter