Featured Playwright — Chantal Bilodeau

Playwrights Guild of Canada
6 min readJul 1, 2024


Each month we interview member playwrights to share their work, stories, and inspiration with the community. We recently spoke with Chantal Bilodeau, a Montreal-born, New York-based playwright and translator, and the Artistic Director of the Arts & Climate Initiative. Her plays have been presented in a dozen countries and translated into four languages. Her main project is a series of eight plays — including, to date, Sila (Central Square Theater, MA, 2014), Forward (Kansas State University, KS, 2016), and No More Harveys (Cyrano’s Theatre Company, AK, 2022) — that look at the social and environmental changes taking place in the eight Arctic states. Recent awards include the Art for Climate Action Honor (PartnersGlobal, 2023), an Honorable Mention as part of the Patrick O’Neill Award for Best Edited Collection (Canadian Association for Theatre Research, 2021), and a Global Citizen’s Award (Inside the Greenhouse, University of Colorado, 2021). She has contributed to several academic volumes, including most recently, Decentered Playwriting: Alternative Techniques for the Stage (Routledge Press, 2023), and is the editor of four anthologies of short plays addressing the climate crisis. She is a Creative Core member of the Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics at Georgetown University. Her plays are published by Talonbooks.

Tell us how you got your start writing plays.

I started my career as a graphic designer in Montréal. Then after about eight years of working in book publishing, I decided to go to the US for a Master’s program for filmmaking, thinking I was going to make documentary films. There weren’t many writing classes offered in that program so a lot of students were taking playwriting classes in the School of Theatre. I did the same and after a year, I realized that I felt more comfortable there, that I would rather write than direct and/or produce. So, in addition to a Master’s in Film, I ended up getting a Master’s in Playwriting. After I graduated, I moved to New York City and from then on, only pursued theatre. But although I came to theatre in a roundabout way, I feel that my previous experiences feed into what I do: graphic design got me used to thinking in images and documentary filmmaking influenced the kinds of plays I write, which are very much based in research.

You are the founder and artistic director of the Arts & Climate Initiative, an organization using the arts to foster dialogue about the climate crisis. Can you tell us briefly about that work, and what your experience has been working with other artists and various partners on this global issue?

The Arts & Climate Initiative is based in New York City and has been around since 2008. Our programming includes live events, talks, publications, workshops, artist convenings, and a worldwide distributed theatre festival, which we present in collaboration with the Centre for Sustainable Practice in the Arts in Toronto. As part of that festival, we commission 50 playwrights every other year to write short plays about an aspect of the climate crisis based on a prompt. Since one of our goals is to have all inhabited continents represented, the playwrights are from all over the world. And finding them is so exciting! I have developed many friendships through my correspondence with them and I learn a lot about what is happening in other countries by reading their plays.

In addition, once a year, we host a 5-day intensive called the Arts & Climate Incubator. This is a program for artists, activists, scientists, students, and educators who want to engage or further their engagement with climate change through artistic practices. It is a joyful gathering of like-minded people from all over — in addition to the US and Canada, we’ve had people come from France, the UK, Finland, Peru, and Australia — eager to investigate the potential of the arts in creating a more just and regenerative future. It’s definitely one of the highlights of my year.

In 2019, you were named one of “8 Trailblazers Who Are Changing the Climate Conversation” by Audubon Magazine. Is there any advice you would give to a playwright who wishes to engage in activism through their writing?

Think of your play as a question you want to explore with your audience rather than a statement you want to make. Write outside the box. Don’t have the play do all the heavy lifting — program action-related activities around the production instead.

As well as a playwright, you also work as a translator. What are some of the challenges of translation work, and what do you enjoy most about it?

I love immersing myself in another writer’s universe and getting to intimately know their work. I learn so much about writing by considering how each word was chosen and trying to find its equivalent in a different language. The only other time I’ve studied plays that closely was in graduate school. I also get a lot of pleasure from bringing a writer’s work into a different culture — from sharing work that I love but that people wouldn’t understand if it weren’t for the translation.

In terms of challenges, cultural references are tricky because there aren’t always equivalents. Humour can sometimes be hard to translate; not every culture finds the same things funny. And the more slangy the text, the more difficult the translation because slang is so region specific.

While you’re kept busy as a playwright, artistic director, translator, editor, and more, is there any type of artistic practice that you have not tried but would like to?

Years ago I used to make large-scale collages but when I left graphic design, I left that behind — though I may go back to it one day. The other thing I’ve always been interested in is creative nonfiction. I read a lot of it — much more than fiction — and have dabbled into short nonfiction but I may pursue it more intentionally in the future.

What are you working on next?

I’m currently working on a new play titled Requiem for a Glacier, in collaboration with director Katie Pearl and composer Matthew Burtner. This play will be the fourth play in a series of eight — what I call my Arctic Cycle — that look at the social and environmental changes taking place in the eight Arctic states. The first three plays are set in Canada (Sila), Norway (Forward), and the US (No More Harveys). Requiem for a Glacier is set in Iceland and is inspired by the research of anthropologists Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer, who organized a funeral for an Icelandic glacier that was declared dead from climate change a few years ago.

I’m also in the process of putting together a fourth anthology of short climate-themed plays, All Good Things Must Begin: Short Plays Imagining the Future, which will be published this summer.

Do you have any favourite Canadian plays and/or which artists are currently inspiring you?

Well, I’m kind of biased toward the writers I have translated because I’ve spent so much time with their work! They include Larry Tremblay, Mani Souleymanlou, Catherine Léger, Étienne Lepage, David Paquet, and Rébecca Déraspe — all writers from Québec.

Follow Chantal on social media! FB: chantal.bilodeau IG: @cbilodeau1402 Check out her website here: cbilodeau.com

Follow the Arts and Climate Initiative on FB and IG: @artsnclimate

Learn more about Arts & Climate Initiative and Climate Change Theatre Action over on their websites: artsandclimate.org and climatechangetheatreaction.com

Disclaimer: Playwrights Guild of Canada (“PGC”) is a national arts service mandated to engage and grow an active Canadian writing community. We promote Canadian plays around the world to advance the creative rights and interests of professional Canadian playwrights for the stage. The views of our members are their own. The opinions of PGC as an association remain neutral.



Playwrights Guild of Canada

Established in 1972, PGC is a registered national arts service association committed to advancing the creative rights and interests of Canadian playwrights.