JACQUELINE MEYGAARDEN

Photo by Scott Ramsay

Storytelling is a powerful tool that can open the flood gates to empathy and inspire radical transformation. Jacqueline Meygaarden is re-imagining and re-writing the story of the Planet and our relationship with it. Meygaarden is a filmmaker and theatre practitioner who uses both mediums to educate, inform and share knowledge in a beautiful and accessible way. In this interview she shares the power of storytelling, her hope for the Earth and a sneak peek at a day in her life.

1. Jacqueline, you’ve built your career as a film and theatre maker in the area of environmental conservation. What drew you to combining your environmental and storytelling passions?

My connection to the environment started when I was a child. I enjoyed spending time up a tree, playing with mud or clambering under a waterfall, much more than being indoors. I was lucky to have parents who let me do this, and who encouraged me to discover more about the environment around me in a free and easy way.

 

When I wasn’t at school, my childhood was spent camping with my family, exploring wilderness locations around South Africa. I believe a connection to the environment will never go away, so when I grew up and focussed my attention first on theatre work, performing, designing and creating, and then on videography, I was always drawn to telling stories about the elements that made me happy and feel vital.

 

I also felt a real need to address the disconnect that we humans have to the natural world, and the balance and harmony it teaches us. I think it was that need that has brought me to the various projects and stories I have worked on, where I want to inspire people to realize their in living more closely connected to nature.

2. You use documentary filmmaking and theatre as a means to share stories about the environment and our relationship with it. How can storytelling help with environmental and conservation literacy ?

We understand and make sense of the world through stories. It is the backbone of our connection to each other, and to the world and society around us. There is this beautiful quote that we share in one of our projects:

“Stories are the secret reservoir of values: change the stories individuals and nations live by and tell themselves, and you change the individuals and nations.” -  Ben Okri

Storytelling is also education and information and knowledge but wrapped up in something more beautiful and accessible to us. How many times have you been moved by a poem, a documentary film, a piece of theatre? Do you get as moved by numbers or stats or facts? We’ve made the mistake of trying to get people to change by bombarding them with facts! I believe that for people to understand their impact on the earth, we need to know how we fit into the global ecosystem. Where do we humans stand in relation to everything else? And in fact, we are just a speck in the greater web of life. And once we are humbled by this fact, brought down off our human pedestal, and start to work together as communities and individuals, we can make shifts and take responsible actions, that promotes regeneration and restoring the life of our natural world.

3. How has the Covid pandemic changed your career as a theatre practitioner?

I haven’t been practising my theatre craft for a few years now, as it has been quite a challenge to make it financially viable in South Africa as a visual theatre director. So although I know the Covid pandemic has impacted all live events, artists and practitioners, in a massive way, I was working in video and multimedia before the restrictions came about.

4. How do you hope your voice and work will influence others?

I hope to raise a flag about the urgency with which we all need to act. If we don’t stop the degradation of land and oceans, or the extractive colonial systems that rule, or the never-ending cycle of consumerism, we are in for a really tough time. But it’s also not about ‘stopping everything’, it’s about seeing opportunities in different ways of being and doing; of planting seeds and ideas; of re-imagining. I wish for my work to uplift, shift behaviour and inspire people to feel they have a role in all of this.

5. Which is your favourite project you’ve created and why?

One of my favourite projects was directing an environmental educational video for Conservation International on the island of Madagascar. I travelled to rural communities in three different regions of Madagascar, capturing and sharing the voices of local fisherfolk, vanilla farmers and conservationists about how they experience climate change.  The project took about 6 weeks, and we travelled simply and roughly, sometimes walking long distances to get to various locations. Everywhere we went was breathtaking and beautiful. The people were so generous, living simple lives, but so connected to the land and sea. I learnt so much from those people we met, mostly about resilience, simplicity and how to experience joy and abundance with so little. I take those experiences with me in everything I do now.

6. Whose work has influenced and inspired you?

I’ve been inspired by many different filmmakers, theatre-makers and artists from around the world. I think I could list so many… but a few that come to mind are the writers Arundhati Roy, Kazuo Ishiguro, Clarissa Pinkola Estes and Ben Okri, theatre-makers the Handspring Puppet Company, and the French puppeteersCompagnie Philippe Genty. There are so many filmmakers who have created work that has influenced me, and I go through different periods of being inspired by different genres – the list is endless.

7. What does a day in your life look like?

Morning, I wake up, drink a glass of warm lemon water (my only constant in my life right now!) get my kids ready for school, eat some breakfast, drop kids at school, and either go for a swim in the tidal pool at St James, or do a short run in one of the green belt areas nearby, or do yoga. Afterwards, I’d be working on various creative and film projects.

Afternoons are looser, with juggling work and kids.

Evenings are family time, book reading, fruit eating time, and sometimes to the work I didn’t get to in the day.

8. At Sapmok we are constantly striving to be better and do better for the environment, but there’s always room for improvement. What do you suggest can we do as a brand to assist in the most concerning environmental issues?

Transparency always! For a retail business in today’s world, I think you need to be as honest as possible, declaring where you get your materials or ingredients, whose lives are impacted positively or negatively by your products, and how your staff are treated. People want to know everything, and if its not clear, they’ll go somewhere else. I also think you have a responsibility to move towards circular economy thinking and practice. Ethical business is about being an example of how to reduce waste and reuse resources. It all starts with a good example!

9. Where can we find your work and connect with you?

I am part of a media co-operative, Mycelium Media Colab based in Cape Town. We are exploring what it means to work collaboratively through the content we produce about regeneration and sustainability.

Show JACQUELINE some love

Written and interviewed by Ursula Botha