Linnea Bond: Making climate change sexy

Headshot of Linnea Bond

Earth day is coming up next month, but if you care about your mother, Mother Nature that is, then you can get an early jump on helping her out on March 30 at a benefit cabaret to have fun and “Save Philadelphia From Climate Change.” A stellar lineup will be performing at the Fringe Theatre in a unique program designed to help you help yourself… and the rest of us. 

It’s a chance to “wade through our existential dread and guilt” and actually do something active while having a good time! Join Betty Smithsonian, Jarbeaux, Cookie Diorio, Jess Conda, and Sam Rise at Fringearts. According to this week’s Portrait, event organizer Linnea Bond, this is going to be a “sparkly, queer intro class into easy direct action taught by comedians, clowns and drag queens.” We spoke to the performer and environmental activist about her journey to save the planet and other fun facts. 

Where are you from?
I have split my life between Virginia and Ohio, but I’ve been in Philadelphia for the last five years. I came here because it’s got an incredible New Work’s creation and traditional theater scene here. Soon after I stopped auditioning for regular theater and have just been doing my own work. We have such a thriving non-traditional arts community here. There’s a little bit of everything — circus and cabaret and drag. It’s fantastic.

I do love my city too, but to clarify, which state were you born in?
Arizona. I was born in Phoenix. 

[Laughing] That deserves a forehead slap! OK, where did you spend your formative years?
I like the myth of the Phoenix, but it wasn’t really part of my history. We moved from there when I was one. I grew up in a rural area in Virginia. We had several acres and there were woods where we would spend the afternoons playing. Behind the woods, there was a farm with donkeys and animals I could pet and play with. I’ve always felt really connected to forests and I think that’s where my love of nature and connection to the climate movement comes from. So I know what we could lose and I grieve for… I mean my partner grew up in the city and I’m like, “Wait, you grew up in the city? You never got to play out in the woods? It’s hard to imagine. 

And the fam?
It’s a close group. My parents are still together and my brother and I are very close. We all are. 

What did/do the folks do?
My dad is a physician and my mom is a teacher. I grew up in a very religious home, which as a queer person, was quite difficult. But the great thing about my parents is that they’re both very social justice-oriented. They lived in Kenya before I was born and I grew up hearing stories of what it was like to be there. I learned what it was like to be outside of your comfort zone for the vision of a better world. 

It sounds like you’re a combination of both. You get the science from your dad and perhaps your altruism from mom, the teacher.
I feel like I get the wackiness from my dad. He’s a pediatrician and he always had Tigger ties on and silly things like that. My mom was the storyteller growing up so I got some theater genes from her but my dad is such a wacky character that I feel like my interest in clowns as an adult was because of him. 

What would your parents say about you as a kid?
[Laughing] They’d say I needed to stop losing things and pay attention! 

What were your favorite subjects in school?
I loved reading and I loved creative writing. Any time I could do that, I was happy.

What did you do after high school?
I went to college. I have my Masters in Acting and New Works Creation from Ohio State and I went to the questionably named Washington and Lee University for an undergraduate degree in sociology. It was a very conservative school. I went there as a moderate student and came out a liberal. It’s the opposite for a lot of the kids who went there. 

What made you decide to change directions?
My brother and I were both really into theater growing up. I watched him have a successful acting career but at first, I was like, “No, that’s not me. I need to help people.” I was into social justice and thought I’d be an international lawyer, but when I studied abroad in Tanzania, I started to feel like the world didn’t make sense. The iniquities were so far out of control globally that I didn’t even know how to function. All the assumptions that I had of the world and American society were gone. As I was trying to rebuild how we should be living our lives, I came back to storytelling, back to theater. I wanted to weave social justice and theater together. 

By the way, It appears we have something in common. I understand you have a solo show that you tour with called, “Heart Ripped Out Twice and So Can You” about having open-heart surgery and I had open-heart surgery about 30 years ago. Back when they were still opening you manually instead of with the laser advances they have now.
Yes! Whenever I meet someone who had open-heart surgery, I feel very connected. I have a photo of mine and it looks old school too. They tried to go in through my back, but then they woke me up and said, “That was unsuccessful so we’re going to have to go through your chest.” 

[Laughing] I have pictures too with the Frankenstein stitches down the front.
I love it!

I also lost a lot of weight at the time and was literally down to 98 pounds, which was crazy. But with my morbid sense of humor, I was trying to get my roommate to take pictures of me as a skeleton to send out as my Christmas card! She refused!
If you saw my show, you’d see it’s all morbid humor. It’s a show about pain — the pain of being alive. My line is that it’s “a (mostly) comedy about pain.” I toured with it last year and am going to go out with it again this year. It’s really been a joy to do. It’s fun to connect to audiences who have experienced things that are similar and even those who haven’t been under the knife can relate to the general pain of just being alive. I created the show in an attempt to reach toward hope. I went through a period when people were telling me they were having children. My response was ‘why’? I was very down on the world we live in so I wrote the show to find help for myself and to make a sales pitch to an unborn child showing them the benefits of being alive.  

Finding joy is always a good pursuit. Tell me about your day job.
Yes, I work with Physicians for Social Responsibility in PA [PSR-PA]. I’m the Health and Environmental Education Director which is a part-time job which is great because it allows me to do social justice work and make art. And my boss is really supportive of me doing my own work and bringing art into the organization. I’m very lucky. They’re involved with this climate change cabaret on the 30th as one of the sponsors. Most people aren’t aware, but Pennsylvania is the second-most fracked gas and coal-producing state in the country. 

Yeah, the quote is that between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh lies Pennsyltucky.
Unfortunately, Pittsburgh — like the rest of PA — is heavily in bed with the fossil fuel industry politically and financially. Here in Philadelphia, we have more power to move against fossil fuels because we are the city least financially-tied to fossil fuels. Philadelphia is really special in that we have a progressive city council and it seems, a progressive mayor, which gives us a lot of clout to push in ways that the rest of the state who are too tied to fossil fuels aren’t able to do. And there are programs that exist in Philadelphia to help low-income and other vulnerable people be at the center of the climate movement and we can get them funding. My goal as an artist is to wake us up and inform people on ways to take that power. 

So day to day at PSR-PA — what do you do?
I try to take the things I’m learning about, like hydrogen, what is it and how might it operate in our lives? What does it mean if it’s getting federally funded in our area? What should we know about PGW, our municipally owned gas company and how can we influence them? In the climate change and environmental justice field, it’s often hard to understand what people are talking about. I’m in the field and it’s still confusing for me sometimes! So my job is to translate, from very technical jargon to what it all means for your life and how you can participate in the conversation, to find a way to communicate why it matters to all of us. 

That’s so important.
Yeah, because often our introduction to climate change and environmental justice is often all about the polar bears, but what does that mean to most of us? Even for me, I alway cared about iniquity. I always cared about people, but now I have a different understanding of how this actually impacts people. I remember being shocked to hear that Calcutta was going to be too hot for people to breathe by 2050. Just thinking about the millions of people who live in that city changed the way I think about it. All the different kinds of oppression that are a result of what’s happening. 

Yowza. What’s another thing you’ve learned that we might be shocked to hear?
Something I’ve been meditating on a lot, Suzi, is… I don’t want to cry, but it’s so upsetting. Across the last say, 200 years, repeatedly and into our present day, the powers that be have been stealing land from Black people. It’s happening every day across our country. People are exploiting and lying and cheating people out of land so they can mine it and do all sorts of industrial processes that harm the communities. Because many of the communities have protections against it, a common tactic is to drive everyone out so they can take over. They’ll do dirty tricks like refusing someone a permit to fix a leaky roof and then declare the house unsafe and claim it under eminent domain. It’s crazy. And it’s happening right now in PA and all across the country. I talk to people from all over who have had it happen to them. 

So terrible. OK, let’s talk about something joyful: An evening of talented performers entertaining for a good cause!
Yes, it’s “A Benefit Cabaret To Save Philadelphia From Climate Change” and it’s going to be Saturday, March 30th at FringeArts. We have an amazing lineup, award-winning comedian Betty Smithsonian will emcee the event, and we’ll have Bearded Ladies Cabaret favorites like Jarbeaux, Cookie Diorio, Jess Conda and Sam Rise. But the cool part is that we’re going to show that there’s stuff we can do in light of oppression! 

How did this come about?
So John [Jarbeaux] had done this ice show with the Bearded Ladies, which was about climate change. A couple of organizations were asked to table the event and I went. The show was so, so great but no one came to my table to talk to me. So I thought of doing a show where we embed concrete actions into the show! 

I know where the pressure points are, what the effective tactics are, and we have a good chance to make real changes because of our position in Philadelphia. We have a lot of untapped political power we can access. Sometimes, it’s as simple as making a call to city council or our representatives and saying, “Fund this program!” and next thing you know, it’s in the budget. So this show is about learning the problem, being overwhelmed by it, and then finding ways to move forward in a fun way with drag queens and clowns! 

I’ve profiled several of the people in your show — including Cookie Diorio, who is also my former neighbor — and you have an amazing line up. A chance to have fun with some incredibly talented performers and save the world? What more can we ask for? OK, let’s do some random questions, if you were to have a séance, who would you want to contact?
Oooh, what a great question. The Buddha was my first thought, but he probably wouldn’t answer! He’d want me to figure it out on my own! 

Three sounds you love?
I love hearing people orgasm. I love hearing the birds sing in the spring. It gives me a lot of hope. And I love — this is weird to say after the orgasm pick — but I love the sound of my nephew’s laugh. It sounds like bubbles. 

A favorite queer movie?
Well, I was in the movie “Carol,” so I feel I should say that. I have four lines in it. And I came out to my parents when I was auditioning for that, which makes it special in its own way, but “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” was pretty amazing. 

How did you come out?
Well, my parents were living in Africa at the time and I was trying to call them. Being queer and pansexual is sometimes hard to explain and I had avoided it, but I wanted to tell them because I wanted them to know and I wanted them to learn to think differently. As I mentioned, we were very religious. So, I called them on Skype and I said, “I just wanted to tell you that…” and the call went out! So I sent them an email! 

Oh my! First pet?
I had a hermit crab named Cristal. Who I tried to kiss once and it pierced my lip. 

A favorite family tradition?
We are of Swedish descent so we celebrate Sinterklaas Day. He’s based on the historical figure of Saint Nicholas and is pictured as an older man with very long white hair and a long beard who wears a Bishop hat and a red cape and rides a white horse. You’re supposed to put your shoes out on the 5th of December and Sinterklaas would fill them with candy. We’d always hear him scattering the M&M’s around and then laugh really loudly (suspiciously sounding like my dad). 

Go dad! Well, good luck with the show. Where can people get tickets?
They can go to the FringeArts website. Hopefully with a little music and a little money, we can save our city and maybe the rest of the world!

“A Benefit Cabaret To Save Philadelphia From Climate Change” will be held 8:30 p.m. on March 30 at FringeArts, 140 N Christopher Columbus Blvd. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit

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