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Performance and Ecology: A Reader's Guide

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This volume consists of distinct contributions to the field of performance and ecology. The diversity of perspectives on ‘ecology’ and ‘nature’ presented here shows the wealth of possibilities for how performance can uniquely enter the wider realms of ecological thinking. A survey of theatre literature shows how Performing Nature fits with and advances this new field from within that discipline. But there is an absence in theatre and performance studies of literatures on ecology and nature from other disciplines which could inform practice, pedagogy and criticism. To begin to redress this, I offer a selection favouring those works which introduce and explore relations between the human and nature as the other-than-human, as living being, environment or process. This reader's guide is intended to augment the chapters here, and to show possible ways-in to the wider literatures.

One of the earliest advocacies for theatre's capacity to address environmental issues was J.W. Meeker's The Comedy of Survival: In Search of an Environmental Ethics published in 1980 (Los Angeles: Guild of Tutors Press). Meeker asks whether the tragic or the comedic best represents the human position within the environmental crisis, and favours the quotidian ‘making-do’ of comedy. But it is Una Chaudhuri's article ‘“There Must Be a Lot of Fish in That Lake”: Toward an Ecological Theatre’ in 1994 (Theater, 25:1) which was the first to set out a theoretical approach to a theatre which could engage with the crisis and with the autonomy of the other-than-human. In her approach to naturalism, Chaudhuri presents the implications of theatre's complicity with an anti-ecological humanist tradition. Resisting nature as being only metaphoric, an ecological theatre must renegotiate its tensions between symbolism and literalism.

Performance practices which were contemporaneous with Chaudhuri's article largely represented and adapted the ideologies and strategies of that era of environmental activism, and are surveyed in the following articles: Gabrielle Barnett's ‘Performing for the Forest’(1994, Theater, 25:1), on performance and direct-action activism in America's North West Coast forests; John Bell's ‘Uprising of the Beast: An Interview with Peter Schumann’(1994, Theater, 25:1), which investigates the ecological-political work of Bread and Puppet Theater; Downing Cless's ‘The Grassroots is Greener’(1996, The Drama Review 40:2, T150), a survey of American, issue-based ‘eco-theatre’ and community productions; and Una Chaudhuri's (ed.) Rachel's Brain and Other Storms: Rachel Rosenthal Performance Text (2001, New York: Continuum). Chaudhuri's commentary draws out the mixture of the autobiographical and the ecological in Rosenthal's work, which was an early hybrid of environmentalism and theatre.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2005

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