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The Ecologies of Performance: On Biospheres and Theatres

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I take it as axiomatic that any effort to write about the ecologies of performance will be enmeshed, hopefully with delight, in paradox. This is because, as David Harvey puts it, ‘if all socio-political projects are ecological projects, then some conception of “nature” and “environment” is omnipresent in everything we do’ (1996: 174). So writing about ‘performance and nature’, say, may be like trying to trace the outline of the writing hand with the pen used in the writing. In other words, whatever may escape the specifics to ‘capture’ the complexities of an ecological account of performance is precisely what needs to be attended to. Hence it becomes crucial to be alert to the fact that the performativity of writing about theatre and performance as ecologies could be reproducing the very pathology it wants to question: the exploitation and degradation of our environment by humankind. My trope to keep this problem of method in a reflexive focus is Biosphere II.

Biosphere II is a gigantic glass ‘ark’ the size of a huge aircraft hangar situated in the Southern Arizona desert. Inside at one end is a rain forest, at the other end is a savannah, and in between there is a coral reef and marshland. These areas aim to replicate some of the main types of terrain that make up the global ecosystem. Biosphere II was designed to be self-sustaining, so it can be (virtually) sealed off from Biosphere I, the Earth itself. In September 1991 eight men and women volunteers walked through its airlocks to begin a two-year ecological experiment in biome survival that potentially had profound ramifications for the future of life on the planet. Some accounts claim that these eight were formerly a theatre group. Maybe only actors would have the courage to risk such total immersion in the unreal – or, perhaps better, the hyper-real.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2005

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