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Human See, Human Do: Simianification, Cross-species, Cross-cultural, Body Transformation

  • Catherine Diamond

Abstract

Simianification is the practice of humans inhabiting the simian body on stage. Because Asians have lived with monkeys and apes, several Asian theatre traditions have long legacies of representing monkeys on stage. In Europe and North America, where non-human primates did not exist, they are not a familiar feature in performance until nineteenth-century music hall and circus and twentieth-century film and television. In some recent performances in Asia dancers and actors have expanded their understanding of monkey roles by incorporating scientific discoveries, modern movement techniques, and global pop culture. On the British and American stage, actors experiment to ‘impersonate’ the humanized ape bodily and mentally, without the aid of the disguises and prosthetics usual in film. These performers ‘embody’ the philosophical inquiry of what it means to ‘be monkey’ by inhabiting a monkey’s body while still performing ‘art’ for a human audience. Catherine Diamond, a Contributing Editor to NTQ, is a professor of theatre and environmental literature at Soochow University, Taiwan. She is also the director of the Kinnari Ecological Theatre Project in Southeast Asia.

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Human See, Human Do: Simianification, Cross-species, Cross-cultural, Body Transformation

  • Catherine Diamond

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