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Caught in the Anthropocene: Theatres of Trees, Place and Politics

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 February 2022

Abstract

This article investigates live performance in the broad geo-historical context of the Anthropocene, a contested term in recent scholarship, but one that offers a breadth of focus on human relations with its coexistent non-human other. These interrelations are examined through a range of theatrical and non-theatrical genres and sites from the Australian parliament's coal theatrics to exemplary performances by Indigenous companies Bangarra Dance Theatre and Marrugeku. It sets the scene with a visit to the Curtain Tree in the rainforests of north Queensland, Australia, arguing that the vitality and display of its root system models a special kind of reciprocity between the performative elements of the environment and the environmental elements of theatre and performance. This is traced through recent short-run immersive works, Hanna Cormick's Mermaid (2020) and Melinda Hetzel and Company's Conservatory (2020), and a rereading of a canonical Australian drama, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll.

Type
Article
Copyright
Copyright © International Federation for Theatre Research 2022

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References

Notes

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2 See Davis, Heather and Turpin, Etienne, eds., Art in the Anthropocene: Encounters among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments and Epistemologies (Ann Arbor, MI: Open Humanities Press, 2015)Google Scholar; Clark, Timothy, Ecocriticism on the Edge: The Anthropocene as a Threshold Concept (London: Bloomsbury, 2015)Google Scholar.

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7 Alan Read, The Dark Theatre (Abingdon: Routledge, 2020), p. 3.

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13 Baz Kershaw, Theatre Ecology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 5.

14 Val Plumwood, ‘Ecofeminist Analysis and the Culture of Ecofeminist Denial’, in Stevens, Tait and Varney, Feminist Ecologies, pp. 97–112, here p. 103; and Freya Matthews, ‘Relating to Nature: Deep Ecology or Ecofeminism?’, in Stevens, Tait and Varney, Feminist Ecologies, pp. 35–55, here p. 39.

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20 Ray Lawler, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (Sydney: Currency Press, 1957).

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24 Lesley Head, Hope and Grief in the Anthropocene (London and New York: Routledge, 2016), p. 42.

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27 Lawler, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, p. 48.

28 Jonathan Mills, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll programme, State Opera South Australia, 2020.

29 Lawler, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, p. 188.

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33 Bruce McConachie cited in David Wiles, ‘On Being a Twenty-First-Century Theatre Historian’, Theatre Research International, 44, 2 (2019), pp. 189–95, here p. 191.

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35 Una Chaudhuri, ‘There Must Be a Lot of Fish in That Lake’, Theater, 25, 1 (1994), pp. 23–31, here p. 23.

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37 Cut the Sky, Marrugeku, co-artistic directors Rachael Swain and Dalisa Pigrum, Premiere Perth International Arts Festival, 27 February 2015.

38 Marrugeku, Cut the Sky, at www.marrugeku.com.au/productions/cut-the-sky, accessed 11 June 2021.

39 Rachael Swain, Dance in Contested Land (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), pp. 107–8.

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41 Lesley Hughes, Will Steffen, Greg Mullins, Annika Dean, Ella Weisbrot and Martin Rice, ‘Summer of Crisis’, Climate Council of Australia Ltd, 2020, p. 3.

42 Tait, ‘Enveloping the Nonhuman’, p. 358.

43 Francis Rings, ‘Terrain: Study Guide for Teachers and Students’, Bangarra Dance Theatre, 2019.

44 Lavery, ‘Ecology in Beckett's Theatre Garden’, p. 11.

45 Keith Kahn-Harris, ‘Denialism: What Drives People to Reject the Truth’, The Guardian, 3 August 2018, at www.theguardian.com/news/2018/aug/03/denialism-what-drives-people-to-reject-the-truth, accessed 24 September 2021.

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47 Bennett, Vibrant Matter, p. 11 (italics in original).

48 J. L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words, p. 14. The usage here is indebted to Timothy Gould, ‘The Unhappy Performative’, in Andrew Parker and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, eds., Performativity and Performance (London and New York: Routledge, 1995), pp. 19–44, here p. 24 (capitals in original).

49 Hamilton, ‘That Lump of Coal’.

50 Bennett, Vibrant Matter, p. 94.

51 Steffen, Crutzen and McNeill, ‘The Anthropocene’.

52 ‘No-one alive has ever seen the conditions we are seeing today’. Commissioner Shane Fitzimmons, NSW Police, December 2019.

53 Head, Hope and Grief in the Anthropocene, p. 14.

54 Heather Davis and Etienne Turpin, ‘Art and Death: Lives between the Fifth Assessment and the Sixth Extinction’, in Davis and Turpin, Art in the Anthropocene, pp. 3–29, here pp. 3–4.

55 Head, Hope and Grief in the Anthropocene, p. 167.

56 Lavery, ‘Ecology in Beckett's Theatre Garden: Or How to Cultivate Oikos’, p. 12.

57 David Abram, The Spell of Sensuousness and Perception and Language in a More-than-Human-World (New York: Pantheon, 1996).

58 Jennifer Parker Starbuck, ‘Becoming Leech: Animal–Human–Technological Hybrid Exchanges’, Performance Research, 25, 4 (2020), pp. 26–35, here p. 35.

59 ClimActs, at https://climacts.org.au, accessed 1 July 2020.

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61 Lavery, Carl, ‘Introduction: Performance and Ecology – What Can Theatre Do?’, Green Letters: Studies in Ecocriticism, 20, 2 (2016), pp. 229–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

62 See Varney, Denise“Not Now, Not Ever”: Julia Gillard and the Performative Power of Affect’, in Diamond, E., Varney, D. and Amich, C., eds., Performance Feminism and Affect in Neoliberal Times (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), pp. 2538CrossRefGoogle Scholar.