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Readings in Performance and Ecology ed. by Wendy Arons and Theresa J. May (review)
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Readings in Performance and Ecology assembles a broad range of essays that take as their respective foci ecological debates, animals in performance, ecoactivisim, landscapes and bodies, eco-criticism in dramatic literature, and the practicalities of theatremaking. This expansive scope evidences the editors’ assertion that performance theorists and practitioners should adopt eco-centric approaches to their work. Arons and May also contend that “theorizing ecological theater and performance will demand a reconceptualization of the nature and purpose of mimesis, and require finding ways to represent the more-than-human world on stage that do not ineradicably ‘other’ nature” (2). The ethical and logistical challenges of this claim surface in many of the 17 pieces that comprise the anthology’s five sections. Some of the essays, however, do not fully tease out the contours and stakes of ecology within their sites or methodologies.

The anthology aims to inspire artists and scholars to develop “an increasingly diverse and complex discourse” (2) through textual analyses of plays, investigations of performance events, and descriptions of theatre production case studies. This dual focus on scholarly inquiries and the nuts-and-bolts of theatre praxis helps to distinguish this book from related projects that focus on ecocritical analyses (Marranca [1996] 2005; Fuchs and Chaudhuri 2002; Chaudhuri 1995), studies of site-specific performances (Pearson and Shanks 2001; Kershaw 2007; Szerszynksi, Heim, and Waterton 2003), and descriptions of environmentally conscious theatre production (Cless 2010; Fried and May 1994). Useful elements of this anthology include 29 images and an extensive bibliography as well as Wallace Heim’s provocative epilogue of insightful observations and questions prompted by the essays.

One trio of especially compelling materialist investigations includes work from the sections “Theorizing Ecoperformance” and “Ecoactivism and Performance.” Kathleen M. Gough’s “Natural Disaster, Cultural Memory: Montserrat Adrift in the Black and Green Atlantic” examines the environmental and cultural fallout from the devastating 1997 volcanic eruption on the Caribbean island of Montserrat. Gough gathers call-and-response rhythms of Montserrat Carnival, recurring radio announcements, the effects of hurricanes and floods, Stewart Parker’s Kingdom Come: An Irish-Caribbean Musical (1978), and a St. Patrick’s Day Festival as evidence of a complex “archive in repertoire” (109) that reassembles a cultural identity and reanimates a collective memory during and in the aftermath of a crisis.

Arden Thomas critically excavates performance ecology in “Stillness in Nature: Eeo Stubblefield’s Still Dance with Anna Halprin.” Thomas chronicles “a fierce but gentle rolling dance” (113) in the intimate choreographies of Halprin who generates slow, improvised movements by responding to the physical conditions (climate, objects, topography) of a location selected by Stubblefield. Stubblefield’s photographs evidence the “evocative duet” (117) of the pair’s collaboration. Thomas uses the work of André Lepecki, Teresa Brennan, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty to think through the environmental gestures of this partnership via dance criticism, critiques of modern capitalism, and phenomenology.

Meg O’Shea’s essay, “Bikes, Choices, Action! Embodied Performances of Sustainability by a Traveling Theater Group,” takes the reader into the interpersonal dynamics of the Ottawa-based Otesha Project. Their participants devise theatre with environmental and ecological themes and then bring their work to audiences at campsites and community centers via bicycles. O’Shea concerns herself with the “actors’ sustainability-related perceptions and behaviors” (139). Addressing the group’s tensions and realizations stemming from food purchases, cycle routes, and empathy in performance, O’Shea argues for an “embodied performative element in dialogic processes for public engagement with sustainability” (145). Each of these three essays weaves together evocative performance details and critical references to elucidate the stakes of these collaborations between humans and the world they inhabit.

Some essays lack the nuanced self-reflexive methodological framing articulated in the above studies. Nelson Gray’s investigation of the ecopolitics of place in Canadian drama compares two settler plays from 1930 and two contemporary First Nation plays from the 2000s. Gray does not, however, explicate the significant sociopolitical and environmental shifts that occurred in Canada in the intervening years that might identify these plays as appropriate for his investigation, nor does he acknowledge the stakes of comparing Euro-Canadian and indigenous dramatic works today. Derek Lee Barton’s essay on the cultural reverberations...

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