- Theatre in an Age of Eco-crisis
Ecologically informed discourse about theatre and performance has, with only a few exceptions, been strangely absent in Canada. While eco-critical approaches to poetry, fiction, and the burgeoning field of nature writing have been on the rise for some time now in this country, there are only the indefatigable efforts of R. Murray Schafer and a few scattered scholarly articles to indicate that Canadian theatre has anything at all to say about what is unquestionably the most single pressing issue of our time. We hope that this issue of the Canadian Theatre Review will signal a sea change in this respect and usher in some lively discussion and debate in this country about the role of the performing arts in an age of global eco-crisis.
It is hardly the case, after all, that playwrights, directors, and performing artists have been ignoring this crisis or that they have been unaware of the links between ecological concerns, identity politics, and environmental justice. Such awareness has been front and centre, for instance, in the work of many Métis and First Nations playwrights in Canada, and to acknowledge this we have bracketed the articles and interviews in this issue with the reflections of two theatre directors (Theresa J. May in Oregon and Annie Smith in northern Alberta) on the eco-politics of Marie Clements' Burning Vision, one of this country's most compelling plays by one of its most consistently eco-centric playwrights. As the rest of the writing in this issue makes abundantly clear, however, there is also plenty of evidence for the existence of an eco-centric tradition in non-Native theatre—plays and performances that either foreground non-human nature or that draw attention to the import and consequences of our relationship to this environing world. Such performances need not be resolutely grim, or, for that matter, an opportunity to indulge in hopeless self-loathing over the mess that we have created. Theatre has never shied away from difficult topics; and despite the harrowing conditions of our age—despite habitat loss and species extinction, despite an ever-increasing population, despite water shortages, oil spills and the potentially horrific scenarios afforded by climate change—theatre artists and producers are responding to such conditions in ways that are original, life-affirming and, in some cases, downright celebratory.
What the reader will find in this issue is a series of interviews, essays, and personal accounts from a range of theatre artists, scholars and producers who are both creative and ecologically astute. As editors, we "thought locally" by drawing primarily on our regional [End Page 3] and national sources. We then proceeded to "act globally" by including accounts of a Canadian play produced abroad and a performance project that weds Canada to the planet. While the writings assembled here are not representative of every region in the country, there is much to be acknowledged and applauded in this collection. From the irrepressible jouissance of Elizabeth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle's performance-weddings to the fiercely funny eco-satire Celeste Derksen finds in Karen Hines' The Pochsy Plays, from the place-specific explorations of Denise Kenney and Neil Cadger to the site-specific performance of Kendra Fanconi, and from James McKernan's account of sustainable theatre initiatives at York University to the inter-cultural and inter-species resonance of Xstine Cook's Spirit of White Buffalo (as elaborated in Cook's interview with Allan Boss), eco-centric performance, it would seem, is not only alive, it is flourishing.
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In addition to all of the above, we are privileged to publish the script of Daniel Brooks' The Eco Show: an anomaly, perhaps, in the largely urban-centred theatre of Toronto, but one that deserves attention for the complex and engaging way in which it conveys how our present ecological perils have taken their toll on one particular nuclear family. Brooks, who has made a substantial contribution...