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  • Editorial Comment:Theatre and the Nonhuman
  • Jen Parker-Starbuck

Despite the (understandable) anthro-centrism of theatre and performance, there may be no subject more pressing in the present moment than the nonhuman, writ large. As I argued in this issue's call for papers, theatre has always relied upon nonhuman forces—from stage spectacle to nonhuman animals (live, pantomimed, imitated, or metaphorical), from technologies to environmental or site-based scenarios, from the chimeric figure to the mechanical robot. Nonhuman figures historically have populated texts and stages: from the Dog of Montargis and the robots of R.U.R. to the Chinese White Snake discussed within one of this issue's essays; actors "exit, pursued by a bear" and co-create figures with masks or puppets. Animals, chimeras, and spirits have long been central to ritual and religious performances. Often, this reliance upon the nonhuman is in service to entertainment (often at the nonhuman's expense, especially in the case of animals), allegory, or represents human emotions and fears. Artistic worldviews are beginning to reposition human/nonhuman relations, as noted, for example, in Caryl Churchill's Far Away: "the cats have come in on the side of the French." Practitioners are moving the nonhuman more centrally onstage, turning to bio-art, cyborg figures, animals, and environments devoid of human actors, all in an attempt to relate or evoke the nonhuman.

After centuries of damaging environmental practices, and now facing climate disaster, it is necessary to better acknowledge our intertwinement and reliance upon nonhuman elements—animals, insects, seas, forests, and so on. There is a growing need to figure out what to do and how to do it in relation to the nonhuman. This special issue is a small attempt at foregrounding this sea change and bringing the nonhuman into greater focus within theatre practices. Theatre and performance criticism, critical theory, and popular culture are now populated with terms to describe a condition, a time, or a mode of thought that broadens a decidedly anthropocentric world. From Deleuze and Guattari's "becomings-," through the many iterations of the "posthuman," the widely accepted "Anthropocene," to Donna Haraway's "Chthulucene," scholars are concerned with bringing human and nonhuman relations into greater proximity. These are themes I grapple with in my own research into human/animal/technological triangulations, and ones that drive many investigations into the nonhuman. In addition to the recent proliferation of practical suggestions addressing personal and collective habits that can begin to right ecological imbalances, it may be useful to also turn to the nonhuman as a crucial category within theatre and performance to begin to understand their "repertoires"—a concept pace Diana Taylor—that emerges in the issue.

This special issue, then, foregrounds the nonhuman not as a turn away from the (many) ongoing human concerns, indignities, and inequalities in the current global climate, but rather to suggest that a "nonhuman turn," as Richard Grusin has put it, might make us, as humans, more attuned and responsive to our reliance upon nonhuman others. In his edited collection The Nonhuman Turn, Grusin proposes that [End Page xi] "[t]o turn toward the nonhuman is not only to confront the nonhuman but to lose the traditional way of the human, to move aside so that other nonhumans—animate and less animate—can make their way, turn toward movement themselves" (xxi). My own investment in a "becoming-animate," which I proposed in a Theatre Journal essay in December 2006 and have been developing since as an interrelation and reverberation between human/nonhuman/technological forces, propels the ideas in this issue, and how nonhuman forms and figures move through theatre and performance is the focus of the issue.

As this is also my final special issue as editor of Theatre Journal, I have been thinking about it as a kind of bookend to Ric Knowles's 2013 special issue, "Interspecies Performance," in which my own essay "Animal Ontologies and Media Representations: Robotics, Puppets, and the Real of War Horse" appeared, just before I took on the role as coeditor of the journal. Like Knowles's interest in interspecies performance, which emerged out of both intercultural and interdisciplinary concerns, this special issue's focus on the...


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