Between Theatre and the Environment: The Experience of Cope/with/Land Theatre Co.

Published at GPS: Global Performance Studies (1.2), a peer-reviewed, online and interdisciplinary journal by Performance Studies International.

Figure 4

(.gif animation by Kulay Labitigan)


In “Planetary Performance Studies,” Felipe Cervera proposes planetary thoughts around the historic and global diffusion of Performance Studies (PS): from its paradigmatic interdisciplinary origin and the growth of Performance Studies international (PSi), to Fluid States, a more multiple rethinking of the field through various localities, coordinates, and GPS (Global Positioning Systems / Global Performance Studies, referring both to the satellite technology and the journal). Cervera’s reflection on the field, brought about by his participation in PSi’s decentralized conferencing in 2015 (Fluid States — Performances of Unknowing), refers to the terrestrial, fluid (read: oceanic), and extra-terrestrial possibilities of PS as it veers away from the “narrative that perpetuates the discipline’s [anxious] history of behaving expansively, instead bringing forth in its place a narrative of multiple origins” (Cervera).

Indeed, a planetary perspective within or through PS, which borrows from ideas in critical humanities and thinkers like Gayatri Spivak and those mentioned in Cervera’s essay, should propel a PS that responds to global issues that affect very local, at times insular, communities. Planetarity extends the notion of “global” beyond socio-scientific and political models that produced the analytical frames of globalization and culture, earlier used by Arjun Appadurai (1996), and articulated as global and technological performances by Jon McKenzie (2001). We agree with Cervera’s point that multiple locations enact multiple views on globalization, theory production, and narratives, especially through networked, viscous, oceanic, orbital, and archipelagic metaphorization around frames of performance, performance studies, and PSi.

However, beyond these extensions of metaphors and allusion to a (perhaps, dying, catastrophic, or distressed) world, we would also like to think, in another planetary way, about how performance through theatrical acts reveals planetary dimensions and critical interventions beyond the obvious concerns of a world in crisis, destruction, and reconfiguration. Dramaturgically, we propose another mode of unravelling the aesthetic, creative, and highly critical role of theatre and performance through questions flagged by Elinor Fuchs. We do not need to go far, extra-terrestrially, beyond the orbits of a satellite to produce a map, or a highly advanced Global Positioning System, to visualize the planetary aspects of performance and theatre. The work of performance, once considered an activity within a planetary thinking, and as a scaled-down planet itself, could be the source of a very local experience that can contribute to a critical understanding of a global (eco)system and issues such as climate change.

Elinor Fuchs’ short essay, “EF’s Visit to a Small Planet: Some Questions to Ask a Play,” was originally written as a guide that she used to teach “Reading Theater,” a critical writing course at Yale University’s MFA Dramaturgy Program (Fuchs 5). It is divided into five thematic enquiries that examine a play. Within the first theme, “The World of the Play: First Things First,” she asks about the “world of the play,” either as it is read and imagined by a reader, or as it is seen by an audience. She wants a student, reader, or spectator to describe the physical world of the play, the space of the play, the inhabitants of this world, the climate, atmosphere, mood, physical characteristics, time, tone, and emotions found in this world (Fuchs 6-7).

In the next section of this essay, “The Social World of the Play: A Closer Look,” Fuchs enquires about the planetary makeup of a play through social constructs (class, historical milieu, conflicts) and ways humans perceive the material and biological world through interactions between people, people vs. animals, and humans vs. nature. She then asks how the world of play is constructed through language, reason, logic, metaphors, and forms of representation that make up culture (Fuchs 7).

Fuchs, in the third section, “What Changes?”, emphasizes the need to probe deeper into the changes that happen in that world/play, thus giving weight to the constant mobility, fluidity, looping (of an ecosystem), and movement within a networked and/or physical dimension of theatre, whether as an imagined narrative or a viewed spectacle (Fuchs 7).

Additionally, in “Don’t Forget Yourself,” Fuchs includes in her dramaturgical questioning the changes that happen to the viewer, reader, or spectator of this play, as well as the reflections and refraction created by the theatrical world of a play, thus emphasizing the connection of a specific world of a play to other possible worlds, or, as a fictional world may refer, to a “real” world (Fuchs 9).

Finally, in the section “The Character Fits the Pattern,” Fuchs ends with a stress on looking at patterns created either by the character of the planet or as the planet creates a pattern into which a character may fit (Fuchs 9). For us, this is another way of looking and locating a narrative, person(a), or performance in a complex world or planetary ecosystem. Thus, it is another way of creating a Global Positioning System through a dramaturgical examination of a (theatrical) performance.

It may sound basic, but Fuchs’ questions about the world of the play, such as what climate or atmosphere you imagine, or what is represented by the entire theatrical performance, augur what Cervera proposes as a planetary perspective in analysing a work of art, theatre, or performance. This is another way, map, or positioning that focuses on the dramaturgical analysis of an act, theatre, or performance, or what, for us, is a planetary examination between theatre and the environment.

In the next section of this essay, we examine a world/theatre that we created as a small and community-based theatrical company in the Philippines. We will use Fuchs’ basic dramaturgical questions to elicit answers as to how performance is used to reposition and examine a planetary locale. At the end of this essay, we would like to propose that — aside from obvious planetary concerns, issues, and metaphors fuelled by terrestrial, fluid/oceanic, archipelagic, continental, or globally systemic positioning — a scaled-down, or zoomed-in, view of performance could be a planetary mode of thinking and doing through theatre and performance. Furthermore, we argue that this mode generates ideas, narratives, and data that can be used to examine a problem such as global climate change through a very specific and local theatre experience. In the following section, we will narrate our short history and place as theatre-makers, and then dramaturgically examine three community theatre productions on the environment at various locations.

Read the full article here: GPS

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Quiet Bipolar!

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