Meeting trees halfway: environmental encounters in theatre and performance

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How do trees (live and representational) participate in our theatrical and performed encounters with them? If trees are not inherently scenic, as their treatment in language and on stage might

How do trees (live and representational) participate in our theatrical and performed encounters with them? If trees are not inherently scenic, as their treatment in language and on stage might reinforce, how can they be retheorized as agents and participants in dramatic encounters? Using Diana Taylor’s theory of scenario to understand embodied encounters, I propose an alternative approach to understanding environmental beings (like trees) called “synercentrism,” which takes as its central tenet the active, if not 100 percent “willed,” participation of both human and non-human beings. I begin by mapping a continuum from objecthood to agenthood to trace the different ways that plants and trees are used, represented, and included in our encounters. The continuum provides a framework that more comprehensively unpacks human-plant relationships.

My dissertation addresses the rich variety of representations and embodiments by focusing on three central chapter topics: the history of tree representation and inclusion in dramatic literature and performance; interactions with living trees in gardens, parks, and other dramatic arenas; and individual plays and plants that have a particularly strong grasp on cultural imaginaries. Each chapter is followed by one or more corresponding case studies (the first chapter is followed by case studies on plants in musical theatre; the second on performing plants and collaborative performance events; and the last on the dance drama Memory Rings and the Methuselah tree). I conclude with a discussion of how the framework of synercentrism can aid in the disruption of terministic screens and facilitate reciprocal relationships with trees and other environmental agents.