Rehearsing Relations: The Multispecies Reality of Theatre
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This thesis examines the ecological contribution of the performing arts with regards to changing our current anthropocentric ethos towards a multispecies one. The time we live in, called ‘the Anthropocene’, is defined by the irreversible changes humans have made to the natural cycle of the earth, which include global warming and the sixth extinction event. The anthropocentric ethos, the reigning ethos of this contemporary epoch, implicates that in most societies, human culture, wellbeing and wealth is prioritized over having sustainable relations with other-than-human species. Inter-human relations are lived and embodied with attention and care, whereas our relations with other-than-human species, cultures and matters are often neglected, disrespected and merely organised for human profit and resources. The disconnection between kinds has led to a tyranny of mankind, which has allowed people to exploit, destroy and systemically disrespect their nonhuman co-inhabitants of this planet. Following gender scholar Esther Jansen, this thesis explains the need to change towards a ‘multispecies ethos’, in order to change the destructive course of the Anthropocene and move towards a sustainable future and argues that theatre can contribute to making this move. For moving towards a multispecies ethos, this thesis proposes the need to gain what I call relational attentiveness: we need to become able to attentively perceive (physical and cultural) human/nonhuman co-presence and relationality. I argue that relational attentiveness can be gained through the embodied experience of the performing arts. In principle, theatre is about paying full-body attention; theatre audiences attentively participate in and perceive their here-and-now circumstances, through both cognitive interpretation and sensory stimulation. When aligned with ecology, audiences can be stimulated to attentively experience and physically (re)acquaint with the multispecies relational here-and-now of the performance. While experiencing a performative artwork, human audiences can ‘rehearse relations’: the ‘audience-witness’ can practice with embodying a multispecies ethos. To support this argument, this thesis analyses three performative artworks – Als we wortelen by Naomi Steijger, Ice Watch by Olafur Eliasson and Ruup by Birgit Õigus – that all create embodied ecological experiences of human/nonhuman encounters. Through these case studies, this thesis will examine theatre’s potentiality to stimulate relational attentiveness and thus to contribute to moving towards a multispecies ethos.