Paper Presentations # 1 – Session 1D

NZ – 1.30pm | VIC/NSW/TAS – 11.30am | SA – 11am | QLD – 10.30am | NT – 10am
WA – 8.30am

Chaired by Kate Hunter

Links to join all conference sessions can be accessed via the program page of the ADSA conference website

Approaches to Australian Ecological Theatre
This panel will address the question: ‘how is our research contesting conserved ways of the thinking and knowing?’ in relation to natural ecologies. The papers are from a an ARC funded project, Towards an Australian Ecological Theatre that is reconceptualizing past and present Australian drama, theatre and performance in relation to its environmental content. The research approach reflects international methodologies in which conventional interpretations are destabilized and environmental concerns are recognized through the changed emphasis in analysis of the drama and of productions to foreground ecological contexts (Chaudhuri 1994; Cless 2010). The Australian environment is foregrounded rather than backgrounded in these methodologies (Plumwood 1993).

Denise Varney – Theatrical Ecologies and Denialism

This paper explores key aspects of Australia’s performing arts ecology within the context of the existential threat to our habitats from human-induced environmental crisis. Drawing on Donna Haraway’s thinking about ecosystems and geosystems, it considers the intersection of human-centred and ecologically-centred concerns in Australian theatre, performance and scholarship. Using concepts such as the Anthropocene (Crutzen and Steomer, 2000) as applied to our field (Chaudhuri 2015), I consider how our methodologies might document new practices that engage with human and non-human life forms, as well as other elements such as land and biosphere. This approach will lean towards the decolonisation of human-centred knowledge systems.

Denise Varney is Professor of Theatre Studies in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne. Her research is in modern and contemporary theatre and performance with published work in the fields of feminism, ecocriticism, and performance affect; theatre and politics; historiography; and the archive. Her essays are published in Theatre Research International, Modern Drama, Contemporary Theatre Review, Performance Research and Australasian Drama Studies. Her books include Patrick White’s Theatre: Australian Modernism on Stage 1960–2018 (2021), Australian Theatre, Patrick White and Modernism: Governing Culture with Sandra D’Urso (2018), Feminist Ecologies: Changing Environments in the Anthropocene with Lara Stevens and Peta Tait (2018), and Performance Feminism and Affect in Neoliberal Times (2017), co-edited with Elin Diamond and Candice Amich. Earlier books include The Dolls’ Revolution: Australian Theatre and Cultural Imagination (with Rachel Fensham 2005), Radical Visions: The Impact of the Sixties on Australian Drama (2011) and Theatre in the Asia Pacific: Regional Modernities in the Global Era (co-authored 2013). Current research is funded through a collaborative Australian Research Council Discovery Project ‘Towards an Australian Ecological Theatre’ (2021–23).

Lara Stevens – Performing with the Invisible: Jill Orr and Air

From the 1970s to her most recent work in 2020, Australian performance artist Jill Orr has placed her body in the Australian landscape, functioning, as she describes it, as an ‘emotional barometer’ of human relations with the environment. This paper explores the ways in which Orr draws attention to what is taken for granted in most performances – air. This paper examines the works Bleeding Trees (1979) and This Tree (2020) in a comparative analysis of early and recent Orr performances. It situates these works within the context of 1970s environmental activism and land art movements and the present-day climate emergency. The methodology draws upon the history of philosophical engagement with air and its circulating particles to argue that Orr’s performances draw attention the human imbrication with the nonhuman world through gesturing toward those invisible conditions for the possibility of all life, air.

Lara Stevens is a Lecturer and ARC Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Melbourne. She is the author of the monograph Anti-War Theatre After Brecht: Dialectical Aesthetics in the Twenty-first Century (Palgrave, 2016), editor and translator (Fre-Eng) of a collection of essays by French feminist Helene CixousPolitics, Ethics and Performance: Helene Cixous and the Theatre du Soleil (, 2016), and co-editor of Feminist Ecologies: Changing Environments in the Anthropocene (Palgrave, 2018) with Professors Peta Tait and Denise Varney. 

Peta Tait – Performing Nonhuman Elements, Air and Bodily Affect

Performance artists who deploy nonhuman elements in contradictory ways create encounters that can fascinate as well as induce aversion. While these contradictory tensions draw attention to human relations with the nonhuman world, they need to highlight human dependency. In particular, reliance on air. Irigaray (1983) explains that air might be essential, but it has been forgotten in the thinking process and within philosophy. Performance outdoors such as Jill Orr’s recent works in site-specific spaces reveal these connections. In Detritus Springs (2018), Orr performed wearing a mask in a smoke-filled, disused factory. Her performance drew attention to the air, visually. Orr’s performance continues to reveal complex interactions between environmental politics and identity politics as it evokes contradictory bodily affects towards the nonhuman.

Peta Tait, Emeritus Professor – La Trobe University, is an academic and playwright and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. She has written over 60 scholarly articles and chapters and recent books include: the authored: Forms of Emotion: Human to Nonhuman in Drama, Theatre and Performance (Routledge 2022); Theory for Theatre Studies: Emotion (2021); the edited, Great European Stage Directors: Antoine, Stanislavski and Saint-Denis, volume one (London: Bloomsbury, 2018); the co-edited Feminist Ecologies: Changing Environments in the Anthropocene (2018); the authored Fighting Nature: Travelling Menageries, Animal Acts and War Shows (Sydney University Press 2016); the co-edited The Routledge Circus Studies Reader.