Performances in the wild

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Publication details

Rogers, N 2008, 'Performances in the wild', paper presented to Turangawaewae - A sense of place: Australasian Association for Theatre Drama and Performance Studies Conference, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand, 30 June - 3 July.


In this paper, I compare two different forms of performance, legal performances and performances of protest, directed at preservation of place. I focus on four case studies from the Australian environmental movement. I am interested in the different forms of play characterising and underpinning the rationale for such performances of protest, and performances of law. In performances of protest, play in its pre-rational guise is embraced as a strategy to capture the media’s attention and confound violence against nature. Play, in its ideological association with wilderness, appears in a more solemn guise. Legal performances, on the other hand, rely on a different form of play: a highly serious form of play which is subject to the rules of the game. Legal performances, in contrast to the anarchistic playfulness of many performances of protest, are orderly, predictable and rule-bound. The impulse to preserve place is connected with an ecocentric ideology. Performances of environmental protest frequently involve a physical enactment of such an ideology. Protesters demonstrate a strong and passionate connection to place by interposing their vulnerable bodies between death-dealing machinery and other living non-human species in defiant challenge. In legal performances, on the other hand, the urgent need to save an area of wilderness must be translated into convincing legal arguments; within the framework of law, there is little room for an expression of ecocentric values. Using case studies drawn from the war on the environment, I investigate the relative efficacy and symbolic value of different forms of performance, the playful performance of direct action and the rational performance of law, in countering violence against nature and preserving place.