‘Theater and the Anthropocene’ seeks to teach environmentalism through performance


This theater class, taught by Professor Lindsay Cummings in the Fine Arts Resource Center, seeks to teach environmentalism through performance. (Aaron Yao/The Daily Campus)

This theater class, taught by Professor Lindsay Cummings in the Fine Arts Resource Center, seeks to teach environmentalism through performance. (Aaron Yao/The Daily Campus)

The University of Connecticut School of Fine Arts is offering a class focused on teaching environmentalism through theater performance.

The class, titled “Theater and the Anthropocene: Staging Climate Change,” is open to all students regardless of their major and is this semester’s focus in a class called “Period Studies” that rotates topics.

“Usually the (period studies) class looks at an era of theater’s history, but I thought, ‘why not think about the period of the anthropocene?’ So that was the idea,” Lindsay Cummings, creator and professor of the class, said.

The anthropocene is the Earth’s current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment, according to dictionary.com.

Cummings said the class explores how to use theater, a human art form, to showcase and explain aspects of the natural world.

“What we’re doing in the course is we’re thinking about things like how does theater, which is a deeply human art form, represent the natural world, and what are the ways that we might be able to do that in a way that does come back to human meaning and anthropomorphizing the environment,” Cummings said. “How do you represent the outdoors on stage in an indoor, closed theater?”

The class seeks to answer whether theater can help humanity think about why it’s so hard for humans to address climate change, Cummings said. It doesn’t currently have a performance component to it and is based around reading plays, watching performances and writing about them.

However, the class does have a creative assignment where students could theoretically write a scene or perform a monologue. Cummings is also hoping to Skype in a class from Cornell University that developed a play based on climate change.

Cummings said her class offers students a lens into how climate change is affecting other countries, as most of the plays they read are from places such as Australia and Canada that are experiencing climate change more directly than the United States.

“It’s another way of exploring the issue from the lens of other countries who are experiencing things like arctic ice melt or extreme heat or drought, and to get a global perspective on these issues through art,” Cummings said. “A lot of the students said to me that they hadn’t really encountered any theater about environmental issues before, and I think that’s partly living in the United States and having the privilege to not encounter that.”

Cummings said the class combines interests that people generally see as separate from each other.

“Often, we think that our different interests are separate elements of our lives, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t come together,” Cummings said. “We have students in the class who come in and say ‘I’ve never heard about theater and climate change, and I’m interested in theater and care about this issue.’”

Cummings said she hopes climate-focused theater allows people to begin having conversations about climate change that they are not normally able to have.

“I think the environmental crises that we face are overwhelming for many of us, and we don’t know how to think about them or talk about them, and when we do try to talk about them it’s very uncomfortable,” Cummings said. “And I think all forms of art give us a way to do that, and help us think there is a way to do that, to talk about it.”

Gabriella DeBenedictis is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at gabriella.debenedictis@uconn.edu.

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