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Re-Place

Irish Theatre Environments

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Lisa FitzGerald

What role does nature play in the cultural world of the theatre? Is the auditorium not a natural environment, and how can theatre and nature aesthetics co-exist in the productive expression of performance? Re-Place: Irish Theatre Environments proposes a new way of thinking about Irish theatre: one that challenges established boundaries between nature and culture and argues for theatre performances to be seen as conceptual ecological environments. Broadening the scope of theatre environments to encompass radiophonic and digital spaces, Re-Place is a timely interrogation of how we understand performance history. This book examines the work, both as text and in production, of three canonical Irish playwrights, J. M. Synge, Samuel Beckett and Brian Friel, and looks at how theatre documentation can further the idea of a natural performance environment. The questions under consideration extend Irish theatre history into the field of the environmental humanities and draw on new materialist discourse to offer exciting and innovative ways to approach performance.

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Chapter 1: Introduction: Conceptual Ecological Environments

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CHAPTER 1

Introduction: Conceptual Ecological Environments

How we image a thing, true or false, affects our conduct toward it, the conduct of nations as well as persons.

— LAWRENCE BUELL (1995)

The rawhide sandals (pampooties) worn by the Aran Islanders were adapted for use on a specific terrain.1 The coarse animal hair on the outside of the sandal offered better traction on the bog and shoreline topography while the soft sole protected the animal hides that stretched over the wooden frames of the local fishing vessels or currachs. But the most curious feature of this footwear was the fact that they needed to be ‘wetted with water before being put on’ and, during the course of their use (which averaged about a month), they were to be kept damp to ‘preserve their flexibility’.2 These sandals were what John Millington Synge insisted on bringing to Dublin for the 1904 opening production of his play Riders to the Sea. For the author, the play was about an authentic rendering of a declining way of life. In the original Abbey production that diligence was illustrated in his determination to forgo Dublin-made costumes in favour of having authentic clothing sent from the islands.3 Although these were destined to be theatrical props which, by their very nature, are for symbolical rather ← 1 | 2 → than practical use, their relevance lay in their authenticity: they were the actual items used on the island. Rather than painting...

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