20 September, 2023 | by Rushi P

Reimagining Theatre Pedagogy in the Era of Climate Crisis, or, Greta Thunberg Goes to Theatre School

What might we teach Swedish student activist Greta Thunberg if she were to choose post-secondary education in theatre? As she says, she has no reason to fear speaking the truth: what approach to acting and theatre-making might we take with someone who declares to an international assembly, “You are not mature enough to tell it like it is; even that burden is left to us children”?[i] We doubt that Thunberg would decide to embark on a program of actor training as part of her university education—she seems headed for a career in politics—but by the law of averages many millions of teenagers who are participating in the world-wide movement of school strikes for climate action will decide to do so. What will we contrive to teach them that will be worthy of the predicament we are in, and the needs they will have in the face of it?

What is the theatre pedagogy of a global emergency? Is there such a thing? How does the point of intersection between theatre pedagogy and practice engage the ‘hyperobject’ (Morton)[ii] that is climate change? One must also ask: does the transformation of planet earth by anthropogenic global warming foreclose all meaningful representation of it, artistic or otherwise? Putting this reasonable objection aside for the moment, co-editors Conrad Alexandrowicz (University of Victoria) and Dr. David Fancy (Brock University) invite proposals from a variety of disciplines that have bearing on this all-encompassing subject for a co-edited collection of essays, provocations, workbooks, formulae and other interventions. This might include inputs from curriculum studies, performance studies, environmental studies, philosophy and aesthetics, psychology and applied theatre, in addition to studies in acting pedagogy, stage design, theory and criticism. (Please note that we have initial interest from a major academic publisher.)

What would it mean in theoretical and practical terms to reimagine and reconfigure the entire ecology of theatre education through the lens forced upon us by the rapid heating of the planet?

Topic areas might include, but are not limited to, the following:

§ Playing the other-than-human as a way to model a transformed relationship to ‘Nature’: what might this mean? What pedagogical and creative lineages support this approach?

§ As Naomi Klein argues in This Changes Everything indigenous peoples are on the front lines of the fight against climate change: “some of the most marginalized people in my country … are taking on some of the wealthiest and most powerful forces on the planet” (379). Are there specific insights, practices, philosophies available in global indigenous communities that may be brought into further conversation with ‘Western’ theatre pedagogies?

§ Climate theatre and/as activism: does the sole remaining respectable function for theatre lie in training to create and perform events such as those staged by the Extinction Rebellion?[iii] protesters? Would these approaches—and only these—satisfy Greta Thunberg and others with her understandably urgent convictions? What are the potentials of theatre as “agitprop” in the third decade of the 21st Century? Alan Filewod writes in the Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism: “Now widely used as a catchall term to describe politically combative or oppositional art, ‘agitprop’ originated from the early Soviet conjunction of propaganda (raising awareness of an issue) and agitation (exciting an emotional response to the issue), as theorized by Lenin in What Is To Be Done (1902) and institutionalized in the many departments and commissions of Agitation and Propaganda in the USSR and the Comintern after the Russian Revolution.”[iv]

§ Climate theatre and/as therapeutic intervention: Students of all ages are experiencing increasing anxiety and depression as a result of the knowledge that their generation will face particularly worsening effects of climate change. Many of the arts are used in therapeutic contexts, such as art therapy and dance therapy. Does this mean acting instructors themselves need new forms of training?

§ Curriculum design: most post-secondary actor training includes at least some devising, even in conservatory settings, including monologues in text-based acting classes, and collaborative pieces arising from movement work. Does the climate crisis necessitate a new ratio of skills acquisition to creative endeavour in order to satisfy the need that theatre serve interventionist aims?

§ The implications for community engagement: how does adapting theatre education for climate action prompt a new notion of outreach on the part of post-secondary institutions into various communities?

§ Aesthetic considerations: politicizing the aesthetic frequently results in art practices marked by didactic qualities or even pedantic dead ends. In what ways can traditional and non-traditional embraces of aesthetic experience at the point of theatre training contribute to more vibrant theatrical practices better able to withstand, as well as guide us through, the emergent crisis of anthropogenic climate change?

§ Indigeneity and creative theatrical practice: are there specific insights, practices, philosophies available in global indigenous communities—from shamanic work to the more traditionally representational work of storytelling and theatre creation—that may be brought into conversation with ‘Western’ theatre pedagogies?

Prospective contributors are asked to submit a 500-word abstract as well as a brief bio—no more than 200 words—to both co-editors no later than September 15, 2019.

CONRAD ALEXANDROWICZ was born in Toronto, and spent many years there and in Vancouver. He holds a BFA in Dance and an MFA in Directing. Over a decades-long career in performance he migrated from dance to theatre, and has been a dancer, choreographer, writer of texts for dance, a playwright, actor and director. For many years he was the artistic director of Wild Excursions Performance, the company he founded to present his work. To date he has created over fifty dance- and physical-theatre works, some of which have been presented across Canada, in New York City, France and the U.K. An associate professor in the Department of Theatre at the University of Victoria, he specializes in movement for actors and physical theatre creation, and continues his explorations into that mysterious territory where movement and text overlap. His writing has been published in Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, the Canadian Journal for Practice-Based Research in Theatre and Studies in Theatre and Performance. His first book, entitled Acting Queer: Gender Dissidence and the Subversion of Realism, is to be published by Palgrave. Email: [email protected]


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Dr. DAVID FANCY is Professor (and past Chair) in the Department of Dramatic Arts, Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts, Brock University. He received his doctoral training at the Samuel Beckett Centre, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland writing on ontologies of stage presence and post-coloniality in the work of playwright Bernard-Marie Koltès and director Patrice Chéreau. His research interests and current publishing deal with questions of ontology, immanence and performance, with a specific interest in immanence and performativity, immanence and performance training, and immanence and technology. His co-edited book Art as Revolt: Thinking Politics Through Immanent Aesthetics has recently appeared with McGill-Queen’s University Press. He is co-editor (with Diana Belshaw) of a special issue of Canadian Theatre Review on the subject of acting training and diversities, and is Editor-in-Chief of the Diversities in Actor Training website that hosts extensive video and textual materials developed by a dozen experts specifically for the website: Fuller CV: Email: [email protected]<mailto:dfancy>