Drama Research Guide: Theater and Ecology

The following resources will help provide a basis for research on ecologically-aware theater. Though not (yet!) a mainstream topic, information is findable throughout the literature and history of theater with some research persistence. Looking at references and bibliographies in some of the resources below, for example, will help a good deal. Eco-drama/theater is sometimes placed under the "environmental theater" umbrella, the researcher should be aware that the latter term has been used for anything from site-specific or open-space performance, to 'theater as environment' without reference or concern for ecological or sustainable practice.

Resources listed below, if part of the Carnegie Mellon Library collections, are noted by location.

Practical Guides

Jones, Ellen E. A Practical Guide to Greener Theatre: Introduce Sustainability Into Your Productions. Burlington, MA : Focal Press, 2014
HUNT STACKS-4 PN2053 .J623X 2014

Fried, Larry K. and May, Theresa. Greening up Our Houses: A Guide to a More Ecologically Sound Theatre. New York: Drama Book Publishers, 1994.
HUNT STACKS-4 PN2053 .F74 1994

Contents: Part 1: Key Concepts for Going Green; Part II: What Can My Department Do? Part III:Materials, Products and Alternatives (a wide ranging discussion from make-up and shoe polish to special effects, office supplies, paints, etc.). Appendices include a list of common toxic substances, alternative suppliers and manufacturers, resources for technical and regulatory assistance and a bibliography.

Rossol, Monona. The Health & Safety Guide for Film, TV & Theater. New York: Allworth Press, 2000.
HUNT FA-REF-4 RC965 .T54 R668 2000

An introduction to facts, precautions and prescriptions on everything from attitudes and psychological stress to biohazards. Includes sections on fog, pyro and other special effects, theater crafts, materials, chemicals, machinery, shop safety, makeup, safety codes, laws and regulations, reproductive hazards, air quality and ventilation, humans with sensitivities and disabilities and more.

Touzeau, Jeff. The Green Musician's Guide: Sound Ideas for a Sound Planet. Cengage Learning, 2011.

Chapters: Environmental Issues We All Face and Changes in the Music Business. Establishing Sustainable Practices on the Road. Tools of the Trade: Sustainable Instruments, Equipment and Accessories. Sustainable Recording Studios.


Try beginning with following indexes and databases to find plays and related information on the environment and the performing arts. You might start by using keywords that express various concepts and derivatives of the words environment including environment, ecology, nature, land, sustainable, 'place in literature' etc., paired with words like theater/theatre, performance, performance art, events, dance, music etc.). Ask for additional assistance at the Arts Reference Desk or contact Mo Dawley , Art and Drama Librarian.

Ashden Directory: Bringing Together Environmentalism and the Performing Arts (UK) Robert Butler and Wallace Heim, eds.

Search this free-web directory by using a keyword search and/or use the browse mode to get detailed information on individuals, themes, plays, productions/projects. Also available on this site is a "magazine" section with related links, essays and interviews, funding opportunities, and news. First launched in 2000 and funded by the Ashden Trust.

International Bibliography of Theatre and Dance with Full-Text

The online edition of the scholarly International Bibliography of Theatre.

IIPA: International Index to the Performing Arts

Database indexes articles (1988-present) from more than 140 international performing arts periodicals from 9 countries, and also indexes feature performing arts articles and obituaries appearing in The New York Times and The Washington Post. Covers all aspects of the world of the performing arts, except music. Both scholarly and popular subjects are addressed. Most entries include an abstract in addition to the citation. The retrospective database draws citations from 46 periodicals and dates back to 1864. A minority of articles are full-text PDF.

Play Index Online (available to Carnegie Mellon users)

Cites plays in published sources (1949-present) by subject, author, title, style, genre, cast type and more with plot summaries and musical, cast and scenery requirements. Includes one-act plays, pageants, plays in verse, radio and television plays and classic drama. Links to selected full-text plays on the web.

To see if a play in Play Index is accessible via Carnegie Mellon Libraries check Cameo (library catalog).
To request a play for the University Libraries play collection contact Mo Dawley, Art and Drama Librarian.

Alexander Street Press Plays Online
Full-text plays online available to Carnegie Mellon users and also linked in Cameo (library catalog).
As of this writing, the subject indexes of these databases don't indicate plays on the environment as such, but words within the text of the plays are fully searchable. For example, a keyword search on "nature" in Asian American Drama reveals a number of scenes from various plays referring to concept of "nature."

Twentieth Century North American Drama is a growing full-text database, currently containing 850 plays including the complete works of major playwrights as well as plays by emerging playwrights. Searchable by keyword, author, play title, characters, scenes, subjects, years, productions, theaters, and companies. Additional information on playwrights, theaters, companies, productions and performances is included along with a selection of playbills, posters and other ephemera.

Asian American Drama
Contains the full-text of 250 plays by Asian American playwrights. It is searchable by author, play title, characters, scenes, subjects, years, productions, theatres, and companies. The database also contains playwright biographies, details on productions, theatres and theatrical companies, as well as production photographs, selected playbills and other information related to the plays.

Black Drama
Contains the full-text of 1200 plays by black playwrights. It is searchable by author, play title, characters, scenes, subjects, years, productions, theatres, and companies, including related resource and biographical information.

North American Women's Drama
over 1,500 full-text plays by women from colonial times to the present. Allows in-depth browsing and searching; includes detailed information on related productions, theaters, production companies and and more. Plays were selected by the Alexander Street Press editorial board using recognized play bibliographies and in consultation with other scholars and playwrights.

Selected Books and Journal Articles
The following are some key texts with useful bibliographies and/or play/performance references.

Cless, Downing. Ecology and Environment in European Drama. New York: Routledge, 2010.
HUNT STACKS-4 PN1650 .E26 C54 2010
Contents: Greek tragedy -- Aristophanes' The Birds --From Menander to moralities -- Marlow's Doctor Faustus -- Shakespeare's A midsummer night's dream and The tempest -- From Renaissance to romanticism --Ibsen and Dhekhov -- Giraudoux's The madwoman of Chaillot --Brecht, Becket, and beyond -- a conclusion.

Kershaw, Baz. Theatre Ecology: Environments and Performance Events. Cambridge;New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
HUNT STACKS-4 PN1643 .K48 2007

Kershaw, Professor of Performance, School of Theatre, Performance and Cultural Policy Studies at the University of Warwick, and director and writer in experimental, radical and community-based theatre examines the political and environmental aspects of the performing arts and with an underlying question: "What are the challenges to theatre and purposes of performance in an ecologically threatened world?"

Maranca, Bonnie. Ecologies of Theatre: Essays at the Century Turning. New York: Routledge, 1996.
HUNT STACKS-2 PN1861 .M36 1996

An anthology of reflections, criticism and performance/play analysis by (and one interview with) Maranca (a.k.a. publisher of PAJ: Performing Arts Journal) from the mid-seventies to 1995. The anthology means to document Maranca's embracing "recognition of an ecosystem as part of a cultural system and of natural history as inseparable from the history of the world." Partial contents include essays on the Gertrude Stein, The Mus/ecology of John Cage, Robert Wilson: Dramaturgy as Ecology and The Forest; The Autobiology of Rachel Rosenthal; Despoiled Shores: Heiner Muller's Natural History Lessons; Theater and the University, Garden/Theater and Isak Dinesen.
History, memory, ecology (social, political, theatrical and the earth), the body (self, social, as text, a continent, Gaia), geography, territorial expansion, ethics, landscape, place, the pastoral, international culture and events, war, gender, oppression, nuclear theater, spectacle, religion, spirituality, shamanism, theater and the everyday, plate techtonics, chaos theory, aging, decay, planned obsolesence and sports are some of the concepts discussed or introduced.

May, Theresa. Theatre in the Wild: Rediscovering the Spiritual Purpose of Theatre Through Stories that Give Meaning to Existence from In Context: A Quarterly of Humane Sustainable Culture issue "Earth and Spirit" (IC#24), Late Winter, 1990.

Brief article online about how ancient theater played a "crucial, spiritual purpose within the community" rooted in a deep connection with the land.

May, Theresa. Greening the Theater: Taking Ecocriticism from Page to Stage

May, Theresa Joette. Earth Matters: Ecology and American Theatre. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Washington, School of Drama, 2000.

Recommended for anyone interested in understanding some basic concepts about culture and the environment, and how the American theatre has represented and participated in perceptual and cultural constructs that 'have brought us to our present environmental crisis.' May, a playwright, director and author traces American theatre through "the closure of the frontier, the beginning of the conservation movement, the New Deal era, the rise of post-consumer culture and the 20th century green revolution" mainly through the following plays or musical theatre, and brings them within cultural historical, industrial, political, scientific, and literary context; good wide-ranging interdisciplinary bibliography.
The author focuses on the following plays to advance her thesis:
(John)Augustin Daly. Horizon (1871) ; William F. (Bill) Cody. Wild West (1883-1906); William Vaughn Moody. The Great Divide (1906); David Belasco. Girl of the Golden West (1929); Federal Theatre Project's Living Newspapers Power (1937) ; Triple-A Plowed Under (1936); Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. Oklahoma (1943); Arthur Miller. Death of a Salesman (1949);Samuel Beckett. End Game (1958); Raisin in the Sun (1959); Living Theatre's Frankenstein (1965); Lanford Wilson Angels Fall (1982); Robert Schenkkan. The Kentucky Cycle (1993); Anne Galjour, Alligator Tales Lynn Riggs, Green Grow the Lilacs;

Roth, Moira, ed. Rachel Rosenthal. Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press. 1997
HUNT STACKS-4 NX512 .R68 R3 1997

An anthology of writings on and by the "grandmother" of performance art and ecofeminst; includes interviews. Rosenthal's concern about healing and human relationship to the earth is a main component of her work: "All of Gaia dances in harmony and we humans are the only ones out of step."

Schechner, Richard. Environmental Theater : An Expanded New Edition Including "Six Axioms for Environmental Theater." New York : Applause, 1994.
HUNT STACKS-4 PN2297 .P4 S3 1994

First published as Environmental Theater ( New York, Hawthorn Books, 1973).
Presents theater, life and ecology as symbiotic, interconnected "complex systems of transformation." Contains a good bibliography for anyone interested in researching environmental theater in terms of explorations of space, participation, nakedness, performer, shaman, therapy, playwright, groups and director. The author is responsible for introducing the term and concept "environmental theater" in this new light beginning in the 1970s.

Sullivan Jr., Garrett A. The Drama of Landscape: Land Property and Social Relations on the Early Modern Stage. Stanford: Stanford University, 1998.
HUNT STACKS-2 PR658 .L35 S85 1998

A study of human relationships to the land, (concepts of landscape, land "management", society, space, identity) in 16th and 17th century English drama in reference to the country estate, roads, maps and the city. The introduction contains a good discussion on landscape as a human construct. Plays discussed include Arden of Faversham ; Woodstock (1592); Shakespeare's Henry IV (1597), King Lear (1605), Cymbeline (1609) , and Richard II (1595); Richard Brome's A Jovial Crew (1641); Thomas Heywood's Edward IV (1599).

Szerszynksi, Bronislaw, Heim, Wallace and Waterton, Claire. Nature Performed: Environment Culture and Performance. Oxford ; Malden, MA : Blackwell Pub./Sociological Review, 2003.

Produced as a result of collaborations and conversations during Between Nature: Explorations in Ecology and Performance the first major international conference for theatre and ecology held at Lancaster University, UK. Center for the Study of Environmental Change and Department of Theater Studies.


Special Issues

Art Environment Ecology. High Performance. 10:4, 1987, 22-59.
7 article special section on performance and eco-theatre. A classic special issue and perhaps one of the first peformance journals to dedicate an issue to the environmental crisis.

Theater and Ecology Theater, Spring Summer 25:1. 1994
6 article special issue.
Erika Munk: A Beginning and an End: Green Thoughts; Una Chaudhuri. "There Must be a Lot of Fish in That Lake" : Toward an Ecological Theater; John Bell. Uprising of the Beast: An Interview with Peter Schumann ; Elinor Fuchs. Play as Landscape: Another Version of Pastoral; Gabrielle Barnett. Performing for the Forest ; Sheila Rabillard. Fen and the Production of a Feminist Ecotheater.

Selected Articles

Research Hint:
Try browsing PAJ: Performing Arts Journal for articles with consistent and wide-ranging themes on peformance and the environment, ethics, politics and society. Paper copy is available in Hunt Library and full-text html or PDF articles are available to Carnegie Mellon users through Project Muse, 1996-present.

Rundle, Erika. Performance and Evolution. PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 27:2 (2005) 114-119.
Review of Jane R. Goodall's book Performance and Evolution in the Age of Darwin: Out of the Natural Order ( London and New York: Routledge, 2002).

Jacobson, Lynn. Green Theatre: Confessions of an Eco-reporter. American Theatre, 8:11, February 1992, 17-25.

Cless, Downing. Eco-Theatre, USA: The Grassroots is Greener.
TDR: The Drama Review, 40:2, Summer 1996, 79-102.

Hollywood's Next Green Generation (in GRIST 8/09)

Artists and Organizations

Bread and Puppet Theatre

Founded in 1962 by Peter Schuman; Obie Award winning. One of the oldest non-profit, self-supporting theatrical companies in the U.S; addresses social, political and environmental issues through spectacle and other productions. As of this writing, there is no official web site. A search on Bread and Puppet theater in any search engine will bring up numerous web sites. Try beginning with the following:


Ronald T. Simon & Marc Estrin. Rehearsing with Gods: Photographs and Essays on the Bread and Puppet Theater. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Co, 2004.
HUNT STACKS-4 PN2297 .B7 S56 2004
An amazing collection of photographs taken from 1983-2003 by Canadian photographer Simon who first attended Bread and Puppet Theater in 1979; and written by Estrin a puppeteer, writer, cellist and activist. The black and white images give an excellent sense of how powerful theater can be when spectacle is performed with the heart and in the land.

Art in the Public Interest

"A non-profit organization that supports the belief that the arts are an integral part of a healthy culture, and that community-based arts provide significant value both to communities and artists." This link describes past projects and publications, and archives the communityartsnetwork api news from its inception to 2010. Contact information is provided.

ASLE: Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment

Founded in 1992 "to promte the exchange of ideas and information through literature and other cultural representations that consider human relationships with the natural world." Hosts a website with news and information about ASLE, educational resources including a syllabi database, and numerous blogs. Also holds a biennial conference and regional symposiums.

Broadway Green Alliance

"An industry-wide initiative that educates, motivates, and inspires the entire theatre community and its patrons to adopt environmentally friendlier practices."

CSPA: The Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts

Founded by Ian Garrett and Miranda Wright in 2008; gathers and distributes information and develops initiatives to enable sustainable practices while maintaining artistic excellence."

EMOS: Earth Matters On Stage

Established in 2004 in an "effort to bring focus and development to "ecodrama" an emerging genre of theatre." Produces the Ecodrama Playwrights Festival and Redwood Festival of New Plays

Evergreen Theatre Society

Live children's theatre to educate audiences about science, nature and the environment.


Hazel Wolf Environmental Film Network

Non-profit organization "dedicated to improving the quality and effective use of environmental media."

iLAND: Interdisciplinary Laboratory for Art, Nature and Dance

Dance research organization investigating "the power of dance, in collaboration with other fields, to illuminate our kinetic understanding of the world...cultivates cross-disciplinary research among artists, environmentalists, scientists, urban designers and other fields." Offers residencies and holds an annual iLAND Symposium.

Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival

Showcase films and performances on the environment.

The Living Theater

Socially conscious theater since 1947. Web site includes descriptions and scripts of productions, an historical overview and bibliography. Holds workshops.

Mabou Mines

Avant-guard theater since 1970. Web site Lists its many productions (with some descriptions). Has artist residency program.
Here's on example of an eco-theatrical production:
Animal Magnetism (2000):
" Take one environmentally-sensitive chimpanzee, add a rhinocerous with shady business dealings, stir in a generous dollop of live music, plenty of animation and you have the recipe for Animal Magnetism, a raucous love story. Cheri (the chimp) and Tin Tin′s passion plays out on the ground--often amidst giant cartoon projections of themselves--as well as in the air. They soar and swoop and swoon in awe-inspiring aerial pas de deux. More than a love story, Animal Magnetism is also an allegory. It points out our species′ insatiable appetite for destroying natural reasources and the glaring disparities between the first and third worlds. this socio-political- erotico live-action cartoon is one you won't see on Disney anytime soon!"

Ecocentric: Overground Physical Theatre Company (website not currently known)

"Ecocentric is an experimental performance that brings together dance, theatre and video artists from all over the world to consider the notion of mankind’s “homecoming” to the Earth. The play tells the story of nine contemporary women through allegory, fantasy, and postmodern wit. Even though the women live in the same urban apartment building, managed with mysterious doorman, singing elevator and mythical garbage-collector, they are unaware of each other’s existence. Trapped in their consumerist lifestyles, they have reduced their communication to absurd speech, movement, and sound, which serves as a symbol of the artificial reality in which they exist. The stage ignites with Balkan musical folklore, cosmic rhythms, and modern and ritualistic movements to depict the women’s travel through real and imaginary spaces. As the characters understand that they have abandoned true identities for false goals, they grow into vessels of true wisdom and happiness.“Eccocentric,” is the ecology of consciousness – the broken link between man, nature, and the spiritual."

Precipice Theatre Society (website not currently known)

"Acting to make a difference in our environment"

San Francisco Mime Troupe (not pantomime)

This is ensemble theater specializing in social and political satire, begun as an experiment of the Actor's Workshop in 1959. Mime is meant here "in its classical and original definition, ‘the exaggeration of daily life in story and song.” The website includes a schedule of events, history, an archives, extensive activist links, and information about internships and workshops.

Wan Smolbag Theatre

Writes and produces a large number of plays, drama sketches, and participatory drama workshops providing a greater understanding of social and environmental issues in the South Pacific.

Conferences, Symposiums, Exhibitions

ASLE: Association for the Study of Literature and the Enviroment
Tenth Biennial Conference: "Changing Nature: Migrations, Energies, Limits"

University of North Texas, Denton, TX
May 28 - June 1, 2013

EMOS:Earth Matters on Stage
Mission is to "nurture connection and collaboration among aratists and scholars who share an ecological sensibility."

enterchange: Performance and Nature (curated by Wallace Heim


Go Green With Wolf Trap (Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts)


Conference: Sustainability in Theater: People, Planet, Profit, Purpose

April 30-May 1, 2012

Mo Dawley, Art and Drama Librarian
August 2015
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