Towards an Australian Ecological Theatre

This project explores how the Australian performing arts is responding to the climate emergency and how human interactions with the natural world have been represented historically on Australian stages since the 1950s.

Climate Guardians at Crib Point, Victoria, 22 February 2021
Climate Guardians at Crib Point, Victoria, joining a protest against a proposed AGL floating gas terminal, 22 February 2021. Photograph courtesy of Julian Meehan.

Towards an Australian Ecological Theatre is an Australian Research Council-funded project (2021-2024) which seeks to document and investigate a corpus of work it names Australian Ecological Theatre and Performance. It considers how the unique diversity of Australia’s flora, fauna and landscapes play a generative role in the history and aesthetics of the nation’s theatre. From here, it considers the vibrant new creative work being developed and staged in response to a heightened cultural awareness of climate change, habitat loss and species extinction.

Many today argue that sluggish or ineffectual responses to the climate emergency are the result of a cultural crisis, not a lack of scientific or technological know-how. The project thus explores how theatre and performance stage dominant Australian cultural attitudes towards the environment, climates and other species. It provides accounts of how theatre condenses overwhelming events, such as environmental catastrophes into salient theatrical images that resonate emotionally with daily life. The team asks: how do theatre and performance mediate the impacts of ecological concerns including large scale weather events, species endangerment or extinction, pandemics, food and water insecurity for its audiences over time and to what effect? How does theatre give expression to and navigate the range of emotions that accompany such change and loss? What performative techniques are favoured by activist performances in public spaces that critique a lack of leadership for climate action?

Aims of the project
  • To collate and analyse a corpus of work we catagorise as ‘Australian Ecological Theatre and Performance’
  • To discover the thematic, aesthetic and dramaturgical innovations in response to the challenge of representing the natural environment and its transformations
  • To investigate how contemporary performance represents the range of human emotions (denial, anger, fear, enchantment, hope etc.) that accompany changing environments and their social impacts
  • To situate Australian theatrical and performative responses to environmental crises and relations within the global interdisplinary field of Theatre and Performance Studies

Project details


ARC Discovery Project. Funding commencement: 2021 (active)

Administering organisation

The University of Melbourne

Research partners

La Trobe University
Royal Holloway, University of London
City University of New York

Project team

Professor Denise Varney (University of Melbourne)
Professor Peta Tait (La Trobe University)
Professor Peter Eckersall (CUNY)
Professor Jennifer Parker-Starbuck (Royal Holloway)
Dr Lara Stevens (Charles Sturt University)
Dr Kyle Harvey (University of Melbourne)