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Environmental Theatre!
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I. ORIGIN
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A. Where did it come from? How did it gain popularity?
1. The ideas and concepts were present through the beginning of the 20th century as a
revolt against standard proscenium staging. Early pioneers included:
a) Appia, Fuchs, Meyerhold
b) Reinhardt and Piscator in Germany
c) Copeau and Saint-Denis in France
d) Ohklopkov in Russia.
2. It encompasses other forms of experimental theatre (like site-specific, happenings, or
performance art) and could be thought of as more of an approach than a pure form of
theatre (for example, see point C.3.e. below)
3. In the beginning, open space or black box theaters were converted and utilized as
neutral grounds where actors interpenetrated the audience to optimize the uniqueness
of each spectators view (Chambers 253)
4. Sometimes pursues theatrical activity through non-theatrical spaces
a) street, market place, public squares
b) site-specific theatre
5. The experimental movement died throughout the 1940s but was brought back by the
environmental stagings of Grotowski.
6. The term environmental theatre gained momentum in the 1960s and 1970s thanks to
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B. Richard Schechner
1. Although elements of environmental theatre can be found throughout history, Schechner
popularized the movement and gave it vocabulary.
2. He was inspired by artists like Cage and Allan Kaprow who integrated audiences into their
work (Happenings) and was known for his work with the Performance Garage in NYC.
3. His journal entry, Six Axioms for Environmental Theatre was published in The Drama
Review and include:
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ONE: The Theatrical Event is a set of related transactions.
TWO: All the Space is used for performance; all the space is used for audience.
THREE: The Theatrical Event can take place either in a totally transformed space
or in a found space.
FOUR: Focus is flexible and variable
FIVE: All production elements speak in their own language.
SIX: The text need be neither the starting point nor the goal of the production/
may be none at all.
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C. More from Schechner:
1. SPACE
The fullness of space, the endless ways space can be transformed, articulated,
animated - that is the basis of environmental theatre design. It is also the source
of environmental theatre training
- R. Schechner
a) Living space: all the space in theatre (not just the stage). The goal is to create, USE,
and actively involve whole spaces.
b) Adaptable space is used in combination with progression of time. It can be broken
into many spaces, used with hidden spaces, sequenced to tell the story.
c) Audience is free to sit anywhere, may move around, but should follow action. This is
meant to give each audience member a unique experience and perspective.
d) Design is a HUGE component and can get complicated.
e) Space and performance developed together. Schechner would hold rehearsals in
partially finished environments because the performers choices, movements, and
characterizations would influence the construction.
human beings and space are both alive (Schechner 12)
They would structure their space based off of the performers energies
2. PARTICIPATION
a) Spectators become part of the performance because you see them TOO; their
energies feed into the performance. Spectators always have the option of falling back
to the perimeter to hide/detach from the main action.
b) INTERACTION strengthens the theatrical idea of community, social feeling, and it
provides the opportunity to humanize relationships between performers and
spectators (Schechner 60) and encourages immediate feedback
c) Schechners three rules: 1. Things may happen to and with them as well as in front
of them. 2. The performer must be prepared to accept and deal with the spectators
choices and reactions. 3. Participation should not be gratuitous.
3. NAKEDNESS
a) This is prevalent in many environmental pieces.
b) Evokes vulnerability and is sometimes though of as a costume within itself.
4. THE PERFORMER
a) the environmental performer always concentrates on the PROCESS vs. destination.
b) Four SIMULTANEOUS steps scripted by Schechner: Getting in touch with yourself,
getting in touch with yourself face-to-face with others, relating to others WITHOUT
narrative, relating to others WITHIN narrative or other formalized structures.
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D. First producing groups
1. Schechners work and the Performance Garage
a) Ionescos Victims of Duty (1967) first produced in New Orleans. (perfume released,
performers touched the audience, and forcefully fed them bread)
b) Associated with the Performing Garage group in NYC who produced Dionysius
(1969): designed by Jerry Rojo who became closely associated with environmental
theatrical designs for the next decade
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2. Experimental companies associated with producing forms of environmental theatre
include: Living Theatre, Bread & Puppet, Open Theatre, the Manhattan Project
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3. 1960s/1970s saw the peak of environmental theatre:
a) Policitally active theatre groups charged the movement who started performing in the
streets and factories to reach new audiences
b) Contemporary choreographers of the time included Ann Halprin, Trisha Brown, and
Meredith Monk
c) Landmark productions include Ronconis Orlando Furioso (1969), the Thtre de
Soleils 1789 (1970), Brooks Orghast (1971), and Robert Wilsons Ka Mountain (1972)
d) 1980s major directors like Eugenio Barba, Ronconi, and Armand Gatti started
focusing on environmental productions.
e) A popularly discussed 1990s avant-garde production, The Law of Remains, created
by Reza Abdoh, used an environmental approach but is considered experimental
theatre.
f) Other examples: Song of Singapore, Tony n Tinas Wedding, even elements of HAIR
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CASE STUDY: John Krizancs Tamara
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II. AUDIENCE RECEPTION
A. Success
1. Creates an immediacy in spectator-connection and commentary
2. Visceral reactions and incorporation of all the senses
3. Extended runs in current productions
B. Questions/Doubts
1. Many regular theatre-goers who were used to the orthodox walk-in-and-sit-down style
of performance would feel embarrassed by what they feel in environmental theatre.
2. Safety: best preserved when nothing is concealed or disguised.
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III. Whats happening NOW because of it?
A. Current examples of productions with environmentalist qualities:
1. Sleep No More (Lack of speech, quick paced movement, choose your own adventure,
lavish multi-story, multi-room set, nudity, smell, use of an opening environment like the
speakeasy) (Zach Martens)
2. Play/Date at Fat Baby (listening into the lives of the dating couples, ability to order from
the bar and dance during the show, audience interaction with performers, choose your
own adventure). (Ben Maters)
B. How does it fit into the business currently? Hard to bill, but successful by word of mouth.
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Environmental Theatre Bibliography

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Brustein, Robert. Revolution as Theatre. Liveright Corporation, 1970. Print.

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Chambers, Colin, and Credo Reference (Firm). The Continuum Companion to Twentieth

Century Theatre. New York: Continuum, 2002. Print.

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Grazul, Chirs. Personal Interview. Plans for Shakespeare in your Living Room. 30 September

2014.

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Maters, Ben. Personal Interview. Experience with 3-Legged Dog and PLAY/DATE. 30

September 2014.

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Nelson, Steve. Redecorating the Fourth Wall: Environmental Theatre Today. 33 Vol. New York,

N. Y: MIT Press, 1989. Print.

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Rojo, Jerry. "Interview: Environmental Theatre." Performing Arts Journal 1.1 (1976): 20-8. Print.

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Schechner, Richard. Environmental Theatre. Applause Theatre & Cinema, 1972. Print.

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Schechner, Richard. "6 Axioms for Environmental Theatre." The Drama Review: TDR 12.3

(1968): 41-64. Print.