The University of New England
The Posthumanist Playwright: Experimenting with Eco-Critical Dramaturgy in The Tiniest Thing
Over the past 20 years, according to Mohebat Ahmadi, Australian drama has undergone a “representational shift” (2017) in exploring environmental themes, as the nonhuman forces of Nature increasingly affect the material realities of human characters on stage, usually within the context of climate change. Yet coupled with this shift has been a wide diversity of dramatic forms employed by Australian playwrights approaching this issue, from earnest realism (Ian Meadows’ Between Two Waves) to absurdist farce (Stephen Carleton’s The Turquoise Elephant) to black political satire (David Finnigan’s Kill Climate Deniers). As a playwright myself, I too have grappled with how best to dramatize a phenomenon that often seems beyond the scope of human-centred “drama”. At the same time, the Anthropocene is by definition a human-created problem, and the emotional impact of our doom-laden future bears a tangible human effect. When choosing a form, then, for my own new play about climate change, something of a balance seemed important to me: a human-centred approach that might nonetheless let the outside world in. This paper outlines my dramaturgical experiments in writing my resulting new play The Tiniest Thing: a middle-class Australian family drama that is rudely interrupted by the natural world. As a forest emerges from a pantry, long grass appears beneath the living room carpet, and dead birds begin to fall from the ceiling, the human characters remain caught up in their own family tragedy. Ultimately concerned with the politics of perception, The Tiniest Thing asks: Do we always choose what we want to believe? And how might rigid ideologies become our own hamartia? Although the play remains in development, I offer these experiments as one playwright’s approach to bringing an eco-critical dramaturgy to a new Australian play.
Ahmadi, Mohebat. “Towards an Eco-Critical Theatre: Staging the Anthropo(s)cene.” PhD thesis, University of Melbourne, 2017, http://hdl.handle.net/11343/190775.
Richard Jordan is a playwright and Lecturer in Theatre Studies at the University of New England. His plays have garnered several awards and honours, including the Australian Theatre Festival NYC New Play Award (The Tiniest Thing, 2020), the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award (25 Down, 2009), the Lord Mayor’s Award for Best New Australian Work (Machina, 2015), three Matilda awards (2009; 2015), and a Creative Fellowship at the MacDowell Colony, New Hampshire (2013). His PhD (UQ, 2015) identified a new genre of theatre called posthuman drama. He is currently expanding his thesis into a monograph on posthumanist approaches to dramatic form.