This isolation, however, is by no means due to the nature of theatre itself. After all, Greek tragedy, and thereby European theatre as a whole, once emerged from the Dionysian chants of horse- and goat-like characters. The great dramatic traditions of China, Japan, Bali and India – compared to which western theatre can sometimes look quite underdeveloped – abound with more-than-human characters. For us, however, they represent hardly anything more than religious folklore and an exotic decoration. Because only people can act, right?
It is, however, not only theatre that has separated ‘nature’ from us as something alien and extrinsic. It is our civilisation as a whole. We are used to dividing science neatly into natural sciences and humanities; one dealing with physical objects, the other with societies and mental processes – as if we could insert a concrete wall between our bodies and our minds. We treat the outside world as a disposable mass for our insatiable economic system which is transforming the living world each and every day into mountains of dead commodities. We are fondling our beloved pet dogs while at the same time devouring steaks that originate from the nightmare of the slaughter factories which, for their part, are fed from the burning forests of the Amazon. – Surely, there are no other protagonists than us. Or is there anybody else?
However, what has been split off and repressed as ‘nature’ returns centre stage as the protagonist of the 21st century: storms that no Prospero is able to control, floods that no Hercules can embank, blazing heat from which there is no shelter anymore, pandemics emerging from the excrement of bats who are fleeing from the ravaged woods. What is approaching us, has no human shape. It is different. And still it acts. Does theatre have anything serious to say about this? Is it, while our civilisation has started to fall apart, going to find a new language and form? Or will it just go down with all the rest, wriggling and shouting in closed spaces?
Fabian Scheidler is a German writer, playwright, dramaturg and journalist. His books include ‘The End of the Megamachine. A Brief History of a Failing Civilisation,’ analysing the origins of global crises, and ‘Chaos. Das neue Zeitalter der Revolutionen’ (Chaos. The New Age of Revolutions).