Megan De Roover | Theatre Journal
Trees are ubiquitous in theatre: both living and representational trees serve regularly as backdrops, scenery, props, and metaphors. Likewise, trees are ubiquitous in everyday life, frequently reduced to backdrops or resources in much the same manner. The simultaneous inclusion and overlooking of trees in theatrical and performance events prompts a need for critical attention that does not automatically objectify trees or recruit them solely to symbolize human stories. Covering the history and use of trees in theatre, then moving to living trees as beings engaged in arboreal repertoire, this essay introduces and makes visible the nonhuman participation in embodied human/nonhuman performance events. Three case studies illustrate instances where trees can be seen as participants in performances of human history, memory, and witnessing: the Anne Frank Tree and its saplings; the ancient bristlecone pine known as Methuselah; and carved quaking aspen groves. Establishing trees and plants as co-participants in performance events takes an imaginative leap forward, towards an understanding of human/nonhuman encounters as mutual and based in shared experience. Such a perspective, the essay argues, shifts theatrical criticism and analysis from inherently privileging the human to a mode of critical engagement that acknowledges and values the contributions that nonhumans, such as trees, make in performance events.