"I am trying to re-discover the possibility of a relation to air." 1
We spend our lives reliant on a world that provides us with food, water, and the very air we breathe. Yet, despite the fact that we take in around 250 million litres of air over the course of our lifetimes, its presence is easily overlooked. Invisible and ungraspable, the air rarely intrudes itself on our attention – even now, when current levels of urban and domestic pollution mean that an element that we must consume to survive might simultaneously be poisoning us.2 For scientific, technological, and medical responses to the threat of air pollution to be most effective, this situation urgently needs to change.
Our AHRC-funded project, Atmospheric Theatre: Open-Air Performance and the Environment, explores how written and performed open-air drama might help to raise awareness of air quality and atmospheric conditions. Project investigator Chloe Kathleen Preedy is currently examining how the drama of William Shakespeare – which is often performed at open-air and amphitheatre venues – draws attention to questions of air quality and atmospheric pollution that are still relevant to present-day audiences.3 Moreover, recent audience research by project investigator Evelyn O’Malley has identified that people attending present-day open-air productions are especially alert to the weather, the local fauna and flora, and the environment.4 In partnership with the Dukes Theatre, the Minack Theatre, and the Willow Globe, and with the support of open-air theatre practitioners and academics working in this field, we will now explore which plays and performance practices most effectively prompt audiences to reflect on their relationship to the local environment, including the air around them. We will be developing educational resources to support discussion of such issues with young adult learners, and promoting conversations about how the open-air theatre sector might take the lead in raising awareness. Through this project, we hope to undo the invisibility of air, illuminating our pressing need to pay more attention to this life-giving element.
This project is generously funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
*** This website is currently under construction. More details about the project, and related resources, will follow shortly. ***
1 Luce Irigaray, The Forgetting of Air in Martin Heidegger, trans. Mary Beth Maber (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1999), 29.
2 Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants, The Mortality Effects of Long-Term Exposure to Particulate Air Pollution in the United Kingdom (London: Health Protection Agency, 2010); Royal College of Physicians, Every Breath We Take: The Lifelong Impact of Air Pollution (London: Royal College of Physicians, 2016).
3 See Chloe Kathleen Preedy, ‘The Smoke of War: From Tamburlaine to Henry V’ Shakespeare (2019), DOI: 10.1080/17450918.2019.1570968.
4 Evelyn O’Malley, ‘The natural place for the play’: Outdoor Shakespeares, Environment, and an Ethnography of Audience Experience, University of Exeter PhD thesis (2016).