Eco Theatre

The details
Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 6
Thursday 05 October 2023
Friday 15 December 2023
14 April 2020


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

Theatre and ecology have long been intricately connected. In Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, the gods respond to the murder of King Laius by bringing plague and pestilence to the city of Thebes and in Shakespeare's King Lear, the devastating "cataracts and hurricanoes" of Act Three's storm reflect the tumult within Lear's ravaged mind.

Now that we are living in the Anthropocene ('the age of the human') it is no longer the gods but ourselves who are responsible for a growing number of (un)natural disasters. From extreme weather events to the destruction of marine habitats, from accelerated warming of the polar ice caps to loss of biodiversity and species extinction, the earth has now entered what many to believe to be its sixth mass extinction. While scientists, activists and political leaders attempt to address these issues, what role can theatre play?

This module's primary focus is ecological drama written from the 1950s (the dawn of the nuclear age) to the present day. It will examine a range of dramaturgies employed by key playwrights and theatre makers (including Caryl Churchill's formal experimentation; Katie Mitchell's collaborative work in creating lecture-performances; post-dramatic theatre by writers such as Claire MacDonald; aspects of surrealism in plays by Mike Bartlett, Thomas Eccleshare and Ella Hickson; and naturalism in Steve Waters' The Contingency Plan).

It will also examine protest theatre / agitprop and the role it has played in Eco Theatre from 1960s America to Extinction Rebellion's contemporary street performances. While the main focus will be on theatre, we will also look at how ecologically aware drama has manifested itself over the years in film, from the 1980s TV series On the Edge to the more recent Years and Years and Chernobyl. We will also take a revisionist look at some older plays (e.g. Ibsen's An Enemy of the People) as examples of environmentally aware texts that deal with issues of ecological breakdown.

Module aims

The aims of the module are:

1. To provide students with a thorough understanding of the history and development of ecologically focused theatre, primarily through a study of play texts and an examination of the work of a number of influential theatre makers and practitioners working both in the UK and internationally.
2. To stimulate fresh thinking in this field and to nurture and support new ways of writing and creating ecologically aware drama.
3. To encourage students to develop an interdisciplinary approach by exploring connections with other forms of literature (e.g. dystopian fiction, poetry, narrative non-fiction and cli-fi); with film (e.g. the trope of the survivalist); and with psychology (including eco anxiety and the psychology of climate change denial).

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students will:

1. Have gained a comprehensive appreciation of the development of Eco Theatre and of the variety of dramaturgies employed by key playwrights and theatre makers in this field.

2. Have written an original piece of ecologically aware drama, and reflected on the dramaturgical choices made in the process of researching and creating the piece.

3. Have developed an interdisciplinary approach, exploring creative synergies between Eco Theatre and other forms of literature, film and psychology.

Module information


1 Historical contextualisation of Eco Theatre from early iterations (e.g. work by San Francisco Mime Troupe and The Performance Group in the late 1960s and 1970s) emerging from counter cultural groups and reflecting increased awareness of environmental issues following the publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (1962)

2 Paucity of Eco Theatre (particularly in the mainstream) during 1980s and 90s as the effects of neoliberalism and consumer capitalism provide more focus for oppositional writing

3 Re-emergence of Eco Theatre in 2000s and 2010s as environmental issues become more pressing (e.g. as reflected in Steve Waters' The Contingency Plan and Mike Bartlett's Earthquakes in London)

4 Revisionism of older texts (e.g. Ibsen's 1882 An Enemy of the People whose central character Thomas Stockmann calls out an incident of pollution in his local town and is ostracized for doing so; Katie Mitchell's staging of Beckett's Happy Days in which Winnie is up to her neck not in soil but in rising water)

5 Eco Theatre's radical dramaturgies (e.g. Katie Mitchell's use of drama as lecture-performance in Ten Billion with Stephen Emmott and in 2071 with Duncan Macmillan & Chris Rapley; headphone theatre with Simon McBurney / Theatre de Complicité's The Encounter; Caryl Churchill's formal experimentation in Far Away and Escaped Alone; Brechtian epic story structure of Mike Barlett's Earthquakes in London)
6 Field trip to witness a piece of Eco Theatre, ideally employing one of the above radical dramaturgies

7 Creative workshop to stimulate students to write / create a piece of Eco Theatre which will be developed to become the creative component of the assignment

8 Question modes of theatre production with reference to Katie Mitchell's pioneering production Atmen, the power for which was produced by actors cycling on stage. Raise awareness of the University of Essex's wider sustainability agenda and explore options for interdisciplinary collaboration. Invite environmental arts auditing organization Julie's Bicycle to explain how green audits are carried out in the arts, referencing the Arcola's aim to become the UK's first carbon neutral theatre.

9-10 Two weeks of workshopping and use of script buddies to help develop the students' work-in-progress leading to a sharing / performance of work prior to submission

Learning and teaching methods

7 x 2-hour lectorials plus 3 x 2-hour creative workshop classes


The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course.
The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students.
Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Coursework   Formative assessment: An outline for a planned piece of eco-theatre including dramaturgies, background research, collaborative and multi-disciplinary elements, production requirements (1,000 words)  08/11/2023  0% 
Coursework   Written play text for an original drama (30 mins playing time) plus reflective commentary (1,500 words)  17/01/2024  95% 
Practical   Participation mark    5% 

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Andrew Burton, email:
Mr Andrew Burton
LiFTS General Office, email Telephone 01206 872626



External examiner

No external examiner information available for this module.
Available via Moodle
Of 18 hours, 16 (88.9%) hours available to students:
2 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s), module, or event type.


Further information

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