Earth Matters On Stage: Rachel Rosenthal

“One of the first things people ask me, is, did I know Arteaud?”

This is how Rachel Rosenthal begins her keynote.  Here at EMOS, it’s perfect. Artistic Director Theresa May has just given her a fantastic introduction. She is in a room full of full-out EcoDrama nerds, folks who don’t need an explanation of the guttaral relationship between earth and body, who know her and her work, or who at the very least don’t need a speech about earth-saving. They know Arteaud wrote “The Theatre and its Double,” and chuckle. She knows her audience.

Rosenthal junkies at EMOS got a major fix: a presentation which included her first performance in almost 10 years, an opportunity to buy Moira Roth’s Rosenthal anthology and have it signed by the artist, and the next morning, an analysis of her work by a panel of her former students and devoted independent scholars. Heady.

Rosenthal did not, in fact, know Arteaud, but he did “save her life:” his writing gave her a logical basis to begin creating her own unique brand of performance: eco-feminist, deeply personal, and dramatically sharp. Clips shown over the weekend included L.O.W. in Gaia, in which she writes her age on her bald head in lipstick and drags bags of trash behind her on the stage, and The Others, which included 42 “non-human animal” performers.

In a presentation days later given by Deke Weaver, an interesting conversation arose. What is the line between sharpened meduim and effective message? How do you articulate an important issue without pandering, how do you push the form without driving away your audience? Rosenthal is famous for creating a body of work that is made of her own body, stories and trembling articulations. Whether or not watching Gaia rise from a pile of garbage is your idea of an endurance test, it is deeply rooted in a sobbing, grappling love for the earth. Rosenthal was saddend to learn that Arteaud never saw his idea of theater realized onstage. But of her own methods, she decries: “I will not die without having seen it, because it’s MINE.”

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