Call for Papers: Singin’ in the Rain: Musical Theatre and the Environmental Humanities

Green Letters invites papers of up to 6000 words in length for a special issue, guest-edited by Dr Evelyn O’Malley (University of Exeter) on musical theatre and the environmental humanities.

Gene Kelly’s iconic and rain-soaked performance in the rain appeared in 1952 – the commencement of what environmental scientists now call The Great Acceleration – evermore inflecting cultural responses to the weather in ways that stretch far beyond the original context and medium. His songburst in a cloudburst is now a widely shared referent for musical theatre as an interdisciplinary form, and a cultural trope for the human capacity to embrace inclement weather (given access to shelter, romance and a creative outlet, in Don Lockwood’s – Kelly’s fictitious counterpart’s – case).

While evidence amasses to suggest that culturally mainstream performance forms can illuminate affective understandings of nature, this issue will seek to stimulate a lively conversation about how musical theatre – a cultural form closely associated with intense emotional affect – presents possibilities for conceptualising and staging the environment and human relationships to it, in addition to generating significant affective responses.

Glimmers of environmental thinking about past musicals offer some arresting points of departure for historical scholarship. Jennifer Hamilton, for instance, uses Grease as a vivid case study for explaining environmental humanities’ scholarship to a generalist audience, rereading the teenage romance as a ‘representation of post-war America’s romance with petroleum’ in the aftermath of hurricane Sandy (2014). Theresa J. May unpacks of the frontier narratives of settlement and exclusion that are consolidated in Oklahoma! to uncover its latent environmental messaging as part of her ecodramaturgical history of American theatre (2021: 124).

Beyond the hefty work of revisiting historical works for their (latent and overt) environmental messaging, we might also observe a burgeoning interest in the topic amongst musical theatre-makers in recent years. A noteworthy turn towards the environment in practice now includes revivals (such as The Watermill, Newbury’s The Lord of the Rings, 2023, which emphasised ecological restoration in its staging of Tolkien’s source material), and retellings of Greek mythology that foreground a changing climate as the conditions for life (Anaïs Mitchell’s Hadestown, for instance, running on Broadway and returning to London’s West End in 2024). New writing premised on original stories (Amy Draper’s Islander, 2023, explores conservation conflicts on a remote Scottish island) and explicitly eco-activist adaptations of canonical works are also beginning to thrive (Metta Theatre’s Sherlock Holmes and the Poisonwood, 2024, explores m/otherhood and diet as environmental concerns through the well-known mystery genre). We might also consider works that are not ‘about’ the environment at all, but that nevertheless disclose something important about it (The Old Vic’s Groundhog Day, 2023, for example, where the eternal recurrence of a grey February day structures the familiar story of personal transformation).

Contributions to the Special Issue could consider, but are not limited to, the following questions and topics:

1) How has the environment been expressed and (re)presented in historical and contemporary musical theatre?

2) What can an ‘ecodramaturgical’ analysis of musicals suggest about the aesthetics, ethics, and politics of anthropogenic climate change (May 2021, Woynarski 2020)?

3) What is the artistic and cultural significance of musical theatre practice that explicitly addresses climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental degradation?

  • Ecodramaturgical histories of musical theatre works
  • Close analyses of individual songs or musical numbers
  • Comparative analyses of productions and revivals
  • Ecologies of vocality and breath in song
  • Choreography, bodies, space and environment
  • Music in/as aerial environment and weather
  • Broadway, the West End, resource use and the Global North
  • Representations of ‘slow violence’ (Nixon 2011) in musicals
  • New materialist and posthuman approaches
  • Ecologies of collaboration and interdisciplinarity in musical theatre
  • New writing for the Anthropocene
  • Fictitious and imaginary geographies of song
  • Energy and musical theatre
  • Performances of weathering
  • Eco-whimsy, preposterousness and ‘bad environmentalism’ (Seymour 2018)
  • Site-specific, open-air, immersive, and digital-interactive stagings
  • Screen musicals and the environment
  • Environmental approaches in applied, community and socially engaged contexts
  • Ecoscenography (Beer 2021) and design

Green Letters is the journal of ASLE-UKI (the UK-Ireland branch of the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment). A peer-reviewed journal published by Taylor & Francis, Green Letters explores the relationship between literary, artistic and popular culture and the various conceptions of the environment articulated by scientific ecology, philosophy, sociology and literary and cultural theory.

Articles should conform to Green Letters’ style sheet. Articles should be submitted for consideration via Scholar One, our online submission system on this link https://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/rgrl.

Timeline:

Please send enquiries and abstracts of up to 300 words to Evelyn O’Malley at e.omalley@exeter.ac.uk  by 12 April.

Full Manuscripts: September 2024.

Publication: March 2025.

 

References:

Beer, Tanja (2021) Ecoscenography: An Introduction to Ecological Design for Performance, Palgrave.

Hamilton, Jennifer (2014) ‘What are the Environmental Humanities,’ The Conversation.

May, Theresa J. (2021) Earth Matters on Stage: Ecology and Environment in American Theater. Oxon and New York: Routledge.

Nixon, Robert (2011) Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Seymour, Nicole (2018) Bad Environmentalism: Irony and Irreverence in the Ecological Age,  Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press.

Woynarski, Lisa (2020) Ecodramaturgies: Theatre, Performance and Climate Change, Palgrave.