Environmental Activism in the Pacific World

Suk-Young Kim
Theater, Film, and Television
UC Los Angeles


Diana Looser
Theater and Performance Studies
Stanford University

Margaret Werry
Theater Arts and Dance
University of Minnesota

This project consisted of three events at UCLA in January 2018. They included a: 1) lecture by Margaret Werry (Theater Arts and Dance, University of Minnesota); 2) post-lecture discussion with Diana Looser (Theater and Performance Studies, Stanford University): 3) dance workshop by the American Indian Dance Company on their environmentalism project. 1) Margaret Werry’s work on performance and tourism in Aotearoa (New Zealand) has had a significant impact on the ways both Pacific Islander Studies and Theater/Performance Studies understand the troubled relationship between the indigenous and the state-driven tourist industry. Werry’s lecture touched upon Pasifika activist efforts around climate change in recent years, particularly employing performative tactics that call attention to the irreversible environmental damages carried out under the banner of creative economy. As Pasifika activists trace their roots to the Polynesian Panthers founded in 1971, this lecture inevitably touched upon the history of political activism and human rights in Aotearoa. Taking its lead from legal and artistic performances by indigenous activists, for whom the exclusion of non-humans from human rights is a violation of sociality itself, this lecture asked how theater (with its intrinsically human and material assemblages) help us imagine, theorize, and advocate for a concept of more-than-human rights. 2) Diana Looser, author of Remaking Pacific Pasts: History, Memory, and Identity in Contemporary Theater from Oceania (University of Hawaii, 2014), lead the post-lecture discussion with Werry which explored various strategies to address the indigenous and the environment in tandem. The conversation between Werry and Looser is featured in the special issue of TDR: Journal of Performance Studies, which focuses on the creative economies in the Pacific Worlds.3) The Center for Performance Studies at UCLA also collaborated with the American Indian Dance Company to develop a dance performance, centerd on the notions of the indigenous as they are caught in between the oceanic and continental environmental calamities. This project aimed to workshop the company’s dance piece at UCLA’s Little Theater as a way to explore the performance version of the lecture and discussion