Planting virtual lemons: performing forest protection in the context of political performativity
ABSTRACT: The socialist People’s Democratic Republic of Laos (Lao PDR) has some of the largest intact forests in Southeast Asia, yet these are being quickly depleted by illegal logging, slash-and-burn farming, increasing population pressures, monocrop plantations, mining and dam building. Foreign government and nongovernmental organizations stage “infotainment” theatre plays to educate and inform the Lao public of its role in protecting the forests even though government projects and concessions are the primary causes of forest destruction. Because all the nationally subsidized performing arts troupes are government mouthpieces they cannot critique the government’s role. Foreign aid agencies funding the dramas are also made complicit in the hypocrisy of promoting forest protection to those with the least power to do so, while both performers and spectators know who is profiting the most from the sale of forest products. This article examines theatrical performances regarding forest protection presented in this context of performativity in which the state manipulates socialist rhetoric to conceal its actions that enrich its officials and capitalist partners at the expense of the rest of the Lao public.
Catherine Diamond is a playwright/director and professor of theatre and environmental literature at Soochow University, Taipei, Taiwan. She is the author of Communities of Imagination: Southeast Asian Contemporary Theatres (UHP 2012) and numerous articles regarding representations of nature in contemporary performance.