Transmission in Motion


“The Theater as an Extension of the Mind” – Angelo Zinna

Listening to Professor Carl Lavery speak about both the concept of “theater ecology” and the process of composing a book that would not only present the topic but create a new type of subject entirely, was a powerful reminder of how creative and academic practice can be unified to bring a meaningful project to completion. Lavery’s work appears, at least initially, to follow the growth of ecological criticism and new materialism in the Humanities in recent years. However, the interpretation of “ecology” provided in Ecologising Theatricality: Theatre and the Earth appears to be not only concerned with how the contents of a play relate to contemporary environmental issues, but rather with the direct impact of the theatrical gesture in the surrounding ecosystem. The gesture is viewed as a “virtual object projected on the spectator” which is able to contaminate the viewer thanks to the “unfinished” nature of the action itself. Using the work of French dramatist Antonin Artaud as a case study, Lavery explores the double bind that exists between life and culture, considering the movement that occurs on stage during a theatrical performance as physically transformative, as “a poison injected in the social scene.” In this sense, the bodies on stage affect the bodies that are watching not only through words or music but through particles, microbes, that are moved by the gesture.

Lavery explains that in order to conceptualize theater as an ecological system one must accept a theory of mind not confined to the boundary of the skin. In a way, his view of the gesture, and of theater as a whole, comes close to what Andy Clark and David Chalmers described as an “extended mind.” In their “Theory of the Extended Mind” Clark and Chalmers analyzed the relationship between body, mind, and technology, claiming that the devices we use every day are substituting (or extending) functions of our brain. Cognition and the perception of the self do not end where the body ends and the way we interact with objects, other people, and the environment may be viewed as a system not restricted to the under a layer of skin. Clark and Chalmers make the example of a calculator:

The brain (or brain and body) comprises a package of basic, portable, cognitive resources that is of interest in its own right. These resources may incorporate bodily actions into cognitive processes, as when we use our fingers as working memory in a tricky calculation, but they will not encompass the more contingent aspects of our external environment, such as a pocket calculator. (1998, 8)

The theater as a material infrastructure works as an extension of the self as it allows the actor to project and add meaning to the gesture. The body, the stage, and particles moved by the gesture interact forming a network that impacts the spectators. The ecology of the theater, thus, becomes representative of the Earth system where different elements function individually but are ultimately a single, evolving unit.


  • Clark, Andy, and Chalmers, David. 1998. “The Extended Mind.” Analysis 58 (1) : 7–19.
  • Lavery, Carl. “Ecologising Theatricality: Theatre and the Earth.” Transmission in Motion Seminar, University of Utrecht, Utrecht, 22 January 2019.