Pittsburgh, PA

Dramaturging Yellowstone

Dramaturging Yellowstone

A couple of weeks ago I took a small trip with my family to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. Although my husband and I had both been before, we were young on those previous trips and didn’t remember much. I credit this trip to being the first time any of us have been to Yellowstone. While we were walking around the park and doing some exploring I had some thoughts about how nature performs for us and how park rangers might sometimes be the dramaturgs of those performances.

Yellowstone Wildlife

Within the first few minutes of entering the park we saw our first wildlife. While we were driving we suddenly saw a line of stopped cars with their brake lights on. Little by little we moved forward and eventually we found the reason for the slow down. A bison was walking along the road, maybe no more than 10 feet from our vehicle. My husband, the daring adventurous man he is, ROLLED DOWN MY WINDOW. He said a rolled down window was better for taking a picture. He wasn’t wrong, we did get some good pictures. But while I was taking the pictures I could help but think about how (or if) the bison was performing.

Did it realize that people were slowing down just to take pictures of it? Was it capable of recognizing time and realizing that a lot of people would be driving in at that time, so that was why it was walking by the road? Then on the other side of the road I saw a truck with blinking lights. It was a park ranger. My husband jokingly said, “It’s the park’s bison. They bring him out to give visitors a little taste of seeing wildlife so that they keep coming back.” Maybe it was a joke and maybe not, but the park ranger was there facilitating the bison encounter. The fact that he was there made me feel a little safer and made me more comfortable that someone was extremely familiar with this type of encounter, much like dramaturgs facilitate performances and try to make audiences more comfortable with the performance.

Geysers of Yellowstone

The second day we were in Yellowstone was the day that we went to see Old Faithful. Our first day we saw a lot of geysers and hot springs, but Old Faithful is arguably the most famous geyser in Yellowstone. At each of the basins we visited there was a small “museum” displaying maps and some of the recorded history about the area. Usually it was just a small room that they called a “museum,” but I couldn’t help but think about how it was similar to a lobby display. Don’t lobby displays give background information about the show to help audiences familiarize themselves with the show and, sometimes, the history behind it?

When Old Faithful finally erupted (at exactly the time the park rangers predicted) I thought about how Old Faithful (and other geysers) is a living thing. No, it doesn’t eat, breathe, and think like we do or like plants do, but it is living. I mean, when we were waiting for it to erupt, the language that we used with our toddler daughter was, “Old Faithful is still sleeping.” Then when it erupted, we told her, “It’s waking up!” Why would we choose that language if we didn’t see it as living in some way? So if it’s living, then wouldn’t each eruption be a performance? People come from all over the world to see it, so Old Faithful definitely has an audience. I want to know what you think. Do nature and wildlife perform for us?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *