It is a truth universally acknowledged that environmental sustainability and show production are not compatible. After all, the play’s the thing, competing priorities are book-ended with vision and money – sustainability is a nice-to-have.
This is the state of the industry, isn’t it? Well, no. Over the past couple of years, alongside the blossoming of creative and digital content, a steady shift in show production is taking place. Forced initially by pinched budgets, the opportunities for rethinking the design, material flow and aesthetics of production are inspiring a whole new approach.
Using material flow as an organising production principle, itself rooted in environmental concerns, has brought unforeseen benefits. A set designed on the principles of low impacts – reclaimation, upcycling, repurposing and low wattage – can save money, sure, but it also brings new dimensions to design and artistic insight, before the production process has even begun.
In the process of developing our Sustainable Production Guide, we have come across some remarkable environmental best practice: Prue Lang’s work at MIT developing kinetic body suits that capture the energy from dancers; Tanja Beer’s Living Stage concept; and Imogen Heap’s Earth Day live broadcast.
Performance makers are at the forefront of holistic thinking about the future of the arts. This work, shaped by a practical response to the changing world, is inspiring a comprehensive re-think about the purpose and the prospects for the arts.
So, what does green theatre look like in practice? Sustainable or green design and production essentially refers to a process that is mindful of the impacts of the materials and resources we use to create artistic work, from beginning to end. It takes into consideration where we source our energy, timber, fabric and other materials, and how far they travel to reach us; how resourcefully and efficiently they’re used in construction and during performance; and what happens to them after the show is over.
So, just in case you want to join the growing numbers of inspired arts professionals, here are some easy wins to start thinking more sustainably – let us know how you get on!
1. Engage everyone involved
Involve everyone from the outset, from the director to the stage manager. Work collaboratively on sustainable solutions that contribute to the artistic vision and budget for the production, and get a green production policy so you can talk about what you are doing.
2. Reduce, reuse, repurpose, recycle
It’s obvious, but reuse, donate, repurpose or recycle set, props, costumes and production materials. Construct sets and props so that they can be dismantled and recycled properly.
3. Use and experiment with sustainable materials
Think about the impacts of different materials (you can use our tool for measuring those impacts) and be resourceful. When you are buying new materials and products, think about where they are sourced, for example timber that is FSC-certified to show it has come from sustainably managed stock.
Avoid manmade petroleum-based products, like PVC tape and toxic finishes. Many technicians are using alternatives such as Velcro, bungee chords and fabric ties, and there are many natural lacquers and finishes now available. Choose paints that are water-based and have low VOCs (volatile organic compounds).
4. Be energy efficient
Conduct rehearsals under working lights where possible. Switch off show lighting after the rig check until half an hour before the performance – companies such as the National Theatre and Live Nation have been doing this for years. Switch off all equipment when not in use. If you want to go the extra mile, use renewable energy sources like cycle power, solar or waste vegetable oil biodiesel – it’s been done for both indoor and outdoor shows including the big ones like Glastonbury, Latitude and Frieze Art Fair.
5. Design energy efficient lighting rigs
Design a rig that uses every luminaire purposefully, and choose the lowest wattage lamp to fit the job. Try to use tungsten instead of discharge, and where appropriate explore low energy lighting such as LEDs.
6. Use rechargeable batteries
Rechargeable batteries are 32 times less harmful to the environment than disposables, and can save money compared to using disposable batteries regularly. Use rechargeables for portable on-stage equipment and always recycle batteries after use. For more information and case studies, see our Better Batteries campaign.
7. Reduce transport
Try to source materials and equipment locally, and combine deliveries. When designing for tour, create a set that fits into an economical space. Use public transport and hybrid taxi services, and when travelling in cars and vans, maximise occupancy to bring down your relative carbon emissions.
8. Recycle materials after the show
Make sure all set, props and costumes are recycled after the show. Use a production waste service that recycles materials rather than sending waste to landfill, for example Scenery Salvage and Set-Exchange, and hire or donate items to local organisations, schools and schemes like Community Repaint.
9. Monitor your environmental impacts
Data is power – monitoring your energy use and the carbon emissions of the key materials you use over time can identify priorities for where savings can be made, or new ideas tested. Our IG Tools carbon calculator has a production calculator and our Sustainable Production Guide has further advice.
10. Talk about it
Tell your stories and ambitions to your collaborators, suppliers, funders, artists and audiences. Suppliers often have their own suggestions and collaborators may be willing to help you achieve your aims. Audience travel makes up a significant proportion of the arts sector’s carbon footprint, so you really want to encourage them to use green travel – sharing your green actions can amplify the impact of your efforts by encouraging others to do the same.