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The ecostage pledge launched as part of ArtCOP21 in Paris on 3rd Dec. Andrea Carr was able to attend the professional workshops co-ordinated by COAL, Julie’s Bicycle, IFACCA, La Gaite Lyrique and On The Move. This was a great privilege and enriching experience. Tanja Beer launched the pledge in Australia at Cop Out (Arts House Melbourne) on 11th Dec. and Alice Hoult (Malia) will launch in USA in 2016. Share your stories, join in the conversation, follow us on Facebook or Twitter for updates.
Sleeping Bag Metamorphosis
By Andrea Carr
My latest eco-scenography adventure: How discarded camping equipment from UK’s Reading Festival is given new life. How can we inspire one another to make sustainable choices in the creative industries? What are some of the ways in which we can creatively flourish whilst addressing ecological concerns? These are just some of the questions that motivated me for the design of HOAX Theatre’s new production exploring mining and climate change. Ethically sourcing camping equipment was high on my list for my design for ‘Journey To The Centre of The Earth’ (loosely based on Jules Verne’s epic adventure).
My brief was to design four layers of clothing for three ‘wunderkind’ Geo-Scientists (Flavia Bertram, Ayesha Tansey and Sabrina Manach) from MyGeoCorpse Mining Corporation who embark on an expedition (from Iceland) to the earth’s core.
When their equipment breaks down they are forced to face the unknown, hidden deep within the earth’s mythologies they begin to unearth the complexities of climate change. Envisaged as a series of dramaturgical revelations – with each layer progressing from extremities of cold (at the earth’s crust) to heat (at the core). Also exploring metamorphosis and evolution, they first appear as early life forms before transforming into unique expedition outfits. This first layer of costume would be created from sleeping bags.
I contacted Julie’s Bicycle, who put me in touch with the Salvagers Team (part of the clean up operation) organised by Festival Republic at Reading Festival. So while HOAX went on a research and development residency to Fljotstunga Eco-Farm in Iceland (for an invaluable immersive experience exploring the terrain) I joined the volunteers salvage operation. Perhaps I had drawn the shorter straw? On the way down to Reading (with Peter, my husband at the wheel) I fretted, “would there be enough sleeping bags left?” Nothing, however, could have prepared me for what I saw, as I stood looking over a sea of abandoned tents. It was a pretty devastating sight to see so much discarded camping equipment – but not without hope. Nevertheless, spirits were high as gloves were excitedly shared amongst the volunteers. I met the Scouts and people collecting for refugees at Calais (all generously providing tips of where the best equipment could be found). It was muddy and stinky (gloves being a must!) but so worth it. By the time my four hour slot was up the light was fading, squelching through mud, we had retrieved over forty sleeping bags, nine tents and bits and bobs.
Cheaper camping equipment has been cited as one of main causes behind this trend, changing its nature from a ‘once in a life-time’ purchase to a throw away item. In addition, one sleeping bag (made from synthetic textiles) is assembled from three layers: outer shell, padding and lining plus zips – (aluminum, metals, plastic), toggles and cord (plastic and cotton) and polyester sewing thread with a life expectancy of up to 200 years! It is estimated that 45,000 tents are brought to Reading Festival with 13,500 abandoned at the end of the weekend. The good news is that Reading Festival in collaborative partnership with Julie’s Bicycle, Knowledge Transfer Network et al are pioneering a new project to tackle campsite waste testing festival-goers interest in services such as tent cleaning and packing away to encourage them to take it away.
The sleeping bags and tents took 4 days from collection to being ready to use (washed and dried). I believe that there is nothing that gives a deeper appreciation of the resources that go into the production of an item than mindfully deconstructing it (as we did at my studio with help from Central St Martins graduates: Harriet Fowler, Rosie Elliot-Dancs, Roisin Straver and Elisa Nader)) or more personal satisfaction than re-imagining its new life. Initiatives and ‘tear downs’ run by places such as FabLab, Hackerspace, Makerspace, Restart are great teachers of this process. Once you have experienced this (which I highly recommend!), it becomes increasing difficult to relegate things to the scrap heap and is highly insightful.
Eco-driven initiatives will probably take longer than a direct purchase or making from scratch. It is, I believe, timely that we re-evaluate how budgets are calculated and people’s skills and time valued for instance: van hire, fuel and eco-laundry liquid was a modest £56.00, however, labour was more intense. Re-cycling and re-purposing is no longer the remit of ‘poor’ small-scale productions, companies of all sizes, whether driven by new legislation, personal or global concerns are now embracing its potential. Having witnessed the ‘re-branding’ of re-cycling over the years it is now time to accentuate its opportunities.
As part of ArtCOP21 Journey to the Centre of the Earth work-in-progress performance took place at Pleasance Theatre, London, October 2015, a full-length production is planned for 2016. My journey has just begun with HOAX and there will be lots more scope for exciting ecological and creative solutions to inspire the next stages of the design. Flavia Bertram (HOAX) also performed in costume at Omnibus Perception Festival – Voice INTERROBANG: ArtCOP21 opened by Vivienne Westwood – as Vivienne snapped a picture of my costume, I did wonder whether it might inspire her next collection!
Andrea Carr – eco-designer, performance maker, artist, co-founder ecostage. She is interested in the intersection between different disciplines and is part of a growing community of designers exploring the emerging paradigm of ecoscenography; incorporating sustainable practices and developing ecological projects.
Special Thanks: Peter Williams and Laura Pando (Festival Republic)
The Path To Sustainability
By Tanja Beer
People often ask me how I became interested in sustainability and design, and what triggered my decision to commence a PhD on the subject. Looking back, it’s difficult to pinpoint a single moment. Was it seeing my set thrown in a skip one too many times? Or perhaps feeling physically ill after using several cans of enamel spray paint to change the colour of a prop? Or watching several native trees being cut down solely for the purpose of stage decoration? No doubt each of things played a role.
However, like many designers, my interest in sustainability has grown out of an increasing appreciation of the scale of the environmental challenges our society faces.
I was always passionate about environmental issues. At certain times in my life I worked for environmental charity and advocacy groups, and became involved in a variety of community engaged projects. I tried hard to be a good environmental citizen in my day-to-day life; buying food from local suppliers, taking public transport, turning off lights and recycling. Yet when I walked in the theatre these basic practices went out the window. Theatre, it seemed, gave me a licence to do the things I wouldn’t do at home. Perhaps it was because I was never taught to critique my practices in the theatre from an environmental perspective, or query the consequences of my design. Decadence wasn’t questioned in my era of design education, and in fact it was encouraged if the budget would allow for it. We were trained with the end result in mind. How we got to opening night or what happened to our sets and costumes after the production ended was simply not a priority.
And then about 6 years ago I had the opportunity to work as an exhibition designer at the Melbourne Museum (in my home state of Victoria, Australia). The job came with a unique selling point: a team of environmentally conscious graphic, interior and industrial designers who were keen to put sustainability at the heart of what they did. While the design studio was still in the early stages of implementing a sustainability plan, the atmosphere was alive with possibility and activity. This was a completely new world for me, and one that profoundly changed my perspective.
Part of my job at the museum was to conduct research into sustainable strategies and products – a challenging task for any designer, especially one with no prior knowledge or experience in this area. It was here that I caught the research bug, because once I started, it was like opening a Pandora’s box. By the time my job at the Museum ended and I returned to stage design, I had already become acutely aware of the disconnect between my values and my actions. Suddenly I had lots of questions about the materials, products and life-cycle of my sets and costumes. I realised that despite only scratching the surface on the sustainability agenda at the Museum, I already knew too much. I couldn’t go back.
At that time, there wasn’t much available on ecological design for performance. I clearly remember searching the web, desperate for information, and being somewhat dismayed at the lack of resources on the subject. While I found mountains of material on environmentally sustainable practice from other design fields, there seemed to be a gaping hole when it came to theatre. Why weren’t we thinking about the consequences of what we design? Why had I only started to question it myself now? This questioning sparked a series of investigations into my own practice and finally the commencement of my PhD on the paradigm and practice of ecological design in the Performing Arts in 2011. And here I am, more than 3 years in, still riffling through the Pandora’s box of challenges and opportunities that ecological design presents.
But of course I’m not the only one who has caught the sustainability bug. Theatre has come a long way since the early days of my sustainable research in 2008. Today, there are many initiatives around the world that focus on sustainability and performance.
There are amazing people all over, doing small things with big ideas, and starting to change the way we make theatre. There is a whiff of revolution in the air. Take the 2013 World Stage Design Congress as a case in point. Even just 6 years ago, it would have been unimaginable that the Congress would have its own sustainability section. But sure enough in Cardiff that is exactly what they had.
Seemingly small steps such as these are in fact giant leaps for this burgeoning new field, and it is intensely exciting to be a part of it. It is true, there are plenty of challenges ahead. But my hope is that the Performing Arts will ultimately accept environmental sustainability as a key value, and that “ecological design” will one day be synonymous with “good design”. Design that is in tune with our values, and considers its relationship to our environment and future. It might seem utopian now, but we are definitely on the right path.
My first project investigating ecological design for performance was for “One is Warm in Winter and the Other Has a Better View” with Platform Youth Theatre in 2009. The design featured an installation of over 700 apples, the majority of which were suspended from the ceiling. The apples were sourced from local farmers and were donated to the Collingwood Children’s Farm after the season ended. Care was taken to avoid the use of glues or toxic substances in the hanging and preservation of the apples; instead apples were strung with fishing line attached to screws that held the apples securely in place. After 10 days in the theatre, a lovely apple scent developed and filled the space, creating a surprising multi-sensory layer to the production
Theatre Photos: Sophie Neate
This post was originally published as part of Julie’s Bicycle.
Beyond the Skip: The Art of Resourcefulness
by Alice Hoult
Set and costume designer Alice Hoult kicks off our first ecoscenography guest blog series with her journey of resourcefulness. I first met her at a Julie’s Bicycle sustainability event in London in 2013 and we have since joined forces on an ecological initiative that we will be launching in the coming months (watch this space!). Alice’s commitment to rethinking unsustainable practices is infectious – she gives you hope that we can all do our bit to inspire change. I can relate so much to her story.
I was confronted with this realisation whilst working on a theatre production a couple of years ago. Leading up to tech week, it became apparent that we would need to build a large MDF ‘wall’ on stage in addition to the set that I had already designed. I ran up to the director and production manager and firmly protested this decision but they simply looked at me like I was mad. You see, I’d tried so hard to utilise the lovely exposed-brick wall and concrete floor of the theatre in my design (and in doing so, avoiding the creation of unnecessary waste). I realised that while my mind had already jumped ahead to the disposal stage of the set, no one else’s had.
Unfortunately, we did end up throwing the newly constructed wall in a skip at the end of the production. This left me with a bitter taste: I would never incur such wastage in my personal life, so why should I have to in my professional one? It got me thinking about how and why these things happen in theatre – the time, financial pressures and the desire to please seem to be the main ones, plus the fact that no one wants to be a ‘No’ person. This prompted me to do some research – to find other designers out there thinking the same things as me and also doing something about it. Finding a community of like-minded designers has made me more confident to speak up about my own eco values. It doesn’t always work out, and it’s easy to feel helpless in the face of the many inevitable failures. Change is incremental and we must accept that it’s a long path to sustainability for an entire industry. Even so, I believe that the best change starts from the ground up.
Luckily, I’ve meet some really inspiring collaborators. Director Poonam Brah, actress Dina Mousawi and I started 3Fates Theatre a few years ago. Our style is born out of a DIY aesthetic where we mix high-tech and low-key materials, objects and imagery. Through our productions I’ve had the opportunity to experiment with found objects, reclaimed and recycled materials. For example, the set for our last scratch performance was built out of blue plastic milk-crates which we borrowed from local groceries and returned the next day for collection by the milk delivery company.
I’ve found that resourcefulness and eco-consciousness often go hand-in-hand. For example, I was once given the task of creating an entire library set for a community project in Peckham with Time to Change (a charity who works with mental health issues). Borrowing library furniture from local schools and buying books from local charity shops saved us a large portion of our budget. After the show, some books were given to cast and crew, while the theatre used the rest to make a library of their own in the corner of their bar area. Nothing went in the bin!
Nonetheless, I’ve found that things can also swing wildly from success to failure. For example, I recently designed a show about the life of the painter and poet Khalil Gibran. The idea for this set was that a simple timber construction (made to look like artists canvases stacked together) could also become a projection surface. During our London season, everything went swimmingly: I hired fine-artists to make the stretchers for the canvases which were also given back to them after the production for re-use. All great (!) until the show proceeded to tour various Gulf States a number of times. The Gulf is possibly the hardest place in the world to make people care about the environment (It’s all tiny plastic bottles and air conditioning…don’t get me started!). Unfortunately, the set was so simple to build that the producer decided to build it afresh in each venue rather than spend money transporting it. I’m uncertain as to which is better…
I’m beginning to find a way to balance my ecological values with my creative professional role. There is still much to explore. A group of eco-conscious designers (Tanja Beer, Andrea Carr and Bethany Wells) and I are working towards creating a pledge – a sort of ‘eco-stamp’ to help theatre practitioners to more effectively communicate their desire to work in an environmentally conscious way. I’m also excited about our next 3Fates project which is about the River Thames. It is still in its planning stages but the starting point for my design will be to try and source as much of the set as possible from the river itself.
I think that incorporating sustainability into the planning stages of my work has helped me define my creativity further, rather than placing limitations on it. I’ve always had an innate desire to make work that comes from the world around me. Using found objects and recycled materials also chimes with my own personal aesthetic.
When it comes to stage design, I have no idea if I have a ‘style’ or not, but I always try to strip away from extraneous objects, ideas and materials during the creative process. I want everything that passes in front of the audience’s eyes to be loaded with meaning, carefully chosen and essential. The opportunity to play with the expectations of audiences – that gap between the audience and the stage into which the audience pours their own imagination – is what fascinates me most about performance-making. And I’m learning as I go that innovative and exciting ideas don’t have to cost the earth.
Alice Hoult is a set and costume designer based in London. She is a founding member of 3Fates theatre company, currently developing work with the National Theatre Studio, London, and with whom she took part in the Copeland Fellowship at Amherst College, Massachusetts USA. Their shows RETURN and To Close Your Eyes is to Travel have been seen at Liverpool Arab Arts Festival, Aat international Theatre Festival (Amman, Jordan) The Yard Theatre, Tara Arts and Rich Mix in London.