Making carbon-neutral theatre
Below are a few things we've discovered over two years of making carbon-neutral work. We hope these are helpful whether you want to reduce the carbon footprint of your work, or create a fully carbon-neutral show.
We want to stress that we don't have all the answers, and that it's not possible for every company and theatre-maker to make these changes. You definitely don't need to do all of them at once. It's best to set yourself realistic targets; for example, you could decide not to buy anything from Primark for your next show, or that you're going to start a conversation with your local venue about swapping to a renewable energy supplier.
Each time we deliver a show, our methods get a bit better, and we get a bit better at delivering them. It takes time to learn and adapt your practise - celebrate your successes, and don't beat yourself up for what you don't manage.
If you have any questions, please get in touch with us at email@example.com.
Credit: Ruth Anna Phillips
We started with our production materials:
what we were buying, holding, wearing...
We realised there were two questions to ask ourselves. Where are our materials coming from? What happens to them after the show?
For How To Save A Rock, we decided to create most set and props from recycled materials which would otherwise be thrown away- like a pair of binoculars made out of two Coke cans, and a polar bear head made out of paper and cardboard. These items can be recycled once the show's over.
Items we can't make ourselves, we borrow, putting out calls on social media and amongst our friends. Doing this, we've ended up with lab coats, safety goggles, even a bicycle perfect for our generator! If we have to buy something, we buy second-hand: from charity shops, Depop, Freecycle, or eBay.
When we put How To Save A Rock to bed, we'll make sure all our production materials have an afterlife (outside of ending up in the skip) - recycling items which can't be repurposed, passing items on to other theatre-makers, returning clothing to charity shops, and taking set items to swap shops.
The best tip we've learnt is this: you got to allow extra time to sustainably source and ensure an afterlife for your design materials. It's when you've run out of time that you end up on Amazon Prime. We've started budgeting 'Sustainability meetings' for our team to make sure the process isn't get rushed.
Credit: Ed Rees
Our next challenge was electricity. We discovered there were a few options...
Go without electricity entirely; the easiest way to do this is to perform outside in daylight, only using live music.
The drawbacks: Not all shows are suitable to be performed outside. And, if you're going ahead entirely without electricity, you've also got to think about sound; you won't be able use any amplification.
Only perform in venues who use 100% renewable energy. Some venues are committed to becoming carbon-neutral (like the Royal Court), others already use a green energy supplier and/or generate their own renewable energy (like Tara Arts, HOME Manchester, and the Arcola Theatre). As you dig into the world of energy suppliers, it's always worth being aware that some green energy tariffs aren't as green as they seem...
The drawbacks: You may not have existing relationships with green venues, or you may be committed to producing your work in buildings which don't use a renewable energy supplier.
Generate your own renewable energy - before or during performance.
The drawbacks: You'll probably have to hire or build the tech you use yourself, and the electricity produced is less reliable than what we're used to through the mains.
In How To Save A Rock, there are two bikes cycled live on stage by our performers (and sometimes by our audience too!). These bikes are connected to a bike-generator, which we commissioned the awesome production company behind Bicycle Boy to build for us. Our bike-generator has a plug-board, and with two bikes we can power any low-emission appliance - meaning we could power a lamp, but probably couldn't power a kettle.
We use our generator to power our lights. During the show, our performers plug/unplug extension cables, connected to different LED lights around the space. Once our performers jump on and peddle for a few seconds, the generator kicks into action and our lights switch on; once our performers stop peddling, our lights cut out.
But bike-generators create quite a bit of noise, so we also use solar panels to generate electricity to power lights in quieter scenes. We're still searching for the most efficient combination of panels and lights to use.
You can power speakers with renewable energy too, as long as the ones you use don't consume too much energy. You could plug one into our bike-generator - or if they were battery-powered, you could harvest your own solar energy and use that to charge up some batteries.
But we prefer to create our music live, using acoustic instruments (like a piano, accordion, or harmonica) and found objects - a tin-can becoming a megaphone, a broken snare drum becoming a train...
Creating your own sound effects from upcycled objects can be a challenge, but we think the limitations of being carbon-neutral actually lead us to make more creative decisions than we would have otherwise.
Credit: Ed Rees