Ella Langley: Interview with Colleen Cameron, BOTTLED UP

“Plastic is integral to our lives. It’s integral to my life, at least”

BOTTLED UP is (outrageously) Colleen’s first piece of writing. It lifts the lid on our society’s eco-anxiety-inducing relationship with single-use plastics. It was first performed in l’Usine Brussels in January 2018, which Colleen discovered, on the day of performance, was one of Belgium’s first plastic factories (“very eery”).

During this showing, Colleen was commissioned to write a 20-minute version of BOTTLED UP for a conference at the EESC, and it has since appeared at Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Camden Fringe, the Eden Project Art Festival and as a 10-minute extract at the European Commission in DG Environment. No doubt, short and long versions of this piece will only garner more attention (Colleen plans to translate the play into French, next) as the vital importance of its topic becomes increasingly clear.

Conception: What provoked bottled up

It was my first year out of drama school. My whole time in Scotland I was really shocked about the waste (I’ve been brought up in Brussels where there was a law made in the 90s that forced people to recycle, your basically fined if you don’t.)

I felt overwhelmed by it all, I later understood it’s eco-anxiety. It stretched to “I can’t even get on a plane anymore because of all the impact that has on the planet”. I was speaking to friends of mine who were considering not having a child and there were all these over the top ways of dealing with how the planet’s being treated.

I came back to Belgium and I was just writing a load of nonsense.

I got this very basic narrative about someone who gets pregnant and at first wants an abortion but she decides to keep it and starts keeping all her plastic because she believes stopping her plastic from going out will somehow save the world.

The first show in January went down so well. People from DG environment came - who created the EU plastic strategy to be implemented in each country. They deal with numbers all day and they were like ‘this story really connects it to human beings, to how important this is - thank you, it reminded us why we’re doing it.’

Metamorphosis: How has creating BOTTLED UP changed you – both as a theatre maker and as a person?

What made eco-anxiety more manageable was this process – of teaching myself. One of the story lines is that Jeanie is bombarded with all this information about the state the planet’s in and the guilt that it’s our fault. It is, but it’s also the fault of those who have investments in plastics for example. One of the big things I learned doing BOTTLED UP was that we’re made to feel far more responsible than we are.

I felt very alone in my anxiety. Part of the reason for creating it was wanting to connect to people over how some of us feel about the planet and say maybe we should all be taking responsibility for it.

Obviously, I became more sustainable. I try to be plastic free. I’ll have people who come up or write to me saying ‘seeing your show has made me stop buying plastic bottles and take away food.’ It has had a small effect on people definitely, and definitely on me.  

Fault: so, where do you feel responsibility lies?

I think in rehearsal it’s very easy to be sustainable, you be careful with the lighting, you make sure you bring food with you. But when it comes to the actual production, what can you do if you’re in a theatre with a bar that uses plastic cups. It’s got to be more of a dialogue between venues and companies. Venues should be making it easy to have no plastic in the theatre, easy to have parking spaces for bikes, encouraging people not to come by car.

In general, it’s really important for everyone not to be hypocritical. Obviously, it would be very hypocritical if I did the show and then I was living off plastic pre-made meals.

It is difficult to deal with choices from day to day - especially, for example, for people who aren’t earning a lot. It can be really expensive to follow these environmental trends.

Advice: where can theatre companies start when it comes to sustainability?

Start with choosing your venue. Ask what their recycling’s like or what do they sell drinks in. I rehearsed at the National Theatre Scotland before the Fringe. I applied to them because it’s newly built to be sustainable. My fringe venue Space UK was a hotel with good recycling etc. Morally it was really important for me to rehearse in a place that reflected what I was saying.

Then think about how you’re gonna get there, where are cast gonna stay, how big is your set, can you cut any of that down. Encourage your cast to bring food with them and have a reusable bottle.

Inspiration: who is motivating you right now?

At Wednesday’s event there was an MEP, Kathleen Von Brempt, the Belgian minister in the European parliament. She is an amazing speaker, I was really so inspired. It was great to hear how in Europe, when it comes to single use plastic the parliament and the commission are working together and then working with the companies producing plastics. That is really so important because there's no point having those at the source of the problem of single-use plastics working against reform. Again, having a dialogue to facilitate change is the way forward.

Check out Colleen Cameron here.

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