Choral music for the Earth

We talked to Sabina Netherclift from Filament Theatre about their new choral work, 'Earth Makes No Sound'. From climate change, to plastic pollution, this piece explores the key environmental issues of our time.

Photo by Claire Shovelton

What is your show about?


Earth Makes No Sound is a collaborative choral work inspired by the elements and the environmental changes happening to our planet. Motivated by the fragility of our home and how our actions affect its existence, Filament created this work in response. A song and movement cycle that explores issues from single-use plastic to global warming, Earth Makes No Sound is a fusion of dynamic choral singing, voice, movement, body percussion and

improvisation.


Originally created for Chorus Fest at Southbank Centre in 2015, the piece combines a core professional company with community choirs and seeks to develop and change with each new collaboration. It was presented as part of Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival 2018 with site specific performances at Roundhouse Hub, Great Ormond Street Hospital and Guy’s Hospital and was due to tour to both theatre spaces and hospitals this summer.


We are now working to reimagine sections of the piece for online festivals taking place this summer, in particular Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival and Cubbitt Sessions and we will be sharing the pieces after the festivals have finished so that the work can be accessed online.


Where did the idea come from? 


The first stirrings of the idea came from Osnat wanting to make a piece about the sea. I wanted to develop the work to explore the movement and sound of the other elements. As we started developing the music and movement with our collaborators, it became clear that it was also stirring up how we felt about the environment and what we, as humans, were doing to i

Photo by Pete Wilkinson

How did you realise that the show would end up being concerned with sustainability and carry a message about our environmental impact on the planet?


As we have been working on the piece, floods have impacted communities here in the UK, fires have devastated areas of Australia and the Amazon rainforest and of course plastic pollution awareness has really taken the world’s attention. We worked with the Roundhouse choir to develop a section about single-use plastic, which was being highlighted at the time by the work of David Attenborough and Blue Planet, and which we found out a great deal more about as we researched the much earlier documentary, ‘A Plastic Ocean’ and the work of ‘Surfers Against Sewage’. It became clear to us that the piece would need to evolve as our concerns for the planet evolved, and it still continues to evolve with each iteration.


How have you responded to the lockdown in the development of your show?


We knew when lockdown happened, that we would need to keep working with our collaborators, for our mental health as well as theirs. We were able to bring lots of past and present collaborators together as most of both the professional performers we work with and those company members who worked in other fields and joined us as part of a community choir were available as businesses of different types began closing their doors. We met weekly to sing together, play some games, do some very contained movement work and also check in with each other.


We decided that we would make a lock down version of the actual piece of music called ‘Earth Makes No Sound’ with some of our collaborators to celebrate Earth Day 2020 – and as we got to grips with the technology that filming and singing demand, we thought we’d make some more pieces. We are developing two more pieces from this show and also making lockdown versions of songs from other shows.

Photo by Claire Shovelton

How have you made your show more environmentally sustainable?


In the real-life version, all costumes are provided by the performers and there is no set. We encourage the use of public transport wherever we are performing and for this summer, all travel had been costed out with public transport in mind. Because of the nature of the work, very few performers ever come to rehearsal with plastic bottles of water (and we have been known in the past to buy members of the company reusable cups and water bottles!) In the event that the show would travel abroad, we would try to keep our model that we work with

community groups close to the venue we are touring to, so that only a small number of performers ever travel with the company.


What have the highlights been of developing the show in a sustainable way? What have you learnt?


I think making this show has made us consider how we would make future shows. Do we always need to build a set from scratch? (We have in fact used sets again and again - our first show ‘Drive Ride Walk’ had a set of eight cardboard boxes which were firm enough to be sat and stood on and these were recycled and added to for our subsequent show, ‘Momo’!). Most of the costume designers we work with are recycling champions, as budgets are always tight, and they are terrific at finding clothes in charity shops and adapting and up-cycling previously used set where possible.


We have always stored our sets (mostly because they have been very minimal) but I think it will become really essential that every designer thinks about the afterlife of their set/costume once a run has finished. Can everything in it be recycled/up-cycled and if not, is there another way of making it?

Photo by Claire Shovelton

What have the difficulties been of developing the show in a sustainable way? What have you learnt?


This show hasn’t presented any because of the nature of the performance.


Who should carry the responsibility for making theatre more sustainable?


We should all think about this. If part of the theatre’s ethos is sustainability, it should be represented not just in the infrastructure (what lighting you have, electricity supplier you go to, how you heat your building and use water in the loos) but should also extend to how you create your productions, make programmes, produce tickets.


Theatre will have less money to spend on productions now, every theatre will be looking at how to save money AND we have a massive opportunity to start doing things differently as the world goes back to work. We should be lobbying the government and our sector for support in not just keeping theatres going, but making sure they have the support to make work that impacts our resources as little as possible.


Tips and tricks: What can emerging artists do to be more eco-friendly?


Make sustainability a core part of your working life. If you are already conscious about the environment and the effect of global warming upon it, you are more than likely going to be looking at how you can live a more sustainable life. Personally, you might try and consciously reduce your use of plastic, look at ways to save energy, to travel less and this attitude can be transferred to your working life. For us, the arrival of Zoom has been amazing – if we wanted to work together before it was a dodgy FaceTime connection or 2 hours worth of

travel time to get to each other. Now, we can work together more effectively because we are linked by this amazing technology and we can make better use of that time not spent in a train or on a bus. This pandemic has been devastating BUT it may point us towards a more sustainable future.



Find out more about Filament:


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Photo by Pete Wilkinson

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