Updated: Sep 12, 2020
Sourcing costumes, props, and set pieces can be a challenge at the best of times. When you’re already bearing in mind constraints of time, space, and budget, factoring in environmental and social constraints can seem overwhelming.* Nonetheless, as an industry, we have a responsibility to respect our natural environment and keep our productions’ carbon footprint on our conscience. Sets do not just disappear once thrown into landfill, and Penneys is no kinder to its garment workers for a piece of feminist theatre.
There are a number of different ways to source set pieces, costumes, and props in an environmentally- and socially-conscious way. Smaller theatre companies may feel that this isn’t their place – their impact as it stands is negligible, and their budget is tight. But the majority of these options are budget-friendly, too; in fact, they are often cheaper than their brand-new alternatives.
Your show will likely still leave some sort of footprint on the environment, and you will probably still be a good few steps away from zero-waste. But by starting small, we can establish a new normal: one in which we question where we source things from, what this means, and how it impacts not only ourselves but the people who made it and the world around us. Consider making the environmental and social impact of your work another non-negotiable constraint, and see where it takes you. You may save some money along the way.
The list below is Dublin-focused, but broadly applicable to any city anywhere. If you are a theatre company in Dublin or Ireland making eco-theatre – or making moves towards a more environmentally- and socially-conscious theatre – please reach out to Staging Change. A larger Irish side of the network means more opportunity to help, support, and share with one another – reducing our environmental impact and saving each other money.
*Sandra Goldmark’s article Circular Design and Production (Theatre Design & Technology, Winter 2019) is a really useful and informative resource exploring this idea.
Perhaps obvious, but still underrated. Granted, they require an investment of time – you may have to try several before finding what you need – but you’re likely to save a lot of money in the process. Try heading to less central ones where prices are often lower and you may find a surprisingly eclectic mix of clothes, bric-a-brac, and furniture. Below are some recommendations for the Dublin area – a mix of my own favourites and suggestions from other Dublin-based theatre-makers.
Second Abbey – this place is a real treat, tucked away just off Capel Street. It has a range of smaller and larger items from a whole host of eras, as well as a good selection of clothes. It’s not too expensive and it’s always got something surprising.
Oxfam Home – if you’re looking for larger items and bits of furniture/set dressing, try this Oxfam on Francis Street. It’s reasonably priced and well-stocked.
Cherry Orchard showroom – run by Age Action, this is a huge showroom with a variety of household items, clothes, and bric-a-brac.
George’s Street – there’s a good few along here, with the Oxfam and St Vincent de Paul’s being especially good for costumes. You’re also close by Lucy’s Lounge and the Dublin Vintage Factory in Temple Bar; DVF is a kilo store, so particularly good to investigate if you’re looking for costumes that are made from light materials.
Capel, Francis, and Camden Street – it’s worth having a wander through all of these; they have a great range of charity shops with a variety of bits for sale. Dublin Vintage Shop on Capel Street is a lovely little spot that has all sorts of bric-a-brac and clothing.
Dun Laoghaire – a quick trip on the Dart is well worth it for the charity shops on offer out here. These ones generally stock clothes and smaller items more so than larger bits, but they’re worth a shot regardless.
These might seem a little pricier, but this isn’t always the case. Some antique shops will let you rent items, and they can also be useful if you’re looking for unique or old-fashioned props – I’ve found some great smaller bits in antique shops that haven’t cost me more than a tenner. I like Michael Duffy’s on Parnell Street, while other recommendations from Dublin-based theatre-makers include Under the Bridge on Talbot Street and Christy Bird’s in Portobello for used and antique items. Mac’s Warehouse out by Phoenix Park isn’t an antique store, but it has a large range of salvaged items – modern and old-fashioned – for sale.
The Abbey’s costume and prop hire is a great resource, especially if you’re looking for period items that might be hard to find. Depending on what you’re looking for it might not be the cheapest option, but it’s worth investigating regardless. If you’re not Dublin-based, see if your local theatres offer a similar hiring service.
Don’t be shy poking around for scrap bits and pieces – you’ll save money and save something going to waste! Depending on what you’re looking for, it can be worthwhile to look out for items that might be too broken for normal use but will suffice for a show. For example, one theatre-maker friend suggested asking hospitals for broken items they can’t use (such as wheelchairs), and I’ve got great use out of scrap bike parts from the bike shop on Parnell Street.
There’s a whole host of other resources online. Websites that myself and other Dublin-based theatre-makers have found useful include Donedeal, Adverts.ie, Freecycle, Gumtree, eBay, and Depop. You’ll find all sorts on here – the first four are particularly good for bits of furniture/larger items that might otherwise be binned (you could help people declutter while helping out your production). These might be good sites through which to find electricals – things that aren’t necessarily the most modern, but more than suitable for a show – or materials out of which you can then make other pieces. You can often make ‘wanted’ posts if you want to put out a search for something specific.
Production Resources Ireland is a great Facebook group to join if you want to browse available items/put out a search for one of your own. It can also be worth taking a look at groups not specifically intended for theatre – Dublin Buy and Sell has a pretty good range of smaller and larger items (there are Buy and Sell groups for Cork and Limerick too). Sell Your Stuff is another Facebook group that could be worth a shot – this one can often seem a bit swamped by new bits of tech but you can search within the group for specific items.
Thanks to Matt McGowan, Hiram Harrington, Choy-Ping Clarke-Ng, Jack Shanley, and Síofra Nic Liam for their top tips and recommendations.