We talked to Caitlin McLeod, a curator for Extinction Underground, a late night playground responding to the climate and ecological emergency at VAULT Festival, organised by Extinction Rebellion, Culture Declares Emergency and Music Declares Emergency.
What is the event?
'Extinction Underground' at VAULT Festival, London's largest arts festival, is a late-night showcase of creative responses to climate and ecological breakdown. The event has been created and curated by a team who work across Extinction Rebellion (XR), Culture Declares Emergency and Music Declares Emergency.
It is celebrating the activist and artistic movements currently working for climate justice - including comics, visual artists, rappers, musicians, dancers, writers, filmmakers, performers as well as rebels who have taken and transformed the streets with such vibrancy. The event will take place throughout the Vaults tunnels which include 5 different spaces in an entirely immersive experience. All donations and proceeds will be going to XR.
Why are you doing the event? Where did the idea come from?
As artists who are responding to the emergency - with many of us involved with XR - we asked ourselves how we could effectively contribute to the evolving and expanding movement of movements happening in the UK; how we could connect and grow together. Since the birth of XR many creative groups have formed - such as Culture Declares Emergency, Music Declares Emergency, Writers Rebel, Earth Ensemble and Comix Rebel, and with artists from Radiohead to organisations such as the National Theatre declaring a climate and ecological emergency and taking necessary action for climate justice.
For us, VAULT Festival was a wonderful opportunity to provide a platform for some of these artists to share their work and to engage more people on the issue of climate action. There are so many pathways to get involved, and the emotional and experiential power of a collective creative event such as Extinction Underground can be an accessible and joyful way in.
What can people expect from the event?
From over 80 artists and countless genres there will be circus, dance, drag, clown, creative disruptions, art installation, slam poetry, DJs and live bands. As well as these live acts we also have interactive projects and walk-about characters roaming the tunnels. Fay Milton from Savages will be DJ-ing, all-female collective The Yonis will be doing a flash-mob style dance performance and slam-winning poet Tanaka Fuego brings their work to the Underbar main space as part of a tremendous line-up of new work directly responding to the urgency of our times. Expect to be initiated, to be re-wilded, and to return home forever changed.
What do you want people to experience?
Regeneration and restoration is such a beautiful and necessary part of any movement that hopes to sustain itself. And we need to sustain ourselves in this movement. For us this late-night event is just one part of a variety of actions towards climate justice that must include community strengthening as well as celebration. We hope audiences will experience a wide range of creative responses to the climate breakdown that include grief, rage, joy and, ultimately, empowerment.
We want them to feel inspired and energised but we've also provided spaces that allow reflection and shared grief for the reality of what's happening to our world. Fun and celebration is not escapism, it's another doorway into action.
How have you made your event more environmentally sustainable?
Recycling has been our biggest theme while creating this event. From tech equipment used in the XR Uprisings to props from the Vaults' stores to materials and more from former shows that would otherwise have been thrown away. The Vaults venue is also committed to and actively working towards an environmentally sustainable industry.
What have the highlights been of developing an event in a sustainable way? What have you learnt?
The highlight of creating any event with low resources and low funds, as well as an intention to be as sustainable as possible, means that you have to get very innovative and very creative, quickly. The whole event becomes dependent on asking favours, reusing materials and equipment, down-sizing and sharing. What's wonderful is that this way of working means more connections and interactions between people, expanded networks of giving and lending and a culture of generosity and good will. It's anti-profit, anti-waste and pro-people!
Specifically with this event, we're lucky in the fact that each artist we've invited to come participate is also thinking along these lines so no one is bringing materials or equipment that is disposable.
What have the difficulties been of developing an event in a sustainable way? What have you learnt?
We're proud of how ambitious we've been with this project and how diverse and eclectic our program is. But ambition of course brings with it a whole host of complex logistics that are sometimes tricky to navigate with such a small team who are all volunteering their time and skills. You don't realise how many cables and plugs and lights go into an event of this scale. Luckily we have resources from the movement - there's always spare equipment lurking about somewhere!
Who should carry the responsibility for making theatre more sustainable?
As freelance artists we can only do as much as we can do but we all know that individual change is not going to make the big changes happen on the scale we need to see. Large institutions who have the resources and funding and know-how need to set the example of becoming openly more sustainable, and share how they are going about doing that. But they also need to open their doors to share resources with smaller companies and artists. No set should just be thrown away without consulting other companies who might be able to re-use parts and pieces.
Tips and tricks: What can emerging artists do to be more eco-friendly?
Plan ahead of time and share your plans with experts in each field from tech to design to producing so that they can feedback their experiences about how much your vision is going to need/cost/waste. Then you can start collectively thinking about ways to avoid waste or enhance sustainability. As much as possible try to tap into existing networks that share resources but also start creating your own and letting other artists know your intentions.
Book a ticket for Extinction Underground
22nd February 2020, 10.30pm - 3am