Staging Change is a growing grassroots network of performers, makers and venues who work together to improve the environmental sustainability of the theatre and entertainment industry. Staging Change’s core team, led by me and ThisEgg’s Josie Dale-Jones, organises campaigns, workshops and opportunities for network members to perform green work.
Staging Change has been a long time in the making. In 2016, I performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with my theatre company, Poltergeist. I tried to implement sustainable practice into our work, but I felt like there wasn’t a clear framework to do so, and it felt lonely when you didn’t know who else at the festival was doing the same. The following year, I went back to Edinburgh to carry out research for my dissertation on… you guessed it… environmental sustainability at the Fringe. I found that due to the festival’s decentralisation – aimed at opening up centrally curated arts festivals – it was less obvious where leadership and accountability should lie. It came clear that a collaborative effort between the venues, the Fringe Society, local organisations and those taking part would be needed to improve the sustainability of the festival.
Learning about organisations such as Julie’s Bicycle and Creative Carbon Scotland opened my eyes to the importance of working in this space where the arts and the environment cross over. I once heard Alison Tickell, Founder and CEO of Julie’s Bicycle say, “the arts is the difference between knowing knowledge and feeling knowledge.” Our industry has an incredible capacity to communicate ideas and stories. This is what we need to express the urgency of the issues facing us today. It’s been shown time and time again that we’re more likely to act if something affects us emotionally. The theatre and entertainment industry has a real opportunity to use their unique skills to change the world for the better.
In 2018, before heading up to the Fringe for the third time, I launched a campaign with theatre company Poltergeist called #SustainableFringe. Our theatre company committed to three simple sustainable actions around plastic, paper and material waste. We encouraged other shows to do the same, which in turn began to build connections between Fringe-goers who wished to act on environmental issues at the festival. Over 100 individuals and shows pledged to the actions, which was amazing!
The campaign had coverage from the local: The Student Newspaper, to the national: Sky News. It also attracted praise from prominent voices in the sustainability world – Keep Scotland Beautiful, Terry A’Hearn the CEO of SEPA – and the arts world – Lyn Gardner.
From this it felt like a no-brainer to develop an initiative that went beyond the Fringe and could foster a network of artists trying to change the industry. After a few of months late-night idea shaping and website building, Staging Change was launched in February of 2019. Our small team is made up of early-career theatre makers, writers, designers and producers who are keen to ensure the future of theatre is green. As of July 2020, our network has over 250 individuals, groups and venues signed up, all of which are aiming to reduce their environmental impact, whether they are at the beginning of their sustainability journey or the greenest theatre machines around.