Kraken: a climate crisis romance

We talked to the team at Unbound Productions about their show Kraken, which will be at VAULT Festival from the 3rd to 8th March. The show is a romance about monsters, capitalism and climate change.

(BL) Bradley Leech – Producer

(RH) Rebecca Hill – Director

(SW) Skot Wilson – Writer

(JD) James Donnelly – Designer

What is your show about?

BL: We are Unbound Productions. Rebecca and I co-artistically direct the company and work with some wonderful artists to create serious work that isn’t afraid to laugh. We’ve got a fantastic team working on Kraken which will be on at the Vault Festival at the beginning of March 2020. 

RH: Kraken is an underwater climate crisis capitalist romance. It’s about monsters, relationships on the edge, the impact of climate change, and a giant squid. The two characters, Simon and Trixie, are deep-sea miners who dredge up the seabed in order to harvest the elements required to make things like smart phones and electric cars. Whilst living in their remote, lighthouse-like unit, they drift apart, and the issues bubbling under their relationship begin to surface. Through this couple’s relationship, we’re looking at the hypocrisies and obstacles involved with trying to lead an eco-ethical life, and push back a little bit against the current (convenient) trend of placing all responsibility on the individual to change their behaviour to stop climate change. Big corporations and conglomerates need to be doing the same and more.

SW: Kraken is a love story, a swansong to our carbon dependencies. Stepping into a post-carbon world is not going to be an easy transition - it changes everything from how we travel, what we eat, and even how we have sex. We’re bringing it to VAULT Festival in week 6 and development-wise, we’re about to go into rehearsals.

BL: Yes, rehearsals, aka the “we’ve got how many weeks left?!”-stage of development.

Where did the idea come from? 

RH: It began as a 15 minute play that Skot had written for a new writing festival at Bristol Old Vic, and when I read it I immediately called him. There was so much potential in it, we agreed he should start thinking about how it could live as a 60-minute show. We then pitched it to High Tide and were shortlisted for their 2019 Disruption season in Edinburgh before deciding the underground environs of the VAULT Festival could be the perfect place to launch the show.

SW: We’re in the age of big and paradoxical monsters. The climate crisis is as much a product of no-limit capitalism as it is an accruement of greenhouse gases and human disruptions over time. I’ve worked at the Natural History Museum for several years and I remember going to a presentation about biodiversity on the abyssal seafloor. It might look like a desert down there, but it’s actually one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on Earth. But there are also vast deposits of polymetallic nodules which will be the backbone for many of the new resource dependencies (cobalt, manganese, and others), required for our urgent and planet-saving green technologies. Most prominently, solar panels and electric cars. So it’s a trade. And there’s no right answer in how we levy it. No right way to be green. I remember feeling sad when I realised that. 

Is your show about the environment? If so, how did you realise that the show would end up being concerned with sustainability and carry this message about our environmental impact on the planet?

BL: In its content, yes it is. As a communicator of environmental issues, it conveys important facts and warnings. However, the beauty of Kraken is actually the exploration of relationships with the environment. Within all our relationships we engage in a constant battle to manage our values, needs, fears and boundaries. Our willingness to compromise is dependent on ‘where we’re at’; in one moment we can be so concerned by our impact or the state of the environment that we take drastic action, in another we justify habits, and in yet another we take an action which solves one problem but creates another. To address the hypocrisy of our attitudes and action - that we’re all guilty of - we have to first address ourselves and our relationships. We need to understand why we do what we do, and unpick the wide-society, corporate and political pressures in our lives - that’s ultimately where change needs to occur. 

SW: Yes, in the sense that I want to capture the visible (and secret) supply lines in play which feed the climate crisis, sexual relationships, and sustainable technologies. I think we like to divide the climate crisis into the ‘goodies’ (the individual), and the ‘baddies’ (the hideous amorphous shell companies and umbrella companies who dictate the world’s revenue). We want the baddies to lose and the goodies to win. But right now the individual is the focal point for climate reform on a micro-level, and we’re not seeing major change dialogues within the macro-level baddies. And that creates rage.

We’re in the Anthropocene, and to me the defining characteristic of that is asking ourselves, what are we prepared to compromise on? Your electric car reduces 5 tonnes of carbon that would otherwise be in the atmosphere - and that’s great. But it also leaves a scar on the seabed. 

How have you made your show more environmentally sustainable?

BL: As theatre makers we’ve had to look at what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and really challenge ourselves to find more sustainable approaches. “That’s the way it’s always been done” is no longer an appropriate response, so we’re working for more conscious decision making. Which is hard! Particularly in areas such as the rehearsal room, where you want to ensure that the work isn’t compromised.

Practically so far we’re: reducing overall printing, printing on eco-friendly paper, keeping digital throughout pre-production, reducing travel, working towards using upcycled, recyclable and reusable set, props and costume as far as possible. Logistically it includes working alongside other companies to reduce waste and over-purchasing, scheduling rehearsals, deliveries and pickups more thoughtfully. There are so many areas where we can make changes - we just have to keep asking ourselves the question “can it be done in a more sustainable way?”.

JD:  In terms of staging, we have been looking into using recycled materials to build the set or finding materials which we ourselves are intent on using for future use.

RH: There’s something too ironic about making a show which highlights hypocrisy in living an eco-friendly life and then not delivering a sustainable production.

SW: There’s physical sustainable impact (e.g., props, set, marketing strategy and the reduction of flyers). But there’s also emotional sustainability. Kraken has lots of waste in the play, but not in the delivery of the play, if that makes sense. And hopefully audiences will feel uplifted by the play rather than demoralised by the nasty economics behind the crisis that we’re in.

Climate narratives must be responsible and promote the idea of a future which is achievable, and which doesn’t demand that we eat algae for thirty years whilst wearing the same pair of underpants. Rage and anger and fury are essential components of this message, but audiences will retreat from a creative space if it makes them feel guilty. And then you have lost a room full of people who may have fallen in love with your message. 

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

RH: There’s a joy in the challenge of it - thinking about what is absolutely necessary to include and how we find a sustainable way to deliver an idea, what materials we use etc.

JD:  It has certainly meant we have had to be creative in our approach to the aesthetics of the piece, but starting out with that in mind, it has been a really good ethos to bring into the process.

SW: Honestly, seeing the people who are doing it better than me. There is a thriving ecosystem (sorry, couldn’t resist) of climate artists now. And the talent and ability to re-define what an artwork is going to do and how it will be made, is really encouraging. 

BL: The learning curve! When you’re challenging everything you do, you end up spending your time researching - pretty much everything! It’s quite enjoyable (and scary) moving from scientific papers to eco-community posts, to videos and pictures and… and then you realise it’s been two hours down the internet rabbit hole. There is so much support out there - as Skot says, it’s incredibly encouraging. 

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

RH: As we have not yet gone into rehearsals, we’ve been able to keep our prep very eco-friendly. We’re having most of our meetings via telephone or email to avoid excess travel and obviously the script is being shared digitally. I can foresee there will be more difficulties when we’re more fully immersed in the design and rehearsal process where the necessary tools of making work include printed elements and design materials but we are trying to find ways to limit this as much as possible.

SW: I’ve learned that committing to this revolution, it has a cost. The more research I’ve done about the carefully disguised carbon economies behind some (very green) alternatives - and in particular, around food - the more it seems that there is no ‘right path’, and instead scales of where you decide to allocate your own units of planetary destruction. But I like the word ‘sustainable’, I like what it promises and wrestling with the micro and the macro of it. 

Who should carry the responsibility for making theatre more sustainable?

RH: I really believe in top-down support. The more the larger companies and organisations apply eco-conscious policies, the more supported emerging artists are when creating work in a sustainable way.

SW: I am not joking when I say this, but the Prime Minister needs to call a special session of COBRA to take a look at the UK Arts economy. I’m happy to help chair it. As theatre-makers and individuals, we’ll slog on and act responsibly. But the big gears need to start grinding.

JD:  I absolutely concur with Rebecca, additional support and understanding of this objective is incredibly helpful, but I think it also needs to be a collective responsibility too. Everyone doing their bit and remaining conscious of what impact your work process is having on the environment.

BL: The team are spot on!

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

BL: Firstly breathe - it is entirely possible and the art doesn’t have to suffer. It’s useful to first build a metric of what your environmental impact is. Then address each area step by step - treat it like a budget. Working towards sustainability doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing approach” - it’s about taking conscious responsibility for the way in which you and yours operate and encouraging others to take responsibility too. Try not to trip over adjusting all the small things and miss the big thing - or indeed by putting a huge amount of effort in finding an eco-friendly solution, that actually isn’t eco-friendly at all… someone should write a play about that.

RH: Utilise the digital as much as possible to avoid over-printing. What you do need to print, aim to avoid paper products that are plastic coated (like glossy flyers), so that once you have finished advertising your show, the paper can be recycled.

SW: Reach out. Talk to the other climate artists and think collaboratively. There are at least three climate artists on your street. Maybe one in your loft. Seven (or seventy) on your commute today. There is a collective here, there is a critical mass now and it’s already causing disruption. 

Find out more about Kraken and Unbound Productions

BL: Find out more about us and the show on our website

RH: Favourite us at StageDoor

SW: Buy tickets on the VAULT website, or my mum will be really upset

JD:  And follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook #KRAKENplay

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