Ella Langley: Interview with Josie Dale-Jones, ThisEgg
“We’re recruiting new members to join our political party, disguised as a party-party, disguised as a show.”
ThisEgg have been creating a buzz at The Edinburgh Festival Fringe for the last few years - as Josie endearingly recaps in “A Brief History”- but never more literally than with their beloved family comedy Me and My Bee which premiered there in 2017 before a National Tour in 2018. “A political party, disguised as a party party, disguised as a show”; Me and My Bee is loud and proud about its own social conscience, and wants you to catch the bug too. I talked to Josie about the trials and tribulations of combining entertainment with environmentalism.
Germination: what started Me and My Bee?
It was actually based on my devised piece from A-Level, which kept coming back up because me, Hannah and Lotte who had made that piece wanted to work together again on a family show, and this thing about bees hadn’t gone away. Then those two got other jobs but gave me their blessing to make it. Them bees need saving.
The aim was clear from the beginning. We knew we wanted people to leave with seeds, and we knew we had to find a way to make people actually want to plant them. Climate change, obviously affects us, but there’s nothing that feels tangible. Without bees, we’ll have no food - so everyone is like “oh shit! We gotta do something!”
I was really interested in the fact that bees are so small but they have such a big impact. We all think “oh we’re so small and insignificant in this world”. Me and My Bee also became about instilling that each of us does make a difference, no matter how big or small.
Conscience: at what point did the environmental principle become important?
The original A-Level piece wasn’t very consciously about the environment. It was about bees, but it followed the story of a guy who became obsessed with bees - bee boy (obvs) - and he found out that the bees were declining and … basically in the end he died and turned into a swarm of bees, repopulating the planet! So, a totally different show there.
My mum is super environmentally conscious and I think it’s just something that you suddenly realise you care about too while you’re nagging people about recycling. I guess Me and My Bee was the first show I made that had a real social conscience. Since that it’s been more and more about making sure that the shows that I’m making have got a reason to be made. I mean, I am so for entertainment “for entertainment's sake”, and making a pure comedy (one day, maybe!), but I have started to try and use theatre as a form of activism.
Divergence: where do you stand on environmental content versus management?
The content versus management thing is an enormous battle. Particularly marketing: there’s posters and flyers - and you’re tryna save the world - but you need to sell your show. Basically, Fringe society needs to ban flyers. Until it’s been tackled from somewhere up high, no one is going to change what they’re doing.
With Me and My Bee, we made a conscious decision to halve our print order. Luckily, simultaneously, social media seemed to become the main marketing tool. We also knew we wanted the show to be tourable. We’ve hardly got any set and we’ve toured almost all of it on public transport, which can be a bit of a nightmare (you realise all sorts of other things, including the accessibility or inaccessibility of stations) and really expensive - but we did it!
Bold statement coming right out, but I think it’s theatre’s job to make audiences think and make them more aware of the world we live in. It is really hard to make a show that does that and is also entertaining. But there’s something immediate and personal about theatre; it’s where people go to learn in a way where they don’t feel like they’re learning.
Pollination: Who is responsible for spreading sustainability right now?
Well it all trickles down from the top. It’s hard because (everything is hard)… there’s all the lighting/electrical side of things but that’s part of the theatrical experience. The main and easiest thing for me to taken on right now is marketing. Saying, “look I’m not gonna create any print. I’ll put that money towards boosting a social media post.” Easier said than done. It’s part of your contract to provide print for a show. So, you could print on recycled paper, but to a small company that £20 difference can be everything. A few venues have moved from posters to screens. I hate technology but I think it can help us. I have an idea for a tinder type app for shows. Can you patent that for me before someone steals it? OR, better still, does anyone out there know how to make apps? Let’s make it.
Also, the bars and their plastic - just get something you can reuse! You know when you go to a festival and you get a cup for £2’s deposit THAT YOU CAN GET BACK AT THE END? Why do bars not do that in Edinburgh, it really stresses me out.
Starting out: advice for other companies starting sustainably?
Be as simple but as creative with it as possible. I think sometimes people treat the making of shows that have “got a message” or ask something of their audience in a slightly different way but it’s exactly the same. It’s still got to have a heart and it’s still got to be a bit funny; it’s still got to do all those things that you’d expect a normal show to do.
Inspiration: whose work had you buzzing?
Blue Planet was great. David can save us. The Lyric Hammersmith have a huge movement across their building about being more green.