Paper Straws: a wacky show about the Climate Crisis

Updated: Feb 19, 2020

We talked to the Paper Straws team about their upcoming VAULT Festival show. Part surreal comedy, part family drama set against the backdrop of our looming climate catastrophe, the characters are forced to decide 'how far would you go to save the world'?

What is your show about?

Paper Straws is all about grappling with how much we should care about the Climate Crisis and if we do care then what on earth are we, as individuals, supposed to do about it. The central narrative follows three ‘Life Rafters’: people who grew up through a rehoming charity that takes children from unliveable countries and places them with families in supposedly safer areas. But expect detours via game shows, a heavenly reckoning and a demanding God figure who is getting sick of having to solve so many problems all on her own.

It’s taking place at VAULT Festival as part of their Eco Week from the 21st to the 23rd February. It’s a work in progress so it’s the show’s first outing in front of an audience. We’ll be looking for feedback, to see which bits of the story and the way we tell it, work best.

And as for us? We’re PearShaped or Jess Daniels, Rachael Smith and Katie Caden to our family and friends! We’re a company who think there needs to be a more female representation in all areas of the theatre industry and who love taking big, challenging topics and telling stories about them in inventive and entertaining ways.

Where did the idea come from?

We like to make work about the things we care the most about. The Climate Crisis was high on all our agendas but we were worried about making a show that was preachy, or just a bit depressing. In our first research and development sessions, we realised quickly how many different things all constituted ‘Climate Crisis’ (waste, wildlife extinction, weather!) and it was overwhelming trying to stay on top of it all. The show is an attempt to capture this and accept the complexity. We drew inspiration from Pity by Rory Mullarkey. We watched it together and loved its zaniness so we wanted to similarly experiment with taking a huge topic, but make it fun and a bit wacky whilst still driving an important message home.

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?

We knew from the start that sustainability would be ingrained in the creation of the show. We wanted to make a piece of theatre about climate change and it would have been hypocritical to not practice what we are preaching! But we personally knew that there were steps we could take to make our practice more sustainable and we wanted to join the conversation with other theatre makers and companies so that we can all improve as an industry. And it’s been a fantastic journey which has shaped us a company permanently and our work in the future.

What have the highlights been of developing the show? What have you learnt?

It’s been empowering learning at all the little ways you can make a difference through trying to be more sustainable as a company and rewarding when you stick at them. Being sustainable is easier than you think and it’s all about getting into good habits. It should be thought more of as brushing your teeth rather than going on a diet. If you forget to brush your teeth one day, you don’t then give up completely. Plus just making the show has been a highlight. Paper Straws is not just about the world potentially ending, it is also supposed to be fun and funny! Because that is life – there’s a lot of warmth and humour to find even in dark times, and the show ultimately is about the power of family and friends and the support that we can all give to one another.

What have the difficulties been of developing the show? What have you learnt?

In some ways the most challenging part of the show has been the emotional side. As the show is about climate change, and not just about embedding sustainable practice, sometimes it can feel a bit hopeless, that the challenge we face is too huge or that there is nothing that individuals can do.

Who should carry the responsibility for making theatre more sustainable?

We all should! Companies should be embedding sustainability in their practices but venues also have a lot to do too. They can make decisions about cutting down on waste, using sustainable energy and where they source things like food and drink in their cafes and bars. But it also goes beyond the theatre industry – lighting for example is one of the most un-environmentally friendly aspects of theatre making so we need to start demanding that there are more eco friendly alternatives and that sort of thought is going in to ‘non-theatre’ industry but who supply to us. Print marketing also fits that category.

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

We’ve found that the old adage of “by failing to prepare, you're preparing to fail” really does apply when it comes to creating an eco friendly rehearsal room. It’s much easier if you spend a bit of time and thought in advance so you don’t do a last minute shop dash and end up returning with a mountain of plastic or unnecessarily print ten times too many scripts.

Up-cycle props or have a hunt on FreeCycle or Set Exchange. Crowdsource costumes from your theatre (or regular) friends and followers. Print scripts on recycled paper or the back of something else. Bring scrap paper for notes instead of new. Bring snacks for the team that aren’t in single use plastic – bake some goodies. Remind your team to bring keep cups for the inevitable coffee run, and reusable water bottles. They’re all small things but the theatre industry can be carelessly wasteful so we all need to play our part.

How to see Paper Straws

Paper Straws is running at Vault festival from the 21st to the 23rd February 2020. Tickets can be bought here

You can find out some more about PearShaped here

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