Ella Langley: Interview with Luke Rollason
"When you feel alone the easiest thing is to re-join the majority. And I’ve done it many times."
I am an ugly laugher, but I have rarely cackled as outrageously as I did throughout Luke Rollason’s Planet Earth III at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe. Luke tells me he never anticipated himself working on a piece for so long, but the show is going strong and about to enjoy a run at London’s Soho Theatre from April 3rd – 6th 2019. Set in the very future we are all trying to avoid, ecological collapse has led to the extinction of thousands of creatures, including the BBC. Right on programming schedule, however, Rollason, a determined intern, is making the third series of Planet Earth anyway - using a few remaining office materials, almost no words and a lot of imagination. I spoke to him about the development of the show’s environmental conscience.
Spark: I love the idea of the show, where did the Planet Earth III office supply format come from?
I had just got back from a clown course in a forest in Wales, and I had to do something for a gig. I had an eight year old's tracksuit and I wrote this really complicated number about being a runner. I was like "fuck I can’t do that, but I do have this office lamp. So, I’ll just put that on my head and turn it on and off and make funny noises". That was all I had. Then these David Attenborough voiceovers about Angler fish.
I went from that first gig, to my first show in less than 6 months. Which is crazy. Someone said to me “you should do a whole show with animals” and I went “ha ha ha obviously that will never happen!” Then a couple months down the line I was like “oooo, well you know - maybe! That’ll be an easy way to write a show if I just do another animal and keep going.”
Development: 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?
The environmental side to the show came later when I was trying to find props for the second showing in Brighton. I was like how can we do this show super sustainably. And then I realised… not very easily! I had this beautiful moment where I was walking from coffee chain to coffee chain, trying to find out if their cups were even recyclable... Nowadays that’s a linguistic trap, so people can say “recyclable yes” (but are they recycled? no). But back then everyone was like “recyclable? no”. I walked for like an hour maybe, and that physical journey was just very clear. I had to go to this ethical supermarket.
In Edinburgh, every single coffee cup I used I took from a bin or the floor, because they’re everywhere. I couldn’t switch off when I got back, it was like Pavlov’s dog, I would see them on the floor and go to pick them up in the middle of London and people would be like why are you doing that.
That made me realise we’ve got pretty poor imaginations when it comes to how to do things. I think I see this show as about the impact of every day waste; and that’s the reason to use mundane props, to get us to look at what we use differently. If we can believe that a guy wearing a lamp on his head is a fish, then we can probably make the same kind of imaginative leap to go - "oh and if we throw that away that will go in the sea". But it takes an imaginative leap. I slip in and out of it all the time. I’ll be like, "this plastic is so bad, anyway I’ll go buy that sandwich!"
Burden: who should carry the responsibility for making theatre more sustainable?
We all have responsibility. And if you say that someone else has the responsibility then I think you’re kidding yourself.
It’s easy to feel dwarfed by larger structures, because you are. At the same time, I would love it if the companies who were part of a venue were able to say to the venue, we expect these kinds of things from you with regards to your environmental policy etcetera.
You’re placed in this position of extreme lack of power, because you’ve paid so much just to perform at a venue where if you make a profit they will make a profit, and if you make a loss it will not really affect them. So, you can already feel so powerless and yet you are their business.
I would love it if I felt like I had more of a voice. So that if I’m emailing my venue for a festival, I could be like one of twenty shows saying “look, it’s really time you stopped using plastic in your bars”. One email is not their job, but twenty emails is a job for them to deal with. When you feel alone the easiest thing is to re-join the majority. And I’ve done it many times.
Tips and tricks: What can emerging artists do to be more eco-friendly?
Emerging artists often go and get their props from Poundland because they think they can’t afford to make big investments. But then they’re pretty shitty props, so they end up getting chucked. The Fringe is really bad for that happening. I think it’s least evident to us that we might have to take a lot more responsibility.
Often there’s a reason why your first idea is the first idea, and it’s often because it’s the easiest way. So I suggest examining the ideas that come to you. I’ve seen a lot of performances where I feel, “that was kind of unnecessary, doing that in that way”. Like, did that have to be eggs? “Did that have to be eggs” should be the tagline.
Inspiration: Is there anyone else whose work in theatre and sustainability is inspiring you?
Persephone Pearl from the O N C A Gallery in Brighton which set up the environmental award we applied for. We just did a residency with her for our kids show. Her life is dedicated to environmental art, and improving diversity within that movement.
Brainchild Festival are a really good example of an organisation with policies that actually work. It has policed waste stations, so you walk in and staff tell you what goes there, etc. They also had reusable cups with a deposit. At the end, they had people collecting up all the cups to make money off the deposits, which was great.
Check out Luke Rollason here
Catch the show:
9-17th March 2019 - BLUE PLANET III at VAULT
3-6th April 2019 - PLANET EARTH III at SOHO
6th April 2019 - BLUE PLANET III at SOHO
22nd - 25th May 2019 -- BLUE PLANET III at BRIGHTON FRINGE
13th-15th June 2019 - PLANET EARTH III at SOHO