How to be a sustainable producer

Caitlin Evans

Climate change requires us to think sustainably when making work, not just in terms of materials and resources, but in the ethos and aims we hold for every performance we produce.

Theatre is often a temporary industry, in which we put a lot of energy, time and money into planning, writing, rehearsing and performing one show and then that’s it, once performed it is done. This is particularly true with fringe theatre. If we are lucky it will be brought back again for another run or go on tour, but more often than not that’s it. The lifespan of the show remains only in the minds and memories of people involved (audience and makers).

How can we be more sustainable as producers of such temporary theatre? How do we make our impact on the world as theatre-makers sustainable? Key approaches to this include thinking beyond the end goal of performance. Climate change demands us to work collaboratively and think locally; to move away from individualism and consumerism, towards a localised and co-operative lifestyle. In this blog we share some tips for how producers can adopt these ideals and work sustainably.

1. Collaboration

Work collaboratively with makers across disciplines, to share skills and resources.

By working collaboratively we can use what is already available to us, supporting engagement with a diverse range of makers and learning skills from each other, as opposed to working individually. We can collaborate by developing each other’s skill sets; working with people who already have experience in the areas we may lack.

By collaborating in this way we share not only material resources, but skills and experiences which help shape each producer's work, and offer opportunities to each other in a supportive environment. In doing so, we move away from an attitude of competition, in which each producer makes work separately and competes over audiences, instead embodying solidarity with those who share these ideals and supporting each other’s work.

2. Localism

Create work locally, with communities of makers who build relationships through working together, and continue that relationship post-show.

Prioritising local work creates a community that can engage in future work together, building localised groups of makers in different areas, as opposed to a central company that travels to an area for a production, then leaves. Localism is an ideal in Green Economics that shows how small, local economies can be built and enable sustainable growth in an area. Producers can do this not just in travel, but by considering who we work with, where we rehearse and where our materials/resources come from. If touring, we should consider how to do so with the least environmental impact. This is not to say we cannot travel across the country (or world) on tour, but when making work we must consider how to best use local resources - both materials and skills - and engage with local communities of makers and audiences, reducing our carbon footprint and developing long-lasting relationships in doing so.

3. Time

Think about the lifespan of a production - what are the long term goals, and their impact on planet?

Time is precious in the creative world. The luxury of having time to create, to play and explore an idea is too often a rarity. So how can we use time sustainably? We must consider how to meet the targets for each production, and what impact these goals will have on the planet, in the time available to us. If the aim is to take a play to the fringe, and then on tour, we must ensure we plan for this long-term journey, so resources can be re-used and skills shared. When applying for funding, we should think about how the show can exist once the run has finished and in what ways we can invest now in order to support, and protect, the production’s future.

4. Materials and Resources

Invest in materials and resources for the future, up-cycling instead of buying new when possible.

We should consider how, and why, we use material resources, and when we do use them we should try to use those which already exist: up-cycling your set, props and costume design from pre-existing materials (see tips page by BoxedIn). Invest in products that will last the length of the production and won’t be chucked after one or two shows. Share resources with each other, and think locally when investing in them to have the least carbon impact.

5. Green Economy

How can you create a circular economy?

What is the best way to use funding to support the the sustainable production of a show? We need to invest in skills and resources that can be used in the future, saving on both financial and environmental costs down the line. We should use profit made to invest in future productions, and save where we can on excess materials and services in order to create a circular, sustainable economy.

Overall, as producers we must ask how the productions we make (both in process and product) reject neoliberal ideals and promote what is needed to combat climate change. This can be achieved by adopting ideals of collaboration, solidarity, and localism. Only by promoting an ethos of care, co-operation and solidarity over individualism, can we combat the ideals on which climate breakdown is perpetuated. Through actively seeking collaboration, working across disciplines and working in solidarity with other artists and companies to promote each other’s work, as opposed to seeing it as a competition, we can offer a way of producing work which supports the ideals needed to combat climate change.

Hopefully these 5 core aspects of sustainable producing can give an insight into how to think sustainably when producing work.

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