Environmental ethics and artistic practise: can they speak the same language? What does environmentally careful design look like?

This is the text I prepared for the above panel, at Making Theatre Green, at the National Theatre, London, 6th June 2022. What I actually said was inevitably a little different, but this version is clearer to read than a transcript with all my ums, errs, omissions and mistakes!


When I was around 12 or 13, I dug out my old Playmobil figures and made scale model sets for them. They’re quite close to 1:25, actually! I first painted the back wall of the school hall for a show when I was about 15. An early starter, you might think?

Well. According to a newspaper clipping my mum found the other day, I got a brief write up in the Harlow Star, aged 10, for saving up my pocket money to plant trees. 

And, frankly, it escalated from there.

So… I’ve been involved in environmental campaigning longer than I’ve been designing shows. But the crazy thing is how, until a few years ago, I totally compartmentalised the two.

Why did it take so long for me to bring these two obsessions together?

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Lockdown update

(Top photo: Kenny Baraka with DJ Conrad Kira in Plot 17. Photo: Suzi Corker)

I was asked to summarise, briefly, what I got up to during lockdown. But I couldn’t. It was too varied, and lots of things required some explanation. I guess everyone knows that the theatre sector has been hit very hard by the pandemic. Many workers have left to get sensible, less precarious, less stressful jobs. I haven’t. But I have, as they say, diversified. Perhaps, I thought to myself, that’s worth a blogpost. So here goes.

Myself, Andrea Carr and Mona Kastell at the Ecostage Launch, CCA Glasgow, during COP26. (Photo: Kanatip Soonthornrak)

To start with, I used the opportunity afforded by the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme to help set up the Society of British Theatre Designers’s first working group on sustainability, taking on the role of co-ordinator. I also become one of the directors of Ecostage, an initiative for supporting ecological thinking in the performing arts. Along with Andrea Carr, Mona Kastell, Ruth Stringer and some volunteers, I helped rebuild the project from the ground up as a go-to platform for green-minded performing arts professionals. The new website, ecostage.online, was launched at COP26 last month. Various other advisory roles then followed, including helping gather material for The Green Book, joining the advisory panel on sustainability for the Queens Theatre Hornchurch and informally helping co-ordinate knowledge-sharing with other sustainable performing arts groups around the world. 

In the past I’ve joked that, because of the huge disconnect between workload and pay in the sector, my ideal working model would be to get some kind of stipend, then offer my services for free as I see fit. SEISS felt a bit like that, and for a while I was almost a full-time volunteer.

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Latest blogpost for the SBTD: The Green Book

I’ve been on the committee of the Society of British Theatre Designers (SBTD) for quite a few years now, and just before the pandemic I was one of a small team of designers that, as a result of a roundtable we organised at the V&A during our Staging Places exhibition, set up a new working group for the SBTD to focus on sustainability. Now called the Sustainable Design Group (SDG), it has nearly 60 members and regular four-weekly meetings, with various subgroups (materials, costume, training etc.).

Through the SDG, I also got involved with Ecostage and am now part of core team re-imagining the Ecostage principles and pledge, along with creating a new website. I’ll be sure to tell you a lot more about all this once the website has launched.

Being part of these two projects has led to me being stupidly busy while many of my theatre colleagues were getting into baking and houseplants, and I do feel as though maybe I should have taken more of a chance to breath. But it has also been deeply rewarding and has led to all sorts of interesting connections in the UK and internationally.

One particularly interesting thing over the last few months has been contributing to the creation of The Green Book. This is a project to create an authoritative guide to sustainable theatre for the UK sector. Part One is out in beta form for you to download and trial. Led by the theatre architect Paddy Dillon, working with Buro Happold, it was initiated by the Theatres Trust and the ABTT. I’ve written about it in more detail in my latest post for the SBTD.

The cover image for the SBTD blogpost, which is in the background of the cover image for this post, is from a project by SDG member and amazing designer Alison Neighbour: the original image with an explanation and full credits can be found in the post itself.

If you do have feedback on Part One, I’ve offered to compile any feedback that comes in through the SDG, so feel free to contact me and I’ll add it to our group’s feedback document, which I’ll pass on to Paddy and his team.

Meanwhile there’s lots of other stuff in the pipeline from the various things I’m involved with, ranging from the Ecostage website launch to new design-focused carbon literacy training. Plus some actual design work is creeping hesitantly back… Fingers crossed for that.

In the meantime, if you work in theatre, please have a read of my SBTD blogpost, then download The Green Book and give it a test run.

Crowdfunding Awkwardness

So… this is tricky.

It’s not often I do any crowdfunding for things I’m working on. But now two crowdfunding drives have come along at once. Oops.

One is for the theatre company I run, Daedalus. We need some funds to move our community storytelling project East online. If you follow me on social media, you’ll know about that because I’ve been posting about quite a lot.

And now there’s Ecostage, an initiative led by a group of theatre designers to foster sustainable practice in the performing arts. I’ll be telling my social media followers more about that over the coming days, and doubtless post something here too.

But for now, I want to say why I think crowdfunding is the right thing to do.

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