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Making Theatre Sustainable: The Theatre Green Book

How can creatives be more considerate of the impact that theatre production has on the environment?


view from a theatre stage looking into the audience at rows of red seats with a balcony above
Denise Jans @ Unsplash

What is The Theatre Green Book?

Theatre, much like film, music and art, is one of the most important channels through which creatives can advocate for social change. However, with the current state of the climate, if we wish to make any real change creatives also must consider the impact that producing theatre itself has on the environment. Making a show requires energy, travel, materials and can often create a lot of waste.


That’s where The Theatre Green Book comes in.


Created by the Theatres Trust alongside sustainability engineer Buro Happold, The Theatre Green Book acts as a guide to producers, directors, designers and other staff involved in the production of theatre. It invites all people working on a production to consider the impact of their work on climate change and offers a route to becoming more sustainable.


It contains three volumes which outline the ways which this can be done. The volumes each tackle a different angle of the issue; focusing on making sustainable productions, making the theatre buildings themselves sustainable and minimising the environmental impact of other theatre operations such as catering, marketing and travel. It covers how improvements can be made from the budgeting and concept stages all the way to the disposal stage once a show is over. From small scale changes to larger scale changes, The Theatre Green Book makes suggestions that every theatre should be able to take on board.


The Key Principles

Here are some of the main principles that The Theatre Green Book outlines for theatres to follow in its first volume to give you an idea of what the guide aims to achieve.


The Concept

Sustainability begins at the concept of a production and should be considered by both the director and designer at the initial stages so that the rest of the team can carry out the concept in a sustainable way.

Planning

When planning a sustainable production, both budget and time need to be taken into consideration. Designing a sustainable production and finding appropriate resources can take more time than usual.


Using Tools

Tools like a Carbon Calculator can be useful in evaluating how much carbon emission is created from a design idea, action or product. Keeping an inventory of materials can also help keep data on where each material comes from and how easily it can be recycled.


Materials

A material hierarchy is outlined in the guide; production teams should start by designing out materials that aren’t necessary or needed. Below that is the recycled, repurposed and reused material which should be priority. At the very bottom is raw material such as PVC, steel and synthetic textiles which are destructive to manufacture and difficult to recycle. These should be avoided. Materials should not be thrown into landfill but sold, donated, recycled or stored at a nearby venue if possible.


Energy Use

Transport should be limited, and deliveries should be reduced. Energy-efficient routines should be put in place while running a show.


The Theatre Green Book in Action

The Royal Shakespeare Company have been open about their environmental action and interaction with The Theatre Green Book:

And the Royal Shakespeare Company are evidently putting this into practice. In March 2023, I saw Elizabeth Freestone’s production of The Tempest at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Inspired by the climate crisis, Freestone created a focus on the current state of the climate by making changes to set and costume; including completely recycled props and costumes made of recycled plastic. With help from set designer Tom Piper, the set was formed from materials from past productions; the wooden flooring from repurposed wood that had been used at the Kiln Theatre and trees and other natural materials from Wilton’s Music Hall.


As for the props for the production, props supervisor Lauren Simmonds made sure that props that already existed within the Royal Shakespeare Company were used. This included a prop piano from the 2016 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Alongside this, Simmonds organised a beach litter pick to gather washed up items and plastic; providing authentic props for the island set of The Tempest and cleaning the beaches of Weston-Super-Mare at the same time!


By working in this way, the Royal Shakespeare Company have reduced their carbon footprint by 43% since 2012 which is just one example of how being creative sustainably can have a positive impact.


A Necessary Change

Creatives are incredibly important in the fight for social change, and it is a skill to be able to use that creativity to enact change in society. However, to be true advocates for environmental action, theatres and other creatives must be more considerate of the environment.


While small change is happening, it is not enough.


Changes must be made in the creative processes to work towards a more sustainable future for the creative industry and the world alike. It is no longer acceptable to just speak on these social issues, but we must be actively engaged in working towards a change.

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