Being ‘ecological’ means integrating an awareness that no decision stands on its own: every design choice is intertwined with social, environmental, economic and political consequences that are far reaching and capable of having long-term effects, and, ultimately, benefits.
Tanja Beer – Ecoscenography
APDGreen Conversations is catching up on the many exciting environmental sustainability developments both in Australia and overseas. It has been a big year so far in terms of initiatives being launched and positions being created to forward environmental champions into our screen and stage sectors.
In this Quarter’s newsletter, theatre and event designer Imogen Ross reports back about the launch of NIDA Green, Tanja Beer’s much awaited book launch in Canada, Sydney-based Arts on Tours’ timely and informative sustainability handbook and the Making Theatre Green summit at the NT in London.
NIDA GREEN – Sydney, Australia
In late August 2022, NIDA launched their environmental sustainability plan NIDA Green initiative with keynote speakers actor Yael Stone, film maker Damon Gameau and NIDA’s CEO Liz Hughes. It is the result of extensive consultation with staff and students, industry practitioners and international partners and spearheaded by the newly appointed NIDA Sustainability manager Grace Nye-Butler.
Structured around five key pillars – community, production, curriculum, building and operations, and leadership – NIDA Green aims to equip current and future student cohorts with the skills they need to make real change in the performing arts sector by embedding sustainable practice at the core of their learning experiences.
As NIDA CEO Liz Hughes explained:
‘As part of NIDA Green, we will create an environmentally conscious community that harnesses the input of people who want to make a difference. Our plan sees sustainability becoming a core part of NIDA’s education and we will change the way we create and produce creative works at NIDA to lead and cultivate green industry practice.’
The initiatives associated with NIDA Green will ensure that students are thinking about sustainable practice from the initial stages of every new production.
As well as committing to become a fully regenerative and climate positive organisation by 2030, NIDA is educating its students about the environmental impact of their arts practice. Building on the evidence-based work of the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), NIDA Green aims to ensure that NIDA is a leader in sustainability education in Australia’s dramatic arts sector
NIDA has already put its money where its mouth is with the installation of solar panels, battery storage, and energy efficient chillers and air-conditioning. E-waste recycling has been implemented and the theatres are in the process of shifting from traditional incandescent lighting to LED lighting.
Many thanks to Richard Watts (senior editor at Arts Hub) for summing up the launch HERE.
ECOSCENOGRAPHY book launch – WSD: Calgary, Canada
Australian designer and academic Dr Tanja Beer officially launched her book Ecoscenography: an introduction to ecological design for performance (2021) in mid-August 2022 at the World Stage Design conference in Calgary. This ground-breaking book is the first to bring an ecological focus to theatre and performance design, both in scholarship and in practice. Ecoscenography weaves environmental philosophies and practices across genres and fields to provide a captivating vision for the future of sustainable theatre production. The book forefronts leading designers that are driving this emerging field into the mainstream through their relational and reciprocal engagement with place, audiences, materials, and processes.
“The aim of my book Ecoscenography: an introduction to ecological design for performance (2021) is to provide a philosophy or framework for working in a sustainable way that is less focused on a ˜how-to-guide’ for materials and techniques (of which there are already many resources). A key strategy of Ecoscenography is relational thinking. For example, taking a place-based approach to designing and that ultimately begins with how we respond to where we are, here, now, as a primary approach. One material choice in one place is not necessarily the best choice in another. Everything is relational. “
To read in-depth about Tanja’s approach to ecoscenography I highly recommend this re-printed translation of an interview with her by Milo JurAini – a theatre critic from Slovakia who writes about the intersection of theatre and contemporary issues: https://www.sustainablepractice.org/category/ecosencography/
I also highly recommend that APDG designers bookmark the useful Resources page on the Centre for Sustainable Practices in the Arts web page to keep up to date with the latest green guides, carbon calculators and sustainability in film, TV and live performance websites that are being developed. The CSPA website is updated regularly and has the most accessible list of international sustainability tools I have yet found.
In early August 2022 the OISTATT World Stage Design was held in Calvary, Canada after being cancelled due to international lockdowns in 2021. World Stage Design is an international exhibition of contemporary scenography – the stage, costume, lighting, and sound design. Different from the nation-based exhibition of performance design at the Prague Quadrennial (PQ), WSD is a designer-focused international exhibition, in which the exhibits are submitted by individual designers from around the world.
Queensland University of Technology’s lecturer in Scenography Tessa Rixon co-hosted a panel on the first day of the conference called Ecoscenographic Approaches to Embracing the Digital Within Performance with a hybrid panel exploring the complex issue of technology within ecologically conscious approaches to making and design.
She was thrilled to announce that eleven QUT theatre design students along with their international peers exhibited their design concepts for the Climate Change Theatre Action’s anthology of climate plays as part of the Climate Change Design Charrette (see APDGreen Conversations Oct 2022).
The next WSD will be held in 2025 – OISTATT encourages open submissions for countries to register their interest in hosting this international event. Perhaps the APDG may wish to co-host this event in collaboration with an educational institution like NIDA, VCA and QUT in future years? Definitely something to think about.
Green Touring Handbook – Arts on Tour
In March 2022, Arts on Tour launched their well-researched guide to sustainable touring in Australia for designers, technicians, performing arts producers and tour managers. The toolkit is available for free as a digital download and provides in-depth information about the many facets of sustainability on tour (which begin in the pre-planning design stages which directly concerns us at the APDG!)
Touring is as a major contributor to the carbon emissions output of the performing arts industry. Taking steps to address this can be daunting, but it also represents a major opportunity to significantly move the dial.
The approach taken in the Green Touring Toolkit, is to work towards carbon neutral touring by adopting emission reduction and offsetting strategies: Remove, Redesign, Offset
In a very easy to read format, the guide leads the reader through step by step planning for emissions reduction, waste minimisation and ongoing sustainable strategies to keep a production conscious of its carbon footprint from beginning to end.
There are handy checklists with suggestions regarding set design, props, costumes and lighting which will help any design team, whether on set, on stage or on tour when in the pre-planning stages.
Making emission-conscious decisions from the beginning of the creative development process is by far the most effective strategy in minimising emissions, and cost, across the life of a production.
Link to download The Green Touring Toolkit is below. Please get in contact with Arts On Tour on 02 8038 1880 or email if you need some guidance. More information about The Green Touring Toolkit and AOT’s Green Touring Initiative is here.
And for those of you wishing to find out more about sustainability on international touring please follow these links:
Making Theatre Green – National Theatre; UK
In June 2022, The National Theatre in London celebrated the Theatre Green Book |one year anniversary by hosting the Making Theatre Green summit with designers, architects, producers and managers of theatre companies from all over the UK (and internationally via online platforms) as an opportunity to make connections, share ideas and think outside the box.
I attended as a representative of the APDG and sat in on diverse discussions about the future of live staged events with reduced carbon footprints. Voices from across the theatre landscape articulated what is working, what isn’t and discussed how we as professional designers and makers can continue this challenge together.
Two of my favourite sessions in The Dorfman asked whether production values can be maintained using sustainable working practice and is ‘sustainable touring’ an oxymoron?
On the more official Olivier stage compelling keynote speakers discussed environmental ethics and artistic practice: can they speak the same language? What does environmentally careful design look like?
The spirit of experimentation and moving forward was championed and the National Theatre’s Artistic Director offered extra payments to productions that were exploring sustainable practices. NIDA is doing something similar as part of its recent NIDA GREEN initiative.
If you would like to listen to some of these sessions, please follow this link to hear the recordings. Please note that these free recordings are still available but may be taken down in the near future – perhaps download them to listen to later?
Olivier Stage: https://vimeo.com/727085584/f4669f3889
AUSTRALIAN SCENOGRAPHY; SCENE JOURNAL
QUT lecturer in Scenography Tessa Rixon was the guest editor of a special issue on Australian Scenography published by Scene (Intellect Books) and launched in late 2021.
Australian Scenography Scene 9.1-2 explores many facets of our national theatre and performance design practice, education and research. The first special edition in almost a decade to explore Australian theatre design brings together traditional academic papers, along with perspectives from leading Australian design practitioners, on the state of Australian scenography.
‘In the role as guest editor it has been my goal to bring in a diversity of perspectives, voices and knowledges of what we could consider aspects of ‘Australian’ performance design. The resulting eight papers explore the ever-evolving nature of scenography within the diverse collection of cultures and design styles that is contemporary Australia. Be it the dialogues between design elements and designers or the social/material contexts which birth a given scenographic approach – new materialism, ecoscenography, queer scenography – the recurring theme of this edition is the expanded ways in which scenography is now examined and presented within the Australian context.’
Shaping Our Australian Scenographic Identities: A visual essay features contribution from Australia’s most established designers from sound, lighting and costume through to the latest in performance design practice and research. APDG members Jennifer Irwin and Richard Roberts are two of the eight contributors.
Specially curated for this special edition on Australian scenography, each contributor reflects on a personal experience of a pivotal performance design from their own practice or their experience as an audience member. The resulting contributions present a mix of design forms and focuses, across all forms of live performance – mainstage theatre, independent site-specific performance, queer theatre, Indigenous theatre; Indigenous dance; scenography for performance beyond the stage frame; performance in response to the climate crisis.
One of the journal articles is myself (Imogen Ross) in conversation with Dr Tanja Beer about our individual ecoscenographic practices. The article explores Ecoscenography ‘in conversation’ by drawing out common perspectives and experiences to demonstrate how an ecological ethic can inspire the performance maker’s creative process. We discuss our trials and tribulations of sustainable practice, from our first engagement with the topic, to our aspirations for the future of the field. The result is a candid, tangible and personal account of what it means to be an ecoscenographer in an increasingly turbulent (but hopeful) world.
Other APDG members Christina Smith, Anna Tregloan, Eamon D’Arcy, Jo Briscoe, Sue Osmond and Madeline Taylor are also represented amongst the contributors to this edition.
Read and purchase SCENE here: https://www.intellectbooks.com/scene-91-2-is-out-now-special-issue-australian-scenography
Read Tessa’s full editorial here: https://eprints.qut.edu.au/214193/ and access a special visual essay included in the special edition featuring pivotal Australian performance designs here https://eprints.qut.edu.au/214192/.
And YES, there is always so much more to the green conversation…
If you are interested in adding your professional design voice and suggestions to an APDG Sustainability Protocols group or promoting green initiatives in future Green Conversations, please send an email to Imogen Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Rebecca Whittington at email@example.com to offer assistance and find out more.