The Resistance: Eco-Ethical Approaches

APDGreen Conversations: The Resistance - Eco-Conscious design choices with Tobhiyah Stone Feller

Eco-design, as a new way of creating, takes part in altruistic and collective reasoning. Practising it becomes a way of taking care of our surroundings, our ecosystem, and ourselves. Social and environmental issues are an integral part of the eco-design process. The eco-responsible approach invites creative teams to integrate their values into their practices and to use their creativity to find solutions. These values must be at the heart of the discussions throughout the design process.
– Marianne Lavoie, Eco-Design

In this section, multi-disciplinary designer Tobhiyah Stone Feller took time to chat about her recent production at ATYP The Resistance  with Imogen Ross, who is interested in how Australian designers (both screen and stage) engage with environmental concerns in their practices.

Imogen: Some designers have expressed concern to me that engaging with sustainable design principles may adversely affect their ability to design at their best. There is a perception that to design ‘sustainably’ will somehow reduce a designer’s ability to think creatively and broadly about concept, aesthetics and materiality. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Designing sustainability requires conscious engagement with the principles of sustainability by considering your production’s environmental impacts from the earliest design stage and following through all stages of creation, use and disposal.

It has been estimated that 80% of the environmental footprint of a production depends on decisions made during the early ‘concept’ phase. Conception determines what type of materials will be used, as well as the fate of these materials once the curtain falls and the cameras stop filming. While it may seem daunting to be responsible for making these decisions, this statistic tells us how essential it is to adapt our habits and choices to climate emergency’s reality. Designers are used to being responsible for their decisions – we lead the team so it is vital we engage with these issues now at the concept stage.

According to the Canadian theatre designer Marianne Lavoie speaking with the Canadian Green Alliance recently:

“It requires asking questions and finding solutions to reduce the impact at every step of the creative process. Within theatrical practice, eco-design takes many forms and is deployed through numerous creative strategies.

 Does bringing in materials from the other side of the world for an ephemeral decor still makes sense for our public, our community and our planet?”

I was lucky enough to see The Resistance by writer/director Kip Chapman at the Australian Theatre for Young People recently in Sydney.It was thoughtfully designed by APDG member Tobhiyah Stone Feller and I asked her to describe her conscious eco-ethical design process for this show.

Tobhiyah: Designing for a production about climate justice demanded of me an attention to sustainability that I had previously not demonstrated in my practice.

Personally, I make a concerted effort to not buy a matcha almond milk latte (I know how ridiculous that sounds) unless I have a keep cup on me, or to seek out low VOC paints for my bedroom, but when it comes to theatre, speed and low cost are driving factors. If a production needs painter’s drop sheets  (even the cotton ones are backed in a plastic film) they get bought. If a prop needs to be carved from polystyrene, it gets carved.

However, a new script about climate activism stopped me in my tracks.

The Resistance is a co-production between ATYP and Auckland Theatre Company recently presented at The Rebel Theatre.   The production is about a gang of four youth climate activists who embody the tenacity, creativity and smarts of young people today. With an overarching theme of the power of contribution and participation to bring about systemic change, I led a team of design interns to make the set, prop and costume design as sustainable as we could. Using repurposed items, consciously minimising plastic and using eco-friendly paint are a few examples of how we kept the production true to its embedded ethics.

With a heightened awareness of reducing negative ecological or human health impacts in my design choices, the street became my sourcing ground for discarded items to populate the world I was building with Writer/Director Kip Chapman. I would literally stop the car and pull up to collect items in street throw-outs, or if walking, manually haul furniture, fabrics, boxes of folders and you name it home to my garage.

I chose to apply the old school ‘Rs’ Reduce, Reuse, Recycle as a useful guide on the realisation of set, prop and costumes for The Resistance. Key questions the production and creative team  asked during the design and realisation of the design included: What can we use as an alternative to store bought materials, hardware, products and clothing? What can we repurpose from existing stock, ask for donations, and when chance is on our side find discarded on the street? How do we reduce the use of petrochemicals in the set, including plastics and conventional paint products?

The production is set in the HQ of a cartoon-like gang of youth climate activists, so a layered, resourceful, ‘lost and found’ aesthetic was the perfect approach. Among upcycled items, two second-hand tents were purchased online from Gumtree; one an old-school canvas style in indigo and maroon that sat beautifully on the magenta colour field of the stage floor and upstage wall.

The paint I specified was low VOC and non-petrochemical based , purchased from Australian company Murobond. It required patience from the crew and production team as the colour applied differently to a conventional paint, but with three coats a luminosity was achieved that took the lights by Rachel Marlow exceptionally well.

There were many challenges including that cable ties were still cut during bump-out despite hearing that they can be opened with a flat head screwdriver. If they can be re-used so easily why isn’t this standard industry practice?

I am heartened and motivated by initiatives being taken by companies and institutions. For example NIDA is currently leading the way in embedding sustainable practices into the learning opportunities of young industry graduates with the NIDA Green Plan. Students in first year BFA courses are learning to become environmental stewards and calculate the carbon footprint of a production.

Through designing The Resistance I have become very conscious of environmental and ethical concerns and can now only move forward with eyes wide open to the possibilities of sustainable production and costume design. I want to know how every member of a production company and production team can improve the ecological and human health impacts of their work, and I’m looking forward to learning how to calculate the carbon foot-print of my next production!

There is always so much more to the green conversation
If you are interested in talking about your conscious sustainable design choices and sharing ideas or concerns in future Green Conversations, please email  Imogen Ross or contact Rebecca Whittington to let us know you are keen to share.

Rally tableau with cast and audience participants.
Photo: ATYP

Co-Production Manager Jess Henley-Sadgrove with placards made with found card by cast, design interns and workshops participants.
Photo: Tobhiyah Stone Feller

Genevieve Lemon and Lakesha Grant wearing op shop items, ATYP stock, Tobhi’s craft apron and minimal new or synthetic items.
Photo: Grant Leslie

Magenta colour field approach to the floor and upstage wall surface.
Photo: Grant Leslie