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How Green Is Your Next Show?

Posted by Team APATA | Jan 20, 2022

The practice of sustainability goes hand in hand with theatre production these days, and we all know that teachers and studio educators are the ones who know how to get things done on the tightest of budgets. Performing Arts teachers are scrappy, and we like that about you!

So how green are your productions?

When teachers put together a show at least 50% of the costumes, set pieces and props are recycled from previous productions. Set pieces are repainted. The lifetime of a costume is extended by industrious parents with dyeing and sewing skills.

But do you measure your production’s sustainability? Are you collaborating with other teachers in your school to achieve cross-curriculum learning by evaluating the ‘greenness’ of your school musical, or end of year performance?

Wakakirri: Minimise Your Footprint

Wakakirri ask participating schools to minimise their footprint in producing their Story Dance Challenge performances. The Primary and Secondary schools take great pride in reporting their creative use, and reuse, of materials on performance night.

Schools are encouraged to:

REDUCE – Reduce the number of sets, props, & costumes used. Are the sets light enough for the kids to manoeuvre? Manage your material usage. Reduce travel pollution and, best of all… reduce teacher stress!

REUSE – Reuse old sets, props and costumes. Make what you need and be as resourceful as possible. Get help from your community. “Many hands make light work.”

RECYCLE – Recycle when materials can no longer be reused.

It’s a great opportunity for schools to be as resourceful as possible, creating not only a Story-Dance with meaning, but one that has low-impact on the environment. It’s that circular way of thinking that is inherent to our future.

Sustainability and the Performing Arts 

Wakairri is just one example of exploring circular economy within performance and performing arts education. Junk Kouture encourage school contestants to create high couture costumes using 100% recycled materials.

Major arts organisations around the world have implemented sustainability plans. Since 2008, Broadway Green Alliance has normalised green practices on Broadway and beyond, appointing a Green Captain to oversee sustainable practices for all Broadway productions.

In this 2019 Aussie Theatre article by Jennifer Hughes: Sustainability Theatre with Rhiannon Irving. Irving expands on her role as Sustainability Champion for Melbourne Shakespeare Company. Putting forward that a network, like that of the Broadway Green Alliance, is the next step in championing sustainable productions in Australia.

I’d love to see and help the industry get to the stage where the go-to solution when creating new items is to utilise excess materials from elsewhere and look at what already exists. I think more open communication between all production wardrobes, whether for big main stage companies or freelancers is crucial in creating a more sustainable industry. When there are large quantities of old costumes or materials needing to be disposed of, especially from the larger companies, I’d love to see a way that these could be made known and available to the smaller productions and freelance practitioners, to get a second life when they can no longer be kept for their original purpose.

The Theatre Green Book

The Theatre Green Book is a collection of resources setting the standards for theatre’s sustainable future. Created by sustainability experts Buro Happold, in collaboration with UK theatre makers.

The Theatre Green Book focuses on:
  1. Sustainable Productions – How to make shows sustainably.
  2. Sustainable Buildings – For anyone who faces the challenge of taking a theatre building and making it fit for purpose in the context of the climate emergency.
  3. Sustainable Operations – Coming soon this volume will feature front of house operations, catering etc.

We really like the fact that TGB has an Education Section – especially for educators and students that comes with a toolkit and guidance notes.

No matter how big or small your production (Theatre Green Book has been implemented by the likes of the UK’s Royal Opera House & National Theatre) this is a fantastic resource to explore.

Sustainability and the Australian Curriculum

According to the Australian Curriculum sustainability is a cross-curriculum learning priority and is fundamental to:

  • understanding the ways social, economic, and environmental systems interact to support and maintain human life.
  • appreciating and respecting the diversity of views and values that influence sustainable development.
  • participating critically and acting creatively in determining more sustainable ways of living.

Through the priority of sustainability, students develop the knowledge, skills, values and world views necessary to contribute to more sustainable patterns of living.

The Arts provides engaging and thought-provoking contexts in which to explore the nature of art making and responding. It enables the exploration of the role of The Arts in maintaining and transforming cultural practices, social systems, and the relationships of people to their environment. Through making and responding in The Arts, students consider issues of sustainability in relation to resource use and traditions in each of The Arts subjects. The Arts provides opportunities for students to express and develop world views, and to appreciate the need for collaboration within and between communities to implement more sustainable patterns of living. In this learning area, students use the exploratory and creative platform of The Arts to advocate effective action for sustainability.

Move from [Take – Make – Waste] to [Eliminate – Circulate – Regenerate]

There are lots of ways to learn about circular economy. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is dedicated to accelerating the transition to a circular economy.

Their website is chock-a-block with articles, videos, teaching resources and workshops.

The foundation’s Re-thinking progress video below is a quick breakdown of the circular economy process and how we can re-shape our thinking moving forward.

What you can do?

So what can you do to combine social responsibility, sustainability, and performance with your next production?

Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does. – William James

What are doing to encourage sustainability in your studio or classroom?


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