Ecology & Theatre-Making (by Creative Carbon Scotland)

This post* comes from Creative Carbon Scotland who run ‘Green Tease’ arts and sustainability events every month. A few weeks ago I was invited to speak at the Edinburgh Green Tease about the latest Living Stage project with Eco Drama’s Emily Reid and Edinburgh based designer Mona Kastell. Here is their lovely summary of our work.

This Edinburgh Green Tease was led by Eco-Drama, the schools-touring programme of the Whirlybird Theatre Company. Their aim is to use theatre, music, storytelling and creative workshops to engage, entertain and inspire people of all ages to care for our natural world. Director Emily Reid, alongside Set Designer Tanja Beer and Assistant Set Designer Mona Kastell, came to discuss their latest production Uprooted, which features Scotland’s first ever Living Stage.

The Living Stage is exactly as it sounds: a stage composed of living plants. It is recyclable, biodegradable, edible and created from locally found and reclaimed materials. Tanja Beer, author of this wonderful idea, has travelled all over the world working with local permaculturalists and theatre-makers to create living sets. Since its debut at the 2013 Castlemaine State Festival in Australia, the project has only grown (no pun intended) and has since travelled to Cardiff where it was part of the Trans-Plantable Living Room and now into Scotland.

The Living Stage for Uprooted was created as part of Eco-Drama’s ‘Out to Play’ programme, working with four Glasgow primary schools to design, grow and build the living theatre set. Having seen that many of these inner-city schools only have concrete playgrounds, the idea of a touring garden developed to give the children a chance to experience the natural world. They were involved in designing aspects of the production (plants growing out of a toilet proved particularly popular) and they planted the first seeds in March 2015.

Of course there are many challenges to creating a Living Stage and touring it in a sustainable manner. They’ve successfully tackled this latter problem by becoming the proud owners of an electric car and ‘The Magic Van’, which runs entirely on repurposed vegetable oil (the best stuff comes from Indian and Chinese takeaways by the way – chippy oil has been used too many times). Some of the other challenges include having stunt-doubles for some plants which have active performance roles (so that they each have a time to recuperate) and ensuring that there is enough time to be sustainable.

Timing is key in any sustainable production. 80% of a product’s sustainability is locked in at the design stage, with the earliest stages of the design process having the greatest influence over its environmental impact. Careful planning is needed and sufficient time granted to locate sustainable components and, in this case, to grow the plants needed in the production. Gardening is arguably the slowest of the performance arts and cannot be rushed – a sunflower doesn’t care when you’re supposed to go on tour, it will bloom when it pleases!

The final challenge is deciding what to do after the production has finished. The Living Stage is a ‘Zero-Waste’ set so nothing will be thrown away or discarded. Rather, it is going to return to one of the schools which helped plant it and be installed as a permanent feature – turning an ugly metal fence into a thing of beauty. It will be in a public, and therefore unprotected, space but the hope is that, because the community helped to create the garden, they will have a deeper connection to it (and a desire to care for it) than if it had merely been dumped upon them.

*This blog was originally posted on http://www.creativecarbonscotland.com/august-green-tease-reflections/

See more images of Uprooted here

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