Janne Robberstad is a Norwegian stage designer who is passionate about reducing waste in her designs, combining sustainability with creativity and place-based responses. Here, she talks about her sustainable approach on The Salmon Surveyor and how the unique cultural, social and environmental landscape of the Southwest region of Norway inspired her process and aesthetic. You can find out more about her work on her website: http://www.spindelmaker.com
Bømlo Teater is an amateur theatre on a relatively small municipally on the west-coast of Norway. There are 12,000 inhabitants located on a labyrinth of 1007 big and small islands. With a wide horizon stretching out beyond the land, the locals are immensely proud of this place they call home. Many of the inhabitants work offshore, as part of the oil-industry or farming Salmon (delivering 10% of the world market). As well as a booming economic market, the west coast has a thriving cultural scene, with three theatres, including Northern Europe’s largest outdoor amphitheatre. It is here that I find myself working amongst lots of half-crazy, creative people committed to making art and theatre.
This is also the background for the show which I designed in April 2015, called The Salmon Surveyor (Lakselinja). Based on Norway’s salmon industry, the narrative of the play deals with the people working on the assembly-line, their monotone daily rhythm (how it allows their minds to wander freely) and their relationships with each other. Part dance-performance, part theatre, the show also includes a unique music composition based on taped sounds from the real assembly-line.
The Salmon Surveyor ‘s author and director requested a simple and elegant design, with the potential of using Styrofoam fish-crates as multi-elements. I’ve worked in the theatre for 30 years now and I’ve seen firsthand how there is so much waste after a show simply because there is no storage-space. As a designer dedicated to working as sustainably as possible, my initial thoughts were to check if Styrofoam would be safe to use (tick) and to see if I could recycle the boxes (tick). Once these aspects were approved, I began working on the aesthetics of the design.
I was interested in expressing a sense of monotony with the Styrofoam – the institutionalised cleanliness of a food-factory in a massive scale while at the same time, maintaining a sense of poetry. I did this by making walls out of piles of 950 Styrofoam crates that I sourced at a factory only 2km away from the theatre. While it was very simple, when placed together the multitude of boxes had a lovely effect – perfect for the lighting-designer to play with, and for projecting video. 50 of crates were also used on stage by the actors as changeable items (e.g. chairs, beds, TVs, the assembly-line).
To assist with the poetic feel, we collaborated with a local salmon-factory, who provided us with live film footage inside one of the fish-cages. With the music going, it looked like the salmon was dancing along with the actors, in their own ballet! Another local salmon factory gave us the white overalls. They were pre-used so all we had to do was to cover their logo on the back.
After closing night, 937 of the crates were still in pristine condition and were sent straight to a nearby salmon-factory (only 3km away) to be used directly in their manufacturing process. The remaining 13 were sent back to the Styrofoam-factory, where they were recycled into little plates for the meat-industry. While Styrofoam may not be a particularly sustainable material, we considered it within a closed loop cycle, where The Salmon Surveyor essentially ‘borrowed’ the materials to help support the telling of a local story before being placed back into the assembly line once more.