Place-based Ecoscenography: Interview with Noémie Avidar

Noémie Avidar continually revisits and questions design and production processes in the performing arts. She has used printmaking, photo-collage, text, digital, internet, plants and audience participation in her work as a scenographer. Her research focuses on the interrelations and ecology of theatrical space as well as language as the foundation of the identity experience.

How did your interest in Ecoscenography and sustainable theatre production begin?

Working as a designer and assistant scenographer on different projects, I always felt that projects were very much separated from the contexts surrounding them. There was an overwhelming amount of waste and toxicity in set the and costume workshops which separated the designer’s relationship with material and their use. My interest in Ecoscenography started by focusing on surrounding materials or found objects that could inspire the stage designs. For example, if a stage prop, set or costume could be sourced locally, instead of recreating it from scratch, I would always try to work with this possibility. Research and inspiration from other designers helped me to find validation in my approach and nurture my interest in ecology. When I use the word ‘ecology’, I am not just talking about using recycled materials or water-soluble paints. For me, it is more about how I engage with the space itself – how I can create a conversation with it and inhabit it without erasing its characteristics.

What does Ecoscenography mean to you? How do you define it (for yourself and others)?

Ecoscenography is about how shaping a space for a performance in a way that acknowledges and embraces its surroundings. One that creates a conversation between all the elements that compose it: human, vegetal and inert substances. It is about taking into account the history, the integrity and ability of each of these elements so they play a role in the theatrical piece.

Can you tell me about some of your Ecoscenography projects? What were they about and how did you bring an ecological ethic to these works? E.g. Strategies? Materials? Approaches?

I was hired to design the scenography of Winslow in 2019 by the theatre and company L’Escaouette in Moncton N.B, Canada. The play told the story of Sir John Winslow, an English officer who organized the French Acadian deportation in the 18th century. People were imprisoned in boats and most of them died before arriving at destination. The piece aimed to show how this historical event has been forgotten (or wanted to be forgotten) by the present Acadian population, and how it systemically affected their language, ambitions and identity loss. I took inspiration from the territory and the surroundings of the theatre building. The sea and its presence in the Acadian peninsula, identity and landscape is clear. New Brunswick has a thriving fishery community which harps back to the deportation era. Every five years, the fishermen replace all their cables and ropes, and this provided a valuable opportunity for the set design – to repurpose ropes from Acadian salted water. I used most of my budget on construction as well as buying materials from local stores. Each rope was painted white, creating a wall made of rope that was 50 feet by 20 feet high. A total of 1462 ropes.

What happened to the ropes after the show?

They are stored and can be used in different projects such as remounting the show, installation in museums and pedagogical projects for the schools.

What were some of the biggest hurdles that you have had to tackle in your practice as an Ecoscenographer?

The way theatre is produced and how these habits have become so entrenched can make it difficult for producers or production managers to engage in different ways of working. There are collective challenges that come with Ecoscenography. Engaging authentically with people or place as part of the aesthetic process can be counterproductive to the goal-oriented way of working that we are familiar with in a fast productive and capitalistic society. The other challenge is to distinguish ecological practice from a purely environmentalist practice. My use of the word ‘ecology’ is really about highlighting the interrelationships and connecting systems to the production teams and the general public.

What are some of the benefits of being an Ecoscenographer?

Engaging with my surroundings is now part of my way of creating. It is about extending the idea of a public performance to an everyday performance, a kind of game. I get to meet so many people and to acknowledge their presence in my creative process is a pure joy.

What tips would you give to a scenographer who is exploring sustainable practice for the first time?

Don’t constrain yourself with limitations and rules. There is no right and wrong. We are polluting and always will be, but we can decide how we do it and what kind of waste it will create too – It can be beautiful and used for greater purposes than our basic needs. Don’t feel guilty. Creating is fun and it deserves to be shared. However, it needs to be reflected on… sometimes for a long time…

Nothing is everything. Everything is nothing.

What is your next project?

I am finishing my MFA in directing this year and I want to bring ecological thinking and this kind of awareness to the performers I am working with. I want to acknowledge the space that receives the piece, how it affects their performance, how everything melts together or is related.

2 thoughts

  1. Thank you for this interview! It is amazing to discover a local ecoscenographer!! Looking forward to see more of Avidar’s work!

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