Uprooted, Glasgow, Scotland, 2015

The Glasgow Living Stage project (Uprooted) engaged children in ecological processes through storytelling, gardening and stage design. A collaboration with theatre company Eco Drama, our aim was to create a travelling garden with and for children that could brighten up Glasgow’s concrete playgrounds; fusing live performance with living plants. The project involved working with four Glasgow primary schools to design, grow and build a sustainable portable stage. Our objective was to link environmental education with ecological design by engaging children in the creative and practical application of rewilding urban spaces.

The making of Uprooted began with the children participating in gardening workshops to co-create the living stage design. I joined permaculturist Katie Lambert and the students in their concrete playgrounds in late spring to plant out quirky containers with basil, parsley, tomatoes and carrots. Despite the dreary Glaswegian weather, the students’ enthusiasm to get their hands dirty was infectious — placing their hands into the soil was regularly met with audible ‘aahs’ and ‘ooohhs’. Even in pouring rain, there was an instinctive desire for the children to engage with the world beyond the classroom walls. Together, we planted seeds, made willow arches and wrote plant labels for the set. As we absorbed ourselves in the act of gardening, the children learnt about the characteristics of each of the plants, their needs and the importance of soil, sunshine and rain. By the time the children left for their summer holidays, the seeds had started to sprout, turning the once humble soil into hopeful speckles of green.

Through the growing season, the director, performers and I began building a show around the budding plants, coupling storytelling with experiences of gardening. Told through music, movement and multi-sensory storytelling, the performance element of Uprooted connected audiences with nature through the view of the wider planet as home. The story followed three characters (Plum, Lily and Basil) singing to the salads, flowers and herbs amongst their curious home of plants. Part theatre show, part community garden and part installation, audiences of all ages were also invited to ‘nibble’ at the stage and sample drinks made from the set.

Uprooted toured to various outdoor venues and schools across Glasgow, before finding its way back to the schools that helped plant it. As the students returned from their school holidays, they watched the performance and were excited to see how much their plants had grown. They were amazed at how the plump vegetables, bushy herbs and soaring sunflowers that inhabited the set had emerged from the tiny seeds that they had planted months ago. The students revelled in tasting unusual herbs and flowers, and embraced new textures, flavours and sensations. I have never seen so many children so excited about a zucchini. But more broadly, they also shared an immense pride in the space and the fact that ‘their’ stage had been touring around their home city.

After our final showing at Corpus Christi Primary School, we turned to the task of ‘unmaking’ the Uprooted design and transplanting and installing the set as a permanent feature in the playground, turning an ugly metal fence into a beautiful space for future gardening and storytelling. Again, the children became an integral part of this ‘unmaking/making’ process, transplanting the living stage pots into the soil of their garden beds and gently ‘tucking’ the greenery into its new home. This time, I witnessed an even greater eagerness to be in the garden and contribute to the next phase of the growing. There was clear comradery and confidence amongst the group, with many of the children playing a leadership role in the planting process. The pupils had been shaped by gardening’s lessons and its potential.

For me information, see blog post here.

Film by Mark Rea (10mins)

*Text adapted from: Beer, Tanja. (2017). “The Boy and the Sunflower: the role of theatre in communicating ecological processes through the creation of living stages.” Building Sustainability with the Arts: Proceedings of the 2nd National EcoArts Australis Conference. Edited by David Curtis. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Project credits:

Producer: Eco Drama

Director/Devisor: Emily Reid

Lead Designer: Tanja Beer

Growing: Katie Lambert (with Corpus Christi Primary, St Vincent’s Primary, Balornock

Primary and Aultmore Park Primary)

Assistant Designer: Mona Kastell

Set Building: Colin Myles and Alistair Jack

Performers/Devisors: Caroline Mathison, Greg Sinclair and Marta Masiero

Dramaturge: Katrina Caldwell

Special Thanks to our funders: Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, The Robertson Trust Creative Scotland, Ernest Cook Trust, Glasgow Arts and Glasgow City Council.

Photos by Emily Reid & Eoin Carey