Bringing theatre and ecology together to forefront sustainability issues was a major inspiration for The Living Stage — an ongoing global initiative that combines stage design, horticulture and community engagement to create recyclable, biodegradable, edible and biodiverse performance spaces. Part theatre, part garden and part food growing demonstration, The Living Stage engages people in developing a greater understanding and appreciation of the living world. The co-created community grown spaces become the setting for performing and celebrating ecological stories, before being circulated back into the communities that helped grow them: physical structures become garden beds and community spaces; plants become food; and waste becomes compost. A central focus of The Living Stage is to bring a regenerative focus to Ecoscenography that creates opportunities for thrive-ability across more-than-human systems.
The first living stage was created for the 2013 Castlemaine State Festival in Australia and grew out of imagining a new kind of theatrical space — one that was literally aligned with ecological systems. Created by the rural community of Castlemaine under the guidance of local permaculturalists (Hamish MacCallum and Sas Allardice), the original project featured an amphitheatre of climbable apple crate garden walls and portable garden beds, each culturing edible plants. It acted as both a venue and source of inspiration for a number of local performance groups whose brief was to create experimental works that drew on the concept of regeneration and interacted with the unique design that surrounded them’. After the festival, the stage of apple crates and plants were donated to several community gardens for educational projects.
Since making its debut in Castlemaine, the concept has travelled to Cardiff (Wales), Glasgow (Scotland), New York (USA), as well as Armidale, Lorne and Melbourne in Australia. Each Living Stage evolves out of a direct response to the localities of site, ecology and community. No project is ever the same, yet they share clear commonalities: the celebration of multisensory elements, effective and multi-level engagement with audiences, and a legacy that stretches on long after the final performance. At the crux of the project is the notion of community-engaged and place-based design processes to foster equity and togetherness on global-to-local issues. With each iteration, The Living Stage concept has progressively become more engaged in the desire to enhance the connectivity and integration of more-than-human places in response to climate change, social inequity, food scarcity and biodiversity loss. It is a direct response to ‘what can theatre and performance design do?’ in the face of increasing environmental concerns.
The Living Stage is all about making ecological sustainability fun and inviting audiences to have a ‘nibble at the stage’.