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’.
The Living Stage, Castlemaine, 2013
In 2013, The Living Stage set out to test a novel concept of sustainability for the Performing Arts using the platform of the 2013 Castlemaine State Festival. Part theatre and part garden; it featured vertical garden walls, suspended pots and portable garden beds each culturing edible plants. The structure was created by the rural community of Castlemaine under the guidance of stage designer Tanja Beer and permaculturalist’s Hamish MacCallum and Sas Allardice. The Living Stage acted as both a venue and 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. At the end of the Festival, The Living Stage was consumed by the community; its physical structures became their garden beds, its plants became their food, and its waste became their compost.
The Trans-Plantable Living Room, Cardiff, 2013
The Trans-Plantable Living Room is an outdoor, community-grown, edible ‘living’ room space based on the original Living Stage concept. Combining permaculture, story-telling, stage design and performance, the Trans-plantable Living Room brought together artists, gardeners and growers, both internationally and locally to perform in September 2013. The Trans-Plantable Living Room hosted interactive performances by international performance collective Plantable (Lisa Woynarski, Bronwyn Preece and Megan Moe Beitiks) underneath a tree in Bute Park behind the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, as part of World Stage Design festival and in London at Central School of Speech and Drama.
The ‘living’ room design included household items and furniture (sourced from car yard sales) and adapted to grow plants. The creative process was a collaboration between an international group of artists and community groups. A network of Cardiff based gardeners grew plants for the space, coordinated by Sam Holt of Riverside Community Allotments. The oral history interviews investigated personal narratives about gardening in Cardiff: why people garden, how gardening practices have changed over time and what role they see local, small-scale food production taking in providing food in today’s fast-changing world. Ideas unearthed in workshops and interviews were woven together by Plantable Performance Research Collective, to create an immersive, interactive performance.
“With farmers and growers fighting against the struggles of climate change, bees and birds struggling to deal with intensive agricultural methods and society being so disconnected from the food they eat, the project is a fantastic and alternative approach to addressing the country’s growing issues” (Permaculture Magazine UK 2013)
The Living Stage NYC, New York 2017
The Living Stage NYC explores how community engaged performance spaces can foster dialogue and build social capital. The Living Stage is a global initiative which combines stage design, horticulture and community engagement to create recyclable, biodegradable, biodiverse and edible performance spaces. The Living Stage NYC took place in Meltzer Towers Courtyard on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in collaboration with a vibrant cohort of linguistically and ethnically diverse seniors, fifth graders and gardener-residents. Over the course of six weeks, the asphalt lined park was transformed into a space of lush greenery along with vibrant art installations and eclectic performances that celebrated the community’s identity and potential.
Lead Artist/Designer: Tanja Beer
Co-producer/Project Director: Superhero Clubhouse
Co-producer: University Settlement
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