“Sustainability is an evolving concept that is changing rapidly” (Zari and Jenkin 2010:1)
The majority of sustainable practices in the performing arts are currently pursued within the technical or eco-efficient orientation of sustainability where measurement and reduction is the primary focus. Ecoscenography aims to include but also expand this limited perspective of sustainability. It seeks to place eco-efficiency within the larger context of ‘ecological thinking’ and introduces an ecological framework that can be used as a basis for ecoscenographic practice.
Perhaps the biggest criticism of sustainability in theatre production is that it is often considered as “something that gets done behind the scenes rather than in front of it” . Regularly seen as ‘tedious’, or ‘boring’, sustainability is often regarded as something that we ‘have’ to do (a chore placed upon the production), not something we get excited about doing. Moreover, sustainable strategies are frequently incorporated only after the design concept has already been presented, and are not seen as an integral part of the scenographer’s ideas or processes. In most cases, sustainable practice becomes the sole responsibility of the venue or production manager (rather than the director or designer) and is rarely used as place for innovation or testing of new aesthetics or performance ideas. While eco-efficiency may be an effective strategy to engage with in the short term, scenographers are missing valuable opportunities for creative potential as well as making work that is also capable of positive social and ecological gains.
However, there are a number of factors that make ecological design problematic in performance practice. For example, stage designs are not generally built with the intention to last or contribute to the environment or society after a performance season. The notion of ‘positive legacy’ can be a problematic concept for the performing arts, which has largely been developed as a field that prides itself on nurturing temporalities or transient performance aesthetics. Long term thinking is often the furthest consideration from the scenographer’s mind.
While there are obvious challenges and barriers to implementing eco-scenographic practice, Bill Reed’s trajectory of environmentally responsible practice (see FRAMEWORK) offers a constructive framework for reconciling varying ideologies in both eco-efficient and ecological strategies. These contrasting methods, tools and approaches need not oppose or stifle one another, but can act as a complimentary structure and hierarchy of ideas that actively supports the eco-scenographer in navigating through this complex terrain.