Ecoscenography in conventional theatre

Hanging fabric ‘ice’ sculpture, Sea Change by Richard Osborne, The Place, London, 2014 (photos by Tracey fahy)

Working within a conventional theatre-making context can present many challenges for the ecoscenographer. Ecological practice can be about taking the initiative to experiment with new materials and products, questioning and adjusting blanket policies, or finding new homes for old sets.  Every project and team is unique. Sometimes finding opportunities to talk about eco-efficiencies and benefits can be more productive than using the ‘S’ word – sustainability. There is no one way to do ecoscenography, and the process and outcome is certainly not always obvious.

Developing a set design concept within an ecological framework does not need to differ greatly from previous professional experience. As a designer, I am constantly juggling a myriad of considerations and possibilities – addressing environmental issues does not necessarily change my process, however, it does tend to influence the creative outcome of the work. For example, integrating environmental thinking into the design process does encourage me to question the need for “things” and ask myself how I might “do more with less”. However, my choices to create highly minimalist designs are not just ecological, more often these decisions are as much a result of economic and aesthetic considerations as environmental concerns. My goal as a scenographer remains the same: to support the telling of the story and I’m often surprised how little I need to create a ‘world’ that can say so much.

High quality aesthetics are a major consideration for any designer working within a prestigious performing arts context. There is a common fear that by cutting back on resources, designers are also cutting back on the “magic” and “quality” of their designs. However, in my experience, a designer can be more hampered by the lack of budget and time, than the task of incorporating environmental considerations into the design.

Sea Change by Richard Osbourne, The Place (London), 2014
‘Melting of ice sculpture’ – fabric is lowered for dancers to manipulate

Sea Change by Richard Osborne, The Place (London) 2014

For Sea Change, my idea was to create a hanging sculpture of ‘ice’ material that could ‘melt’ on stage. To avoid having to apply fire-retardant on the fabric, I decided instead to use the costumes (designed by Rosie Gibson) scenographically, rather than creating a separate set design. The result was far more integrated and successful than the original idea. The costumes were first hung as a sculpture, and then became wearable items, before being used as movable scenic elements.

To view more images, click here

To view the production trailer, click here

For more examples of similar projects, click here

Hanging fabric 'ice' sculpture, Sea Change by Richard Osborne, The Place, London 2014
From ‘jackets’ to ‘islands’
Disappearing ice
‘Disappearing ice island’


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