Sustainability and Theatre

Although theatre arts may seem like an area in which sustainability is very difficult to implement, a number of theatres in the UK and across the globe run eco-friendly projects involving awareness-raising, low-carbon theatre productions or investing in energy-saving equipment.

The view of sustainable theatre ranges from the simple hosting of eco-awareness events or the manifesting of support for environmental education, to more in-depth practices such as implementing sustainable methods of running a venue. Prominent events such as the UK Theatres Trust Conference in 2012 addressed the topic of sustainable theatre quite heavily, and Arcola Theatre’s participation in Climate Week 2012 took the form of the 24-Hour Play project, which incorporated theatres from all across the country. This is linked to long-term projects such as the updating of the Arts Council funding programme to include environmental sustainability, the first update of its kind in the world of funding bodies, the Mayor of London’s ‘Green Theatre’ project, and the Theatre Trusts’ Eco-venue scheme. Sustainability in the theatre also has an important social aspect, which is implemented through ethical practices and the sharing of opportunities to all classes of people; one of the best-known examples of social sustainability in theatre is the National Theatre’s investment in the NT Future Projects, aiming to ‘open up the theatre to more people (architecturally and figuratively)’. The article about the NT Future Projects can be accessed here.

London’s Arcola Theatre provides ‘ten top tips’ for greening theatre venues, which recommend the use of innovative low-energy technologies, recycling techniques and sustainable travel. It is clear that a great part of the energy consumed by theatres originates in the heavy use of lighting and sound equipment, as well as the use of power tools for set construction, in the case of theatres containing workshop areas. These energy-consuming areas are most likely ‘greened’ by the replacement of equipment and building systems with energy-efficient ones, and said energy-efficient technologies, while being financially beneficial in the long run, are very expensive. Are big venues the only ones able to produce more sustainable theatre? The answer is no. Sustainable development is not gained by one single, large overturn of technology; it is approached by implementation of eco-friendliness in routine behaviours within the functioning of theatre venues. Reusing theatre materials such as wood and scrap metal can prove hugely beneficial in logistical, environmental and financial terms. Making use of a large space for simultaneous activities such as workshops, construction or rehearsals lowers the carbon footprint of individuals working in the theatre and makes good use of the resources of a venue. The use of online show programmes and manuals, Switch and Save practices and energy-efficient domestic appliances are only a few of the small changes which can be implemented in the day-to-day work in a theatre.