Sustainability is not a new concept. It is something that theatres and entertainment venues have been working towards for years. Ultimately, it is a trend that we hope to one day see a large impact from.
In the summer 2013 issue of TD&T, Paul Brunner and Michael Mehler wrote a piece titled “4 Principles for a Sustainable Future” filled with a year’s worth of research between the two.
Sustainable design and production should be community-minded, local, intergenerational, and positive.
Below is an excerpt from 4 Principles for a Sustainable Future by Paul Brunner and Michael mehler, TD&T Summer 2013:
The design and production process currently concentrates on a very select community sub-group, namely, artists creating an experience for audiences.
Most discussions about quality have been limited to the entire community and their experiences need to be considered; producers of theatre need to imagine how their artistic and technical choices affect everyone in social, economic, and ecological concerns.
The regional theatre movement, which began in the United States in the 1950s, encouraged artists to build a strong connection, within their communities and to cater to their interests. Sustainable design and production also must take on an approach specific to geographical area and to company size.
Such an approach must, of course, choose from the available materials, but it must also embrace the realities of local theatre people (both creators and consumers) as well as the realities of how each company operates. Theatres can define their own sustainable identity based on the strengths and weaknesses of local resources.
Current models of production focus on the short term—often a single show and at most a single season or fiscal year. There are many ways to be more efficient with the resources available if we think long term. Considering multiple shows within or across seasons can provide opportunities to create better aesthetic impact with the money, materials, and labor we have.
Sustainable production also must consider residual materials beyond the show, both before and after. Physical items (scenery, props, costumes) are only part of thinking intergenerationally; the impact of the performance content and experience continues to affect the community (often in ways not envisioned by the production team) long after the production closes.
Numerous times, the limitations of a production have in fact made the visual approach more effective. As any teacher of design knows, the unlimited budget and fully-equipped theatre often afforded class paper projects do not spark student creativity in the same way that devising a $100 set in an adapt space does.
Being sustainable may often mean having access to alternative or fewer resources, but the goal of theatrical design and production remains the same—to create an aesthetic experience that best enhances the connection between actors performing characters in a story for an audience. Sustainable design and production fosters that connection in a way that also improves the lives of those audience members-and other community members not in attendance—outside the duration of a single performance.
Through their research, Brunner and Mehler discovered that even the most dedicated companies and individuals do not embrace all four principles; most are focused on doing less harm, and on using fewer resources to produce theatre as they have done before. New approaches remain to be discovered that fully consider the interconnectedness of our resources and our art form.