I want to design like a green Ninja and save the world….

Why on earth would you do that?


I started thinking seriously about the environment when I had kids, but in relation to the food we ate and the stuff we were accumulating. I began to connect these thoughts to my work when I began to teach, but with increasing urgency when I started working on a project commissioned explicitly to address the climate catastrophe. I asked if we could extend this mission to the way the project was made, not just to the way it was written.

I was very conscious that I felt quite ignorant of and daunted by the scale of the task at hand. On the flip side, Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion had re-invigorated the conversation kept alive by many amazing individuals and organizations, and now one of the few silver linings to this terrible pestilential cloud was the space it gave for some to reconnect with nature and our home environment – walking, planting, listening to the birds.


For me, another silver lining has been the conversations that it has inspired at Scene/change and with the SBTD Sustainable Design Group (more on this a few paragraphs down) amongst scenic painters/ workshops, production managers/ designers / lighting designers/ researchers. Combinations of people brought together to talk about the state of us. In every one of these that I have been part of, sustainable practice has been a key theme.


This blog is a contribution to a growing swell of conversation in this forum and many other places, adding volume to the call for more sustainable practice in the performance industry.


We as an industry are often wasteful and sometimes decadent. However, we are also creative and imaginative and wide reaching in our agency and collaborations.


Often, we are given the privilege, through our work, to help form the discussion we have in our communities about who we are and who we could be. We can have that discussion in multiple ways – with humour and horror, singing and dancing.


I am discovering that I am empowered, so what next?


What on earth can we do?


Lots, it turns out, and you and I are doing a lot – thrift is hard-baked into much of theatre practice and transformation; re-use is part of our stock in trade. We can celebrate that part of our practice and share it more by helping that craft become more visible.

I am always fascinated by the potential for cross-industry collaboration – designers in an adventure with scientists/ manufacturers/ data analysts/ landscape gardeners/ ecologists … each of us a drawn together in an ecosystem of creative connections that can send good vibes along the wires.


There is a lot of detail to talk about with our many co- producers – how we make what we make, where and with what.


How on earth can we do it?


It can be exhausting trying to ferret out the best choice that ticks every box – local, sustainable, fairly traded, carbon light – what criteria do you use to decide the least worse choice?


There is a massive potential for slips and missteps along the way – even writing this felt a bit intimidating, as the idea of being held accountable and then failing is totally off-putting. Even though we know accountability is important – and failure is key to a learning, we’d still rather someone else had a go first. This needs to be a shared responsibility.


Will it feel creatively restricting to have to consider these things? Will I have to give up things I love (glitter and balloons, anyone...) and start working exclusively in wholemeal porridge?

Will I be on my own in petitioning for this in a production team– a lone voice?

Well, the answer to this last one is a definite NO I have discovered. There are lots of different groups out there ready to offer support, companionship and share knowledge and experience. All sorts of different disciplines, practitioners, industries across the globe.

I joined the SBTD’s – Sustainable Design Group, after attending a talk on sustainable practice at the V&A, one of “Staging Places” round table discussions. We are working on a number of projects – a guide to sustainable materials, looking at the potential for carbon literacy training specifically for theatre designers, so that relevant, practical and creative questions can be voiced and answered, giving current and future designers the tools and the confidence to be able to talk about environmental issues. We also run a monthly event called Sustainable Scenes Studio. A designer presents a past or future piece of work and explains some of the opportunities, constraints, lessons and strategies they took to produce sustainable theatre. They are open to anyone to come and join.


There lots of different companies, theatres, colleges and innovations such as

Scene/Change, Culture Declares, Eco Stage, Julies Bicycle, Ask Albert to name just a few of many across the country - across the world - thinking about these issues. Sometimes I wonder whether the fractal and multiple actions and conversations need to be brought under one roof, or whether there is strength in the multiple opportunities these provide to fold people into the conversation.


Ultimately everything is a win, small acts can amplify to a big shared voice that asks for national and global action.


Love the planet, love each other: do we still have to ask why this is a good idea? Let’s just get on with it…..


Jess Curtis



Photography by Mark Carline



LINKS:  SBTD Sustainable Design Group - http://www.theatredesign.org.uk/working-groups/sustainable-design-group/ Culture Declares - https://www.culturedeclares.org/ Julie's Bicycle: https://juliesbicycle.com/




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