Early in 2019, the zero-waste chef, Anne-Marie Bonneau @ZeroWasteChef tweeted something that I’ve been mis-quoting ever since,
“We don't need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”
Firstly, this made me feel more positive about climate change in general and secondly, it made me feel less guilty about the changes and impacts (of lack of) I was making personally and professionally to the cause. I do separate out all my waste fastidiously, but I also have shower gel in a plastic bottle rather than a bar of soap. I will endeavour to reuse masking flats but will spend thousands on new scenery made with virgin materials. I needed to get better. (I now have soap)
Once I had settled into lockdown, I began thinking about this and also about a conversation that I have had many times with many colleagues over many years, namely, a shared theatre storage/resource facility for the London theatres. One of them called it the “perennial non-starter” (thanks for that quote, Jim) and he was right.
In each of these conversations, EVERYONE was always up for it, but it always came to the same conclusion that “SOMEONE should really do that, just not me, I’m too busy doing shows”.
So, with plenty of time on my hands and a small amount of guilt about my aforementioned lack of positive sustainable impact on our industry, I set about researching a viable business plan to see if this is, indeed, a good idea and could possibly run as a self-sufficient business.
I decided to start with digging around to see what has been done in the past. It turns out that conversations had a stuttered start way back in 2013 with a half-baked spreadsheet with some entries from some of the theatres in the London Theatre Consortium. A similar stuttered start in 2018 produced slightly better results, with a new spreadsheet that stayed in the oven for a half hour longer AND notes from a meeting with a handful of familiar names. So, like a lawnmower that has been pulled out of the shed, unused since last year, I hoped that my third start would be the one that kicked the engine into gear.
OK, let’s skip a few boring details now and get to the juicy bits (you’ve read this far so thanks for sticking with me). It turns out that, collectively, 11 of the 14 theatres in LTC (I am yet to hear back from 3) spend over £154,000 on SET storage per year. To be clear, costume storage (which is much more expensive), lighting stores, and general stores for accounting files etc. are not included in this figure. I have found ACCESSIBLE warehouses that could take all this equipment with space to spare for less than the total figure.
That is one aspect of the business idea. It deals only with set equipment i.e. steel decks, masking flats, triple E track, it does NOT deal with any scenery, props or furniture…yet.
The other avenues I am exploring I will list below in no particular order:
A top of the line online database with PROPER photographs, dimensions, condition etc. Check out Sharetribe
A peer-to-peer rental facility between members for small fees so that theatres can actually MAKE money from the kit they have in store. (Having done a case study with my Alma Mater, the Royal Court, they could make £13,000 per year if they rented out 10% of their kit).
FULLY Electric vans to collect/deliver kit around London. Larger 45ft trucks are (were) due in 2021. Check out Daimler’s eCascadia here OOFT!
A possible free materials section like Materials for the Arts in NYC. Check out their great work here.
Bringing in props and furniture, possibly LX, sound and video kit in the future. I think costume might have to wait (I can explain over a beer)
So, that’s what’s been keeping me sane over the last couple of months. One of the next steps (and the reason I’ve actually written this blog for you all) is that I now need YOUR help! Designers, creatives, production managers, producers, these are the customers for the business and your thoughts/questions/comments will be invaluable in guiding the ideas forward. So please fill out this survey and feel free to comment away. Ideas for avenues of funding would be most welcome…
This is not an idea that I’m squirreling away in a corner away from prying eyes, we’re part of a community and this is going to be a community resource so do let me know what you think.
There is still a LONG way to go before ANY of this can/will see the light of day and quite probably not all of it will come into fruition but as I said at the beginning, a lot of people doing sustainability badly is better than a few people doing it perfectly…or something like that.
Thanks for your time,