Revisiting an Old Classic
In 2012, the Young Vic produced its first Classics for a New Climate production in their Maria theatre. The idea behind After Miss Julie, directed by Natalie Abrahami, was to create a piece of theatre, or a series of theatre productions, where the commitment to sustainability and environmentally sound decision making did not compromise on the artistic quality and integrity of the piece.
The aim was to create the piece with a 60% decrease in energy use in comparison to other Maria theatre productions. This was prompted by the Mayor of London’s target to reduce London’s emissions by 60% by 2050.
The next Classics for a New Climate production was La Musica, directed by Jeff James with design by Ultz, which was on in the Maria theatre in September/October 2015. The idea was to adopt the lessons and ethos of After Miss Julie, and make La Musica even more of a success.
Success was tangible and measurable, but due to an original optimistic target, a little below the level the Young Vic attempted to reach.
Post-production analysis showed that After Miss Julie achieved a 34% reduction in relative energy emissions per audience member, and a reduction of 68% in transport emissions, producing an overall reduction of 38% towards the 60% impact reduction ambition. The marketing department also achieved an overall 99% reduction in absolute emissions from paper use compared to previous Maria theatre shows.
Lessons were learnt during the making and run of After Miss Julie, which were then adopted for all future productions in the Maria theatre that were not part of the Classics for a New Climate brief, such as a more efficient and sustainable air handling system, and the use of wooden blocks instead of tickets for community productions and special events.
Building on Past Success
Some of the successes associated with La Musica were due to fortuitous design and programming that comes with utilising a bigger theatre space. Miriam Buether’s set design for the Trial (predominantly plywood) was reappropriated for La Musica, meaning that 50% of the set was recycled from another Young Vic production. Another 35% of the set came from within 0.4 miles of the Young Vic, from within Bermondsey. Both these factors ensured that emissions associated with set construction were reduced by 75%, a huge success.
Traditionally, energy usage associated with lighting is a significant portion of a production’s overall carbon emissions. For La Musica, the team completely removed the lighting truss from the space, and replaced it with an LED light box. This was more energy efficient, and contributed to a 75% reduction in energy use. In addition to that, Ultz’s set design included making use of the space’s huge glass window, outside of which (i.e. on the street) were placed two additional lights. During matinee performances (and towards the beginning of evening performances) natural daylight shone through, allowing for the most sustainable form of lighting there is. La Musica is set in the early hours of the morning, yet the use of natural daylight during matinee performances is testament to the fact that decisions can be made during the artistic process that are both imaginative and sustainable.
To cement the legacy from the production, positive discussions are underway on securing funding for LED lighting for all future Maria theatre productions.
A Sustainable Legacy
Sustainable decisions relating to Front of House and audience management were also made. Whilst during After Miss Julie there were printed programmes available to buy or hire, with La Musica the writing was literally on the wall — production credits were included as part of the design. There were no tickets, instead reusable wooden blocks were used nightly.
The Cut Bar sold beer in cans rather than glass (health and safety legislation stipulates that glass bottles should not be taken into the auditoria, and any drinks would need to be transferred into plastic cups — this is not the case with cans, reducing the amount of plastic cup waste). The beer came from the FourPure’s Brewing Company down the road in Bermondsey. Soft drinks were procured from ethical company, Karma Cola, and wine came from organic and biodynamic vineyards in Tuscany. These products remain on sale after La Musica, and can be considered part of the production’s sustainability legacy.
The cast and company were fully on board with the ethos and aims of the production from the outset. The press night party was meat-free, and the press night gift was a tree planted in the cast and company’s name in a park nearby — again, another physical, visual, tangible legacy of the production.
A Creative and Sustainable Vision
Some decision making and actions reflected the artistic choices of the creative team, rather than decisions that were necessarily the most environmental on offer. A balance had to be struck and reached in terms of the process and production being the true vision of the director and team, as well as having a minimal carbon footprint. This is an ongoing process and may differ from production to production, based on factors such as the other ongoing commitments of the creative team, associated travel, etc. An important point to consider when creating a sustainable production, this needs to be reported accurately to ensure that a production and its achievements are not ‘greenwashed.’
With thanks to Daniel de la Motte-Harrison at the Young Vic for the information contained in this case study.
Banner Image: Emily Barclay and Sam Troughton in La Musica at the Young Vic. Photo by David Sandison.