There are three essential elements to embedding climate care in theatre-making: Expectation, Facilitation and Permission.
These Three Elements of Climate Dramaturgy were developed by our Associate Artist, Zoë Svendsen. We find them really useful in remembering that everyone in a production process has an important part to play. These Three Elements empower everyone to take action.
Importantly, all three elements reinforce each other. Environmental action is much more effective where all three elements are in place.
Here is a graphic illustration of the Three Elements of Climate Dramaturgy.
It matters that theatre companies and producers expect those working for them to undertake climate careful practice, that this expectation is made clear from the start, and backed up in detail in an offer letter and contract.
This expectation should be specific, rather than a generalised demand for environmental action, so that practitioners are clear on the nature and degree of what is expected, and when.
Examples of expectation:
- Holding a conversation about environmental action prior to any job being offered (freelance or staff).
- Inclusion of a ‘values’ document with the offer letter, outlining expectations of environmental action.
- Inclusion of a ‘green debrief’ meeting and questionnaire in the production schedule as standard.
- Use of a Production Decision Impact Tracker, or equivalent, to record decision-making, along with the expectation that practitioners will flag up any potential environmental impacts before they occur.
Facilitating climate care is the responsibility of theatre companies and producers. They have enormous power to provide the conditions for practitioners and their climate conscious artistry to flourish.
Freelance creatives have little influence on the overall process or timeline for making the work, most of which is set before any practitioners are employed. So practitioners are heavily reliant on theatre companies and producers to facilitate a climate careful process.
That said, within that framework, it is essential that directors and designers take responsibility for how their own decisions and schedules will affect their wider collaborators, like production managers, buyers and stage managers. How directors and designers facilitate climate care will either enable or disable their collaborators from following through with climate-positive actions.
Examples of facilitation:
- Introducing each member of the creative team to their counterpart on a previous production, to share know-how.
- Inviting the creative team to hold an early stage ‘design concept meeting’ to enable an anticipatory environmental exploration, to inform creative direction. This offers the opportunity for cross-fertilisation between the different design depts (sound, light, costumes, set), and often ‘designs out’ carbon heavy ideas before they take root.
- Organising monthly ‘pre’ production meetings for early-stage troubleshooting.
- Holding a parameters meeting specifically for makers, costume/props buyers and stage management, in which the priority for ethically sourced, environmentally friendly choices is discussed, and any queries or challenges addressed.
- Inclusion of the theatre producer’s work on climate care in the Welcome Pack given to creatives, cast, and stage management at the start of rehearsals.
- Inviting commentary on environmental impact from creative and technical team as a standard part of their departmental update in production meetings.
- Holding a climate contingency budget to facilitate climate-positive choices when making last minute decisions that might involve additional financial cost.
- Holding a ‘green debrief’ meeting at the end of the production to evaluate the data gathered on the productions’ environmental impact and share discoveries with the next production team.
The current theatre system (broadly speaking) requires hierarchy to function smoothly and deliver the show to a high standard, on a short time scale. But practitioners and staff involved in this system only feel enabled to consider environmental action if they have explicit permission to do so, from those they answer to, usually directors, designers, producers and artistic directors. This permission needs to be given not just once, but repeatedly. Put simply: this means artistic leaders talking about environmental care, all the time, openly and honestly. Giving permission opens the way for collaboration across established hierarchies.
That said, climate leadership can be enacted by anyone and everyone, regardless of their role or place in any perceived hierarchy. This means everyone in a theatre-making process can enact climate leadership: giving permission to their collaborators (and themselves) to voice any concerns and offer up creative solutions.
Examples of permission:
- The theatre’s leadership – ideally artistic director and producer in tandem – giving the freelance director and designer on each production, from the very beginning, permission to lead a climate careful process.
- The director giving their whole design team the permission and inspiration to explore ideas in a climate conscious way.
- The director announcing the importance of environmental care and asking questions relating to it in every group meeting.
- The designer backing the director and taking the lead on keeping the conversation alive with the production manager, costume supervisor and any other members of the production team.
- The production manager ensuring that everyone involved in the production, particularly buyers, are strongly encouraged to make climate careful decisions.
- Design assistants and associates can then be empowered to undertake research in relation to environmental considerations, which also provides them with know-how, and future-proofs their own emergent practice.
- Crucially: anyone in the making process, respectfully and constructively, spotting an environmental concern and offering a creative solution.
The Production Decision Impact Tracker is one way of making visible and constantly present these Three Elements of Climate Dramaturgy.
This page is shortened version of pg. 39-43 of Zoë’s excellent Climate Conversations research report.