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DT:TV Case Studies

Arcola Theatre & Shakespeare Link: sustainable ability

Audience members and communities are growing more and more concerned about the environment. But what about the theatre industry? In London alone, theatres create an estimated 55,000 tons of carbon emissions per year – that’s equivalent to the average emissions of 9,000 homes!

Since we know that climate change is happening, and that arts and cultural organisations cause environmental damage, I wanted to profile another couple of arts organisation that have recognised this, and taken responsibility for developing their own sustainable ability.

arcolalogo_energyThe Arcola Theatre in London has some excellent practice as a building based organisation. Trailblazing sustainability projects as part of its core business, Arcola Theatre aims be the world’s first carbon neutral theatre. To this end, Arcola established Arcola Energy in 2007 – promoting innovation in sustainability, through the Arts.
Says Arcola: “As a theatre we have a longstanding tradition of innovation, inspiration and deep integration with the local community. Working to the same principles, Arcola Energy will integrate arts and science professionals and the community to pioneer practices that will fundamentally change the way arts organisations work. Green highlights in 2008 included the installation of Arcola’s fuel cell, which powers select main house shows and the LED lit foyer, giving the theatre a sixty percent reduction on comparable theatre lighting installations. Arcola has been appointed as the secretariat for the Mayor of London’s Green Theatre plan, which aims to deliver 60 per cent cuts in theatre carbon emissions by 2025.”

In rural mid-Wales, Shakespeare Link works out of the Living Willow Theatre. As Peter Cox explains: “Its a totally natural theatre made from planted willow woven into arches and built on a similar but smaller footprint to Shakespeare’s Globe. They have seeded and planted an organic hay meadow with plant species which Shakespeare would have known and which are found in his plays. They currently have plans for a kitchen garden of Elizabethan culinary herbs, and a children’s nature trail with natural treasure hunt.”

Kama Roberts, the theatre’s administrator explains that they’ve also developed a stand-alone energy system. Three solar panels and a windmill make up the system.
“The system was planned in a lot of detail before we began thinking about funding. One of our directors worked closely with a volunteer who had experience in setting up green electricity systems in his own home. We saved a great deal on items such as the turbine tower which can just as well be made in a fraction of the price with scaffolding for example.

When it came to funding the ‘normal’ path to go along would be to connect directly to the grid and sell the energy we produced back to the grid (rather than storing it in battery banks)and that the work were carried out by a contractor partnered with the funding body.

We felt it was an important element of the project that we should be ultimately self sufficient so stuck to our guns and did it in our own way. I am glad we did this for several reasons
– there is a beauty in audiences knowing that the light which is illuminating the performers comes directly from the immediate elements.
-the system being installed by ourselves for half the price it could have been makes the idea of people setting up such a system in the own homes a tangible possibility.
-Volunteers vital role in developing such projects adds to the communities sense of ownership. The theatre itself was planted by a team of volunteers who are integral to our development. The result of this sense of ownership and inclusiveness is that attendance at events is, touch wood, very good.

The next development is to upgrade our system to power the office as well as the theatre, library and wet weather cover in the barn.”

Finally, Kama notes: “a young local artist, Amy Corbett, who is developing a show at the Willow Theatre… plans to light [the show] by peddling a bicycle. It’s really exciting that our green priorities are influencing performance content in this way!” [sourced from National Theatre Wales‘ discussion on developing green policy].