On paper, touring a show is an innately sustainable activity. Rather than inviting the nation’s theatre-going public to traipse a collective journey of potentially hundreds of thousands of miles to a central theatre venue, probably in London, you instead take one troupe of travelling players to venues in numerous smaller catchment areas and thereby diminish the total time of vehicles on the road immeasurably.
However, there are pitfalls whereby the energy consumption of the touring company can suddenly rocket and put this carbon-saving efficiency to waste. Likewise, there are a myriad of small, relatively simple, often attractive ways which can help shrink a tour’s carbon footprint or make it disappear altogether. With these ideas put into practise alongside the efficiencies made by the fact of the tour itself, Kilter has developed a sustainable model for sharing theatre on the road in the modern world of climate change and diminishing resources.
Since 2009, Kilter has been developing an approach to touring that, like all our work, ultimately aims to do better than carbon-neutrality. Wherever possible we measure the resources used in the production and delivery of our work and at the same time calculate any positive impacts of activity we engage in designed to off-set that resource depletion. The final ambition is always a net reduction in energy consumption as a result of our work. Admittedly, Kilter has the advantage that our performances often involve a participatory activity within them, involving an immediate carbon off-setting activity – for instance in Roots Replanted (2010) each performance involved planting a tree which was left ‘on-stage’ and is still bearing fruit today. Furthermore, the narrative and characters in Kilter shows often demonstrate positive examples of sustainable living and motivate audiences to make positive changes in their personal behaviour beyond the theatre. Over the years we have measured a significant impact on returning audience-members reported behaviour. Of course, our influence over audience-members lifestyle choices are only a fraction of the motivational influences now widespread in contemporary society, however many regular supporters of our work have sited Kilter as the primary engaging influence.
Whilst it is perhaps going a bridge too far for most companies to take responsibility for their audiences’ behaviour beyond the theatre, it is certainly within the scope of most organisations to consider the behaviour of those people more directly involved in the work. This is never more true than when a production is on tour: normal behaviour is suspended and everyone needs to find new ways of living. Any company, regardless of the nature of their artistic output, can improve their sustainability record enormously by engaging their cast, crew and administrative staff in basic sustainability whilst they lives are fully determined by the tour. At Kilter, this not only means that everybody working with the tour is subjected to processes we use on a daily basis – such as using both sides of every sheet of paper – but also that they become part of larger project-specific sustainable activities such as shared meals or walking rehearsals.
Kilter is unique in that we make our work with carbon efficiency as a top-level priority. We pioneer new practises and test-drive new technologies as we develop our own brand of exciting, original site-specific theatre. All of our sets, props and costumes are recycled, second-hand and salvaged often from within local networks such as freecycle. We also generate our own energy through a collapsible touring wind-turbine, battery-pack and low energy LED lighting grid. We only tour the number of people we can fit into one vehicle and we choose or adapt that vehicle carefully to make it as fuel efficient as possible. All of these things are possible for any company but they take time to implement and to raise as a priority before you begin work. However there are number of ideas, briefly set out below, which are often over-looked and which, if considered carefully, could dramatically improve efficiency within companies that already have work on the road.
Accommodation. Hotels can be very carbon-intensive so when on tour, always ask whether there is energy to be saved by using alternative accommodation. Rural touring schemes will often provide hosts within the community who are delighted to put a company member up for the night. Equally, websites like airbnb can point you in the direction of homes available for short-term rent where it becomes much easier to monitor energy use more carefully.
Food and Drink. Most of the time when less sustainable choices are made, it’s because of the pressure of time. If company members need to go in search of food, always give sufficient time and any advance pointers you may have. In 2012 Kilter pioneered a new scheme whereby company members could pool their per-diems to an allocated chef, who was then given the time as part of their role to source local, seasonal, organic food to prepare for the company. The fact that these meals were routinely vegetarian also added a huge energy-saving dimension to the idea.
Marketing. It is possible to do the bulk of marketing for a touring show online through social media. Of course this has the potential to eliminate paper and ink from the carbon budget and also the carbon cost involved in distribution. However, if print copy is necessary it’s worth looking carefully at the size, quality and quantities needed as well as considering a generic design that can be over-printed or re-applied to a different area or production. For posters it may even be possible to retrieve them once performance dates are passed and relocate them for tour venues further down the line. As far as distribution is concerned, there is no substitute for befriending a few carefully selected local community members who know where to pin posters so that they will be seen and read by the most people within the target demographic.
Local Partnerships. Supporting the local economy is another way to have a positive impact on your carbon footprint, especially by building local relationships that can be nurtured the next tour. In the past, we have found smaller local organisations are happy to consider alternative currencies for payment too – for instance free tickets or advertising.
For more information on low-carbon theatre production and touring ideas, see www.juliesbicycle.com.