Sustainable theatre plans revealed

Plans are being explored to create a sustainable theatre on campus.

The site of the proposed new Sustainable Theatre Living Lab

Earmarked for land between stage@leeds/School of Performance and Cultural Industries (PCI) and the School of Earth and Environment, the initiative is also backed by the University’s Sustainability Service Living Lab project.

Although in the early stages of development, key objectives of the Sustainable Theatre Living Lab are to develop a venue that provides an innovative performance and installation space and to design an accessible, low-maintenance landscape that retains, improves and diversifies recreational areas for staff, students and the wider community. 

A capital funding bid is being drafted to ensure the project promotes sustainable innovation and resource efficiency, harnessing natural energy sources to power lights and other electrical equipment.

Steve Ansell, stage@leeds artistic director and theatre manager, is one of the key figures driving the pioneering project. He said: “'As a university, I believe we have a responsibility to not only our students but to society as a whole to reduce consumption and to develop and promote sustainable practice. 

“At stage@leeds, we not only want to be part of the sustainability conversation, we want to be leading it.”

It is envisaged the project will also act as a catalyst for sustainable theatre provision and delivery across stage@leeds activities and spaces on campus.

Significant progress has already been made in this area through existing initiatives, including the stage@leeds target to be single-use plastic-free as early as 5 December this year, in line with the launch earlier this month of the University’s Single Out: 2023PlasticFree pledge.

Sustainable Theatre Living Lab-branded water bottles and multi-use cups will be sold by stage@leeds, with water provided free of charge at the bar. The ultimate aim is to have a water fountain in the theatre foyer, and customers taking their own mugs or cups to performances will be able to purchase tea or coffee at half price.

This coincides with the PCI L3 Theatre and Performance students-devised production On the Inside, which has sustainability as one of its key themes. Attempts have been made to create a show that has very little waste, with items such as furniture returned for resale after the production has ended.

Professor Alice O’Grady, PCI Head of School, added: “We want to create a flexible performance space that works with the natural environment and adheres to the principle of ‘Leave No Trace’, adopted by different festivals across the globe. 

“Our students are very committed to sustainability and this is a wonderful opportunity to see that commitment come to life through performance.”

The proposed theatre space staged its first performance in October, when Cultural Fellow Kat Austen, of the Leeds Cultural Institute, and Dr Scott McLaughlin, Lecturer in Composition and Music Technology, presented a response to the question: “We think of ourselves as masters of our own destiny, but how much effect does our environment have on us?”

And more performances are in the pipeline.

The new youth theatre – stage@leeds Young Company – will be offered a week-long project during the Easter break, where participants will devise a piece of theatre around the themes of sustainability and the global issues caused by over-consumption. 

And the same group will mount a contemporary version of the medieval mystery cycle, the Wakefield Mysteries, next summer. The aim is to create a production with no waste that causes no harm to the environment, using props, set and costume already held in stock. The amount of energy used in each show will also be measured.

PCI Lecturer in Creativity and Enterprise, Dr Stephen Dobson, is leading on a project with colleagues in the School of Engineering to also develop a ‘living wall’ on the exterior of the theatre.

University colleagues are now being asked for their views about the plans, with the aim of fostering potential new collaborations with other Schools and Faculties.

Email Steve Ansell with your ideas and for further information about the project.

Posted in: