01 July 2023
A Guide to Sustainable Materials for Theatre Design
by Hamish Mair
This year the SBTD Sustainable Design Working Group is producing a guidebook on sustainable materials that seeks to spark creative ideas about material choices during the conceptualisation, design, construction and disposal phases of a set design’s lifecycle.
What is the guidebook?
The guide will be made up of fact-files, each exploring one material or material process. Some key information about properties will be summarised at the beginning so that the materials can be quickly and easily compared. The main part of the fact-file will focus on one aspect of the material to explore in more detail. For example, a fact-file may include a set of photographs showing the making process of a material, or detailed drawings that explore how a material may be used on stage.
What will the guidebook look like?
A creative, visually driven approach will be encouraged to make the guidebook an engaging, accessible and fun project to produce. It will celebrate sustainability as a means to create new forms of theatre-making rather than be a restriction on artistic practice.
A creative, expressive, approach avoids the guidebook becoming a long list of facts that will go out of date quickly. Whilst showing specific materials, the guide will aim to teach broader tools, techniques, approaches, and ideas about making material choices through showing the methods used to research and present the information. For example, visualising the trade route of a material in an innovative way says something about where and by what means we are getting information about materials and how we can make that information clear and transparent in a creative way that is useful to a set designer. The implication of where materials come from may resonate with the artistic values developed by the set designer for their project.
What is a sustainable material?
There are no inherently sustainable materials because their environmental friendliness depends on how far they travel and how they are used. The guide will not present materials as being green or not green but will offer ways of making judgments about the green credentials of materials. Discussing the advantages and disadvantages of a material avoids greenwashing and opens up a deeper discourse about the meaning of materials when used in set design or presented on a stage.
The materials chosen for the guidebook will cover a wide, range of subjects so that the guide can offer different possibilities to designers. We will look at new biomaterials that you can grow in your own sink, cutting edge materials that have not been used in theatre before, alternatives to commonly used materials in scenographic practice, and methods to reclaim, remake, and reuse.
Do I need experience with materials to get involved?
The guidebook is for set designers, not material scientists. Scenographers are already experts in materials for the stage, and so the guidebook will be kept relevant and useful to a theatre-specific conversation on sustainable materials.
The guide will visualise and demystify some of the information about materials to give scenographers the agency and information they need to make creative, sustainable material choices in their designs or make their very own materials. The guide wants to show, not tell, what sustainable theatre looks like. If you would like to find out more or get involved, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Hamish Muir is a PhD researcher at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. His research is about developing a circular economy for theatre. In 2017, Hamish set up Arctic Lion Theatre, a studio that produces experimental performance and creative projects interested in environmental sustainability and ecology (www.arcticlionart.co.uk).