It takes a lot to make theatre. A lot of talent, a lot of creativity, and a lot of people working hard across a wide range of departments to produce the final work that the audience sees.
It also takes a lot of energy, materials, and other resources to stage a show. Costumes, props, furniture, and scenery are some of the physical resources required for each new production. All this materials usage can have a detrimental impact on the environment, particularly as what we do is inherently temporary in nature.
In recent years there has been a drive to promote sustainable theatre making across the sector. The Theatre Green Book is an initiative aimed at promoting sustainable practices and reducing the environmental impact of theatre making. It sets standards and targets for sustainability in theatre – in our productions, in our buildings, and in our operations. It echoes and amplifies similar movements elsewhere, such as the Broadway Green Alliance in the United States, Creative Carbon Scotland, and the Green Arts initiative in Ireland. The Lyric Theatre has been an active participant in this movement, with staff contributing to all three volumes of the Theatre Green Books’ development.
The Green Book sets targets that theatres can work towards to achieve either the baseline, intermediate, or advanced standards of sustainability in production. Whilst a very comprehensive document, in simplified terms, the materials usage targets for each standard are:
50% of materials used having had a previous life
65% of materials used going on to have a future life
75% of materials used having had a previous life
80% of materials used going on to have a future life
100% of materials used having had a previous life
100% of materials used going on to have a future life
The Lyric, along with other theatre organisations such as The National Theatre and the RSC, are committed to achieving at least the baseline standard on all its productions.
Props, furniture, and costumes have always been a circular resource for the Lyric. We have a well-stocked store to draw on for our own productions, and this is available as a resource for other companies to use too.
Building scenery has been a bigger challenge, as economically it is cheaper to build from new than to spend time breaking down scenery to reuse the materials. Unfortunately, the economic considerations do not reflect the environmental cost of building for short-term use and disposal.
In 2021 we established our own scenic workshop, The Lyric Scene Shop. Its purpose is to build and deliver sets for Lyric productions, taking control of our resources and materials and ensuring that all materials in our productions get used multiple times.
We have invested in modular components and materials that can provide base structures that designers can work from.
Our current production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh, directed by Emma Jordan and designed by Ciaran Bagnell, contained material from no less than eight previous productions. Over 90% of the materials used in this set had a previous life. You can see in the pictures below, materials used from five previous production, Sadie, Rough Girls, Dracula, Romeo and Juliet, and Prime Cut’s production of Xantigone. There was also material from, The Border Game, Big Man, and Propaganda.
Ciaran Bagnall speaking on sustainable set design: “The future of Theatre is not only in the incredible resourcefulness and strength of our artists. It’s in the very fabric of the materials we choose to use in the creation and construction of Theatre. As artists we have duty of care and a responsibility to ensure the sustainability of our Art and craft. The re-use and re-imagining of materials is essential. It takes a village to create Theatre and I’m forever in debt to the team at the Lyric for their passion and skills to create a fully sustainable piece of Theatre Design.”
Our Scene Shop team, led by our Construction Manager Aidan Payne, repurposed walls and floors from multiple sources to create the bleak Connemara cottage. The house is entwined by the roots and branches of a blackthorn tree, wrapping around the exposed beams of the roof. We took the decision not to use polystyrene or plastics as scenic elements for the tree, opting instead to build a metal structure (repurposed from Rough Girls, also designed by Ciaran Bagnall) and to build up layers of recycled cardboard. The roof of the cottage cantilevers over the room, and although it appears to be a single timber beam, there is an engineered metalwork structure concealed in the gable and walls of the house ballasting the roof and tree. All of this metal frame used modular and repurposed elements, all of which will be put to future use.
Adrian Mullan, Head of Production on the Lyric's ambitions: "The Lyric Scene Shop is at the centre of our commitment to sustainability in own set delivery. It allows us to promote the agenda of environmental sustainability in theatre production, and the circular use of materials in scenic construction. Our longer-term ambition is to provide sustainable solutions to other creative organisations in the fabrication of scenery using recycled materials where possible, and in the disposal and recycling of production materials that would otherwise go to landfill."
The Lyric Scenic Construction Workshop is kindly supported by the The Ireland Fund's Heart of the Community Fund 2022, with our Scenic Construction Apprentice role being created through the Art Work Scheme through the Department for Communities.