ETC TGB: Just Start Making Sustainable Productions. You’ll Learn as You Go

Det Norske Teatret

As part of the ETC Theatre Green Book (ETC TGB) Focus Group, we agreed to make one production sustainable up to ‘Basic’ level. At Det Norske Teatret we chose a production by our incoming Artistic Director, so that she would get knowledge of what the process means and working to the ETC TGB standards. We didn’t necessarily choose the easiest or most suitable production. The team uses a lot of plastic and consumables, and there can be spillage of mud, paint, blood etc – which is normally not that good for the ETC TGB, because it’s a lot of buy and throw away. We thought that it might not turn out perfectly, but we figured this was the point – we’d learn a lot from a real life example, rather than only applying the logic to selected productions that we knew would ‘succeed’.

Our Approach

Following this logic, ‘Basic’ is a goal for our productions. We don’t yet demand our artistic teams reach it.

We’ve found that there are certain things we need to do in the theatre to give teams a sufficient chance to meet the new standards. When we tell them about the sustainable ambitions, the artistic teams will reply, ‘Great – but where is the list of what you’ve got in storage? Where’s the inventory?’ At the moment, for the big productions, we don’t have the time or resources or people to give artists the creative freedom that they need. If we’re going to ask artists to give, we need to give as well.

We also need to work closely with creative teams in developing the concept. We need to implement ETC TGB thinking at all points: a checklist to make sure we put the relevant ETC TGB steps in our production meetings. We’re going to make a new handbook for our production processes, new agendas
for our milestone meetings, and we can add green book thinking in here too.

Differences in style and form

Det Norske Teatret is a repertory theatre, and often we don’t know when a production will finish – they could technically have unlimited playing time. It can be a challenge to offer a piece of the set or costume from one of these productions to ‘re-use’.

In addition, we need to factor in extra time on the set and scenography. If you’re going to re-use things, you need to factor in time for deconstruction and re-construction. It’s much easier and quicker to just chop something up and throw it away. This is partly a reflection of our system: we only have
one stage crew, so if there are performances on the main stage, our crew is working on these. Which also means: where do we find the time for deconstructing the set, if there’s a premiere the week afterwards? 

Pilot production

On the production we’re doing now, we’re not that far off ‘Basic’: 42% of everything is sourced from recycled or re-used materials, and 61% is going to be recycled afterwards. As the production has not premiered yet, it will be interesting to see where we end up versus where we thought we would end up. We bought some things that will not be used after all, that we’ll save and hopefully make use of in a later production. We have also calculated for a lot of consumables which are currently not in use, and if it stays that way our TGB results will improve.

Basic as a production requirement?

It has not been difficult to open conversations on sustainability with artists. It’s not a shock for them to hear that we’re working with sustainable practices and goals. The feedback is that this thinking is everywhere around them, and they accept that this is the way theatre is going. But it’s our job to keep
reminding them of the requirements of sustainability during the process, as the artistic needs start to surpass the sustainability thinking. We introduce the ETC TGB at the parameters meeting, but we need to improve on including it as a heading in all milestone meetings and in the feedback to the teams each time we assess their ideas in the production process.

If we make ‘Basic’ in the ETC TGB a requirement for our productions, we'ill need to treat it like the budget: something to be respected. Right now, working with ETC TGB as more of a guide than a ‘sustainability budget’, it’s difficult for us to say to an artist: ‘No, you can’t use these extra consumables, because it will no longer be a sustainable production.’ But if we present the artistic teams with the ‘Basic’-level requirements as something they are obliged to deliver, like the budget, conditions for storage, technical conditions etc, we can flip the discussion around. We can focus on fulfilling the sustainable requirements, and if we allow something to be added in, we can offer this as a positive.

Implementing changes at a large theatre like Det Norske Teatret always takes a lot of time. So our approach is just to jump in. We think: “Let’s do this! We’ll fail on lots of productions, succeed on some, but it’s much better that we do this than we don’t.”

By Tine Lund, Senior Producer at Det Norske Teatret/Norway

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