ETC TGB: Our ‘Howcha Dowcha’* Approach to Sustainable Theatre

Het Zuidlijk Toneel

Our story with the ETC Theatre Green Book (ETC TGB) started with freedom. As my theatre is a touring company, I didn’t want to be limited by props or money in our productions. I started thinking about how to get around these requirements, which, it turns out, is a very ‘green’ thing to do. So we decided that for one year, all our theatre makers would work without
props and set designs. “This is impossible,” they said, “I’m somebody who works with sets, it’s impossible.” But it did work – artists generally have a lot of self-belief. The year after, we decided to make one set design that could be shared with four directors. We started encouraging the audience to put on an extra sweater, instead of extra heating in the auditorium, and to take the train with our actors, instead of being lonely in their cars.

‘Howcha Dowcha’ solutions

I call these actions ‘howcha dowcha’ solutions -- things which are not expensive, or fancy, but always fun. Using the ETC TGB has been a genuinely exciting experience, and it feels a bit like a game. You improve, get better, get inspired by colleagues. There are challenges, but the good thing is that the ETC TGB doesn’t focus on just one thing to solve, which might require the city to intervene. You can shift towards areas in which you have much more influence.

Working this way has also led to some quite interesting artistic talks. In one production we realised there was a lot of fake blood, which is a terribly polluting product, and gets the set and the costumes dirty. We asked ourselves if we could cut it out for sustainable reasons, and then we asked why we even needed to have blood that looked real - the audience knows it isn’t real.

I think that as long as the artistic part isn’t convinced that sustainability is their business as well, this whole thing is hopeless. So you have to work together.

Connecting to others with the ETC TGB

I was honestly a bit sceptical towards the ETC TGB at first – people always come with other suggestions or ways of measuring your climate impact. But that’s difficult, because one person is playing Scrabble and the other is playing Monopoly, and you can’t join the game together. The ETC TGB covers every sustainable topic and it gives the possibility to have a conversation about sustainability with a completely different sort of organisation – whether repertoire, touring, national level, regional… You realise that the goals we have are common. It’s about the planet.

The ETC TGB makes sustainable theatre accessible for everyone in my company, colleagues in other colleagues, and the ETC. It’s a really good tool.

Vision to 2030

Will Het Zuidelijk Toneel reach ‘Advanced’ level by 2030? I don’t know if I’m confident, but I know the team has become obsessed with this goal. And until now I didn’t bump into things that kept me back. Like in a race, your tire gets flat, it takes time to repair. But I think we will manage. And I hope that the moment we reach the goal, we realise there are other buttons to push and keep going further.

* howcha dowcha is a phonetic translation of the term “houtje-touwtje,”which refers to a simple solution
to a problem. It implies that the solution is not very robust or sophisticated, but sufficient to
address the issue. The image of a “houtje” (a piece of wood) and “touwtje” (a piece of string) suggests
that simple, readily available, and inexpensive materials are being used. I hope “howcha dowcha” gets
adopted into the jargon.

By Sarah Moeremans, Artistic Director of Het Zuidelijk Toneel/The Netherlands

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