Blog: Making Theatre Sustainable

The theatre sector must play its part in protecting the planet, but what does environmentally responsible mean for the way we build, run and operate our theatres? Jon Morgan, Director, introduces the themes being discussed at Conference 21.

For me one of the few positive things to come out of the last 18 months has been joining dozens of online discussions about the need to change the way we make work and run our theatres, whether that’s around tackling racism in our sector or how we address the climate crisis. For all its wonderful impact, theatre can be an enormously wasteful industry – wasteful of talented people through burnout and overwork and wasteful of precious natural resources through energy hungry buildings, ‘fast’ ways of making work and inefficient operation of our buildings.

Out of these discussions has emerged the Theatre Green Book, an industry-wide collaboration that both builds on existing guidance and draws on input from across the sector to create a shared standard for environmentally responsible theatre. Conference 21: Making Theatre Sustainable will both launch the new Theatre Green Book and, importantly, continue the industry-wide dialogue and sharing of best practice that sits at its heart.

The conference will involve a lively mix of presentation, case studies and debate involving artists, production personnel, theatre operators, architects, engineers and sustainability experts from across the UK and internationally. Lisa Burger of the National Theatre, which has been a central champion of the Theatre Green Book, will talk about its journey towards sustainability and why the National Theatre supports this initiative. Architect Paddy Dillon and Andrew Wyllie of Buro Happold will talk about the genesis and development of the Theatre Green Book and there will also be in-depth individual sessions on each of the volumes covering productions, buildings and operations.

A panel of theatre makers including National Theatre Scotland, Tinderbox Theatre Company and Citizens Theatre will discuss how they have worked across their creative teams to apply the Theatre Green Book to recent productions. We’ll hear from front of house, catering and building managers on the innovative ways they are working to make their operations much greener.

Oxford Playhouse, Colchester Mercury, Romiley Little Theatre and Hull Truck will talk about their respective projects to create more sustainable buildings and the different opportunities and challenges their very different theatres present.

Specialist consultants in buildings, engineering, costings and sustainability from AECOM, Avison Young, Bristow and Buro Happold will present new research into the current environmental performance of the UK’s theatres, the cost of potential improvements and the potential for significant carbon savings.

Across the day there will also be a series of thought-provoking debates unpicking some of the deeper challenges and opportunities of making theatre sustainable. A panel including theatre architect Steve Tompkins and theatre consultant Andy Hayles of Charcoalblue will ask, given the need to build and buy less, what that means for ensuring our theatres remain fit for purpose? Theatre heritage expert, David Wilmore, Laura Mansell-Thomas of Ingleton Wood and architect Katy Marks amongst others will explore just how much we can and should do to make our historic theatres more sustainable and balance conservation and sustainability.

Reflecting the international discussion taking place at COP26 in Glasgow, the final panel will involve Alison Tickell of Julie’s Bicycle, Dave Moutry of Home and Manchester Arts Sustainability Team, alongside colleagues from the Broadway Green Alliance and the European Theatre Convention, looking at the role of theatre in wider climate advocacy and the importance of working in partnership regionally, nationally and internationally.  

One thing I have learned as a partner on the Theatre Green Book, is that making theatre green is not a single one-stop-shop. The green journey is a continuous one and we all need to keep exploring, testing and discussing the best way to improve the sustainability of our sector. I hope you will join us at the conference on 4 November and be part of that journey.

Find out more about Conference 21: Making Theatre Sustainable.