By Tanja Beer
I have some news! I’m writing a book! Yes! A book on ecoscenography!
CALL OUT for cool sustainable design projects!
I am looking for examples of people doing great stuff in the world of sustainability and the performing arts that I can feature in my book. So, I’d love to hear about any projects people are doing around the world that are worth a mention. I really want to celebrate the exciting range of work that people are doing — everything from tiny theatre projects to massive spectacles, in both conventional and expanded practice. Especially projects that are not always celebrated the way they should be or from different parts of the world often not recognised in the Global North or English speaking context (note: this is not the time to be shy about spruiking your own work). Looking for examples across the whole spectrum of set, costume, props, lighting and sound.
Ecoscenography: an introduction of ecological design for performance
Sustainability in theatre production is the topic of my forthcoming book entitled, Ecoscenography: an introduction of ecological design for performance (Palgrave Macmillan 2021) based on my PhD research at the University of Melbourne which I completed in 2016. The monograph examines the emerging concept of ‘ecoscenography’; a neologism that I use to bring performance design into an increased awareness of broader ecologies and global issues. In the book, I argue that the current ecological crisis calls for a new philosophy for theatre production that promotes more ecological (holistic, interconnected and symbiotic) ways of doing things. Related industries, such as architecture, product design and fashion have already shown us how a sustainable ethic can create exciting new processes and aesthetics. However, we are yet to fully grasp what a socially and environmentally conscious approach entails for the performing arts.
The ephemeral and specific nature of theatrical work means that most set and costume designs are only of valued for the duration of the performance season – often a matter of days or weeks – before they are discarded. Designers are trained to work towards Opening Night. How we ‘get there’ or what happens to our sets and costumes after the production ends is often neither a priority nor a consideration. Our focus as scenographers has typically been to create ‘experiences of impermanence’ – often extravagant spectacles with little regard for the prevailing permanence of unwanted remains (seen and unseen) which persist long after the event. Unlike typical theatre productions where the performance season is precedent, ecoscenography is comprised of three stages that are considered equally fundamental to the aesthetic consideration of the work – co-creation (preproduction), celebration (production) and circulation (post-production). Drawing upon literature across the ecological worldview (Hes & du Plessis 2015), systems thinking (Meadows 2008), biomimicry (Benyus 2002), ecomaterialism (Cohena and Duckert 2013; Alaimo 2010), regenerative development (Reed 2007) and others, the book provides an introduction to ecoscenography’s theoretical and practical framework, opening up new processes and aesthetics of theatrical design that enhance the social and environmental advocacy of our field.
(Top photo: The Living Stage, Castlemaine Sate Festival 2013. Scene from Produce, created and performed by Creatability and Born in a Taxi)
Ecoscenography.com has been instigated by designer Tanja Beer – a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne, Australia, investigating the application of ecological design principles to theatre.
Tanja Beer is a researcher and practitioner in ecological design for performance and the creator of The Living Stage – an ecoscenographic work that combines stage design, permaculture and community engagement to create recyclable, biodegradable and edible performance spaces. Tanja has more than 15 years professional experience, including creating over 50 designs for a variety of theatre companies and festivals in Australia (Sydney Opera House, Melbourne International Arts Festival, Queensland Theatre Company, Melbourne Theatre Company, Arts Centre) and overseas (including projects in Vienna, London, Cardiff and Tokyo).
Since 2011, Tanja has been investigating sustainable practices in the theatre. International projects have included a 2011 Asialink Residency (Australia Council for the Arts) with the Tokyo Institute of Technology and a residency with the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (London) funded by a Norman Macgeorge Scholarship from the University of Melbourne. In 2013, Tanja worked as “activist-in-residence” at Julie’s Bicycle (London), and featured her work at the 2013 World Stage Design Congress (Cardiff)
Tanja has a Masters in Stage Design (KUG, Austria), a Graduate Diploma in Performance Making (VCA, Australia) and is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne where she also teaches subjects in Design Research, Scenography and Climate Change. A passionate teacher and facilitator, Tanja has been invited as a guest lecturer and speaker at performing arts schools and events in Australia, Canada, the USA and UK. Her design work has been featured in The Age and The Guardian and can be viewed at www.tanjabeer.com
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