ecosencography

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Ecoscenography Q&A

Milo Juráni is a theatre critic from Slovakia who writes about the intersection of theatre and contemporary issues. Recently, Milo interviewed me for his Theatre in the Anthropocene series on his theatre webzine www.MLOKi.sk. The interview was first published in Slovak language. Much of my responses to his questions can be found in my recently published book: Ecoscenography: an introduction to ecological design for performance (2021). These are questions that I am often asked, so I hope that the answers might also be helpful to a wider audience.

Can you explain what Ecoscenography is?

My premise in bringing an ecological approach to scenography — what I propose as ‘Ecoscenography’ — is to shift performance design to an increased awareness of broader ecologies and global issues: to conceptualise ways in which an ecological ethic can be incorporated into theatre practices. Ecoscenography builds on contemporary re-considerations of performance design, where creative and environmentally conscious processes align to become a fundamental part of the scenographer’s ideas, practices and aesthetics. Being ‘ecological’ means integrating an awareness that no decision stands on its own: every design choice is intertwined with social, environmental, economic and political consequences that are far reaching and capable of having long-term effects, and, ultimately, benefits. This includes starting to adopt an expanded view of aesthetics that acknowledges the ‘unseen’ effects of making spaces — that which may not be immediately evident in the making of the work but has causational potential to form a trans-corporeal by-product of the ‘visible’ and ‘experienced’ (adding to landfill waste, air pollution and supporting child labour). This multifaceted and complex approach to aesthetics is already shifting how many scenographers engage mentally, as well as practically, with the issue.

Ecoscenography builds on contemporary notions of theatre and performance design to consider what an ecological approach to scenography does — how it affects our ways of thinking and doing within and beyond the performing arts. A central aim of my work has been to demonstrate that embracing sustainability in performance design opens up new modes of relating and collaborating: to work co-creatively with communities, environments, materials and places; to appreciate and advocate for ‘more-than-human doing’; to engage in ‘acts of care’ that foster a respectful and reciprocal communion with the world. This ‘permeability of relating’ in Ecoscenography seeks to dissolve perceived boundaries between artists, materials, audiences and the broader ecosystem, opening up greater eco-creative responsibilities and considerations for how we conduct our practice and communicate through it.

How did you start exploring a more ecological approach to stage design? Why should other stage designers join you?

I have been passionate about environmental and social issues for as long as I can remember. I grew up with a strong desire to incorporate ecological considerations into my day-to-day life; buying food from local markets, taking public transport, avoiding single use plastics, turning off lights, recycling and composting. However, when I walked into the theatre, all these considerations seemed to fall away. Somehow theatre gave me a licence to do the things I would never do at home. Looking back, it is difficult to pinpoint a single moment that ignited my passion for rethinking traditional performance design practices.  It was a combination of many things: seeing my set thrown in a skip one too many times; feeling physically ill from the toxic fumes inhaled while expending several cans of spray paint on a single prop; being confronted by Al Gore’s The Inconvenient Truth and its uncompromising depiction of the threat climate change represents to current and future generations. No doubt each of these events has played a role.

My motivation with Ecoscenography is to encourage a sustainability ethos to both established theatre-makers wanting to engage with the topic, and the next generation who — my own experience tells me — are yearning to contribute to their rapidly changing world. I believe that the current ecological crisis presents us with an opportunity to not only collectively face the reality that our practices have consequences, but also with the potential to remake our profession. This ‘ecological turning’ will certainly be a pivotal point in the history of the performing arts, to be defined by the theatre-makers of today, but particularly by those of tomorrow. The urgency for this re-imagining has never been greater. Climate change, mass species loss, drought, forest felling and acidifying oceans pose immense threats to our environment, our society and to our culture. The aim of Ecoscenography is to catalyse ecological practices in performance design, providing a foundation from which new practices, new aesthetics and novel thinking can emerge.

Why you think theatre has been so slow to embrace sustainability?

It is difficult to say why the performing arts has been less progressive on the environmental agenda. Perhaps there have been too many negative preconceptions of what a sustainable approach means for our field. The assumption that ecological design is ‘expensive’, ‘boring’, ‘time-consuming’ and ‘incompatible with high quality aesthetics’ has definitely played a role. Other contributing factors may include: the fact that the theatre industry has been far too preoccupied with its own economic struggles; or the belief that theatre should have a ‘free-pass’ when it comes to ecological concerns because the impact of the performing arts is negligible compared with many other industries. Fortunately, these assumptions are slowly changing and the sustainability movement in the performing arts is finally taking off. I firmly believe that the 21st century will be one in which environmental concerns are at the forefront of our performance stories and designs.

What are your ideas on sustainable materials and making better material choices? 

The aim of my book Ecoscenography: an introduction to ecological design for performance (2021) is to provide a philosophy or framework for working in a sustainable way that is less focused on a ‘how-to-guide’ for materials and techniques (of which there are already many resources). A key strategy of Ecoscenography is relational thinking. For example, taking a place-based approach to designing and that ultimately begins with how we respond to where we are, here, now, as a primary approach. One material choice in one place is not necessarily the best choice in another. Everything is relational. The challenge for the theatre maker is to seek out the possibilities of place rather than holding onto a preconceived idea that does not acknowledge the potential of its unique surroundings – the local skip, the charity shop or market next to the theatre, and the technicalities and materials of the theatre itself. In my book I outline the ‘three stages of Ecoscenography’ — co-creation (pre-production), celebration (production) and circulation (post-production) — which provides a fundamental framework for how this relational approach can be integrated into all areas of theatre production.

Does working with waste go hand in hand with Ecoscenographic practice?

Waste materials are a wonderful resource for the Ecoscenographer primarily because they are so abundant, easily accessible and cost-effective. The ‘scenographer as gleaner’ is a key strategy for pursuing place-based sustainability responses. Ecoscenographers forage across streetscapes and abandoned festival sites, and scavenge tip shops, recycle centres and charity shops. Here, extending the use of materials is not necessarily approached out of austerity but fuelled by a desire for invention and ingenuity — a way of rethinking design in response to ecological values.

In my long career as a stage designer, I have constructed numerous scenographic creations out of the societal remains, including transforming fragments of old tennis netting into animal costumes for children and reconfiguring industrial pallets into a make-shift home for characters trapped in a war-torn world. In my book, I also showcase a number of designers who have used reclaimed materials in wonderful imaginative ways to create sets and costumes for stage productions, from single use plastic waste and Styrofoam to old festival tents and fishing ropes. It is clear that the economic poverty or stigma of material debris has in no way hindered the rich and varied performance spaces that have been created by these designers. With ample imagination and openness, every found object provides an opportunity for reinvention. Instead, designers are challenged to look at things anew – to seek out the potential in these discarded remnants and transform them into something remarkable.

As good as it sounds, stage designers may still be sceptical of pursuing a sustainable approach. Some may see it as an obstacle that limits creativity, imagination, and artistic possibilities. What do you think about these concerns?

While Ecoscenography may seem like a daunting concept to some, I believe that this is also where innovation and possibility lies. Adopting an ecological approach allows theatre makers to imagine ideas well beyond the performance – to consider their responsibilities and contributions to the broader world. Essentially, Ecoscenography works from the premise that there is nothing more fulfilling than connecting to the living world in a way that is fundamental, positive and inspiring. My book showcases examples of how Ecoscenography might look like if we approach sustainability from a place of abundance, rather than one of scarcity and limitations. It demonstrates opportunities for integrating creativity, aesthetics and innovation with sustainable practice in a diversity of contexts. Using examples of my own work and others, I explore how Ecoscenography can be a mode of more-than-human engagement that can create ripples into wider systems, where performance design can act as a force for regeneration.

Taking a brief look at the programming of well-known theatre houses reveals that problems of Climate Change are increasingly emerging on stages – dystopian or utopian stories, performances that focus on non-human elements, political theatre, or activism on the stage. On the other hand, most of these productions are executed in traditional ways and do not often consider sustainability as part of the realisation. How do you feel about this approach?

I think it is especially important for productions that have an ecological theme or highlight the effects of climate change to also consider their impact behind the stage. Even better, if the productions highlight sustainable innovation. A great example of this is Atmen(2013), a German version of Duncan Macmillan’s climate change play Lungs at Berlin’s Schaubühne, directed by Katie Mitchell and designed Chloe Lamford. The team worked with Electric Pedals to stage the entire performance using human-generated power which was visibly controlled by the actors on stage. The show was focused on two protagonists who pedalled their way through topics such as overpopulation, climate change and species extinction while four supporting cyclists helped power lights, sound and projection from the sidelines. Part of the novelty of Atmen was the way in which sustainability was made uncompromisingly transparent as part of the experience, one where Ecoscenography becomes a highly visible dramaturgical approach to production.

The stage designers who participate in smaller production or independent projects can often choose how to work. On the other hand, many large theatre institutions have stringent rules, schedules and procedures. Stage designers working with hierarchical institutional parameters often don’t have a chance to do extensive experiments. Is it possible to embed Ecoscenographic principles into the larger theatre houses? If so, how?

Yes, absolutely. A notable example of a designer working in high profile traditional theatre settings is Tony award-winning Broadway set designer and sustainability advocate Donyale Werle, who works almost exclusively with salvaged materials, and describes her process as literally rummaging through local garbage sites to find treasures and ideas for her designs that fuel her creative process. Werle’s large scale set design for Peter and the Starcatcher (2012) was almost entirely made from recycled, borrowed, donated, or salvaged materials, including costume fabrics from past productions and discarded household materials sourced from local junkyards, charity shops and recycled art-material suppliers.  

Another great example of sustainable production in larger theatres is EDEOS, an eco-design tool developed by the Lyon Opera that implements a circular framework in its design and construction processes. As a holistic sustainability calculator, the tool aims to assess the production of stage sets through its impact on climate, human health, ecosystems and non-renewable resources. What makes EDEOS unique is its focus on decision-making throughout the entire lifecycle of a set design, including the concept and post-production phase. While the project is currently designed for the Lyon Opera with its own specific conditions and supplies, it is hoped that EDEOS could become a shared industry tool that might also extend beyond the theatre to other related industries in the future.

Naomi Klein, and other authors dealing with the Climate crisis, emphasizes the importance of community engagement. Besides traditional stage design, you are also working in the field of expanded scenography. To rebuild public spaces into productive places for meeting and time-sharing is key to your Living Stage series. How does scenography, sustainability, community engagement and performance come together in your works?

The Living Stage is an ongoing global initiative that combines stage design, horticulture and community engagement to create recyclable, biodegradable, edible and biodiverse performance spaces. Part theatre, part garden and part food growing demonstration, The Living Stage uses the cycles of Ecoscenography to engage people in developing a greater understanding and appreciation of the living world. The co-created community grown spaces become the setting for performing and celebrating ecological stories, before being circulated back into the communities that helped grow them: physical structures become garden beds and community spaces; plants become food; and waste becomes compost. A central focus of The Living Stage is to bring a regenerative focus to Ecoscenography that creates opportunities for thrive-ability across more-than-human systems.

Since making its debut in Castlemaine, Australia, the concept has travelled to Cardiff (Wales), Glasgow (Scotland), New York (USA), as well as Armidale, Lorne and Melbourne in Australia. Each Living Stage evolves out of a direct response to the localities of site, ecology and community. No project is ever the same, yet they share clear commonalities: the celebration of multisensory elements, effective and multi-level engagement with audiences, and a legacy that stretches on long after the final performance. At the crux of the project is the notion of community-engaged and place-based design processes to foster equity and togetherness on global-to-local issues. With each iteration, The Living Stage concept has progressively become more engaged in the desire to enhance the connectivity and integration of more-than-human places in response to climate change, social inequity, food scarcity and biodiversity loss. It is a direct response to ‘what can theatre and performance design do?’ in the face of increasing environmental concerns. Integrating cyclic thinking into the design process has been essential to the success of The Living Stage. Ecoscenography’s cycles of co-creation—celebration—circulation mimic permaculture principles of working with or replicating patterns of the natural world to build ecologically-sensitive practices. As well as aligning with ecological systems, The Living Stage creates spaces for more-than-human collaboration and communion.

The transformation of dying public spaces into public meeting points is a hot topic of urban planning in Slovakia, where I live. How different is the development of Living Stage(s) compared to creating a typical park? And what can it bring to the community?

The Living Stage calls for a shared approach to the democratisation and activation of spaces and places, one that forefronts intersectional community participation and belonging, with the goal of creating social-ecological sites for celebration. This celebratory aspect is perhaps what primarily separates it from the design of a typical park – one where theatre design and landscape architecture are combined. The Living Stage is an opportunity to perform stories of place that intersect with ecological regeneration.

What is the role of the local participants or community members in The Living Stage?

The Living Stage would not exist without community input. For example, the first living stage was created for the 2013 Castlemaine State Festival in Australia and grew out of imagining a new kind of theatrical space — one that was literally aligned with communities and ecological systems. Created by the rural community of Castlemaine under the guidance of local permaculturalists (Hamish MacCallum and Sas Allardice), the original project featured an amphitheatre of climbable apple crate garden walls and portable garden beds, each culturing edible plants. It acted as both a venue and source of inspiration for a number of local performance groups whose brief was to create experimental works that drew on the concept of regeneration and interacted with the unique design that surrounded them. After the festival, the stage of apple crates and plants were donated to several community gardens for educational projects. As highlighted above, the community was literally integrated into Ecoscenography’s cycles of co-creation—celebration—circulation.

Can you tell me more about your approach of regenerative development and ecological placemaking? How are participatory processes a vital part of this process?

Regenerative development has been a core part of my conceptualisation of Ecoscenography. What I love about this movement is its holistic focus on socio-ecological thinking, placemaking and community integration to create positive and contributive outcomes. Regenerative development reconsiders limited notions of sustainability from one of moderation and restraint, to one of possibility and abundance, where local contexts, communities and place-specific aspirations take centre stage. It really is a celebration of ‘eco-creativity’ and ‘thrive-ability’ which is central to my Living Stage project. Participation is key because it allows community members to become involved in sustainability processes, and directly experience what it means to become part of this movement.

You are working as a Senior Lecturer at Griffith University in Brisbane. Besides your research, you have provided courses and supervision for students. How do they think about the future? Do you believe that the next generation of stage designers will apply the tools of Ecoscenography as the fundamental element of their artistic practice?  

I am situated in the Queensland College of Art which is not a theatre school. Instead, I work across the Master and Bachelor of Design programs, where I primarily teach into the Interior and Spatial design discipline. Sustainable Environments is one of our core subjects which provides spatial design students with an introduction to leading concepts of sustainability (ecological worldview, circular design, bio-inspired design, biophilia) and their application to Interior/Spatial Design. Students are trained to become ecological design thinkers who can integrate sustainability into their conceptual and practical processes. The course has been running for many years and is very creative and popular with our students. I have never had a student say to me ‘I don’t want to do sustainable design’, if anything I have had the opposite experience! I don’t think theatre students are really any different from interior/spatial design students. It is exciting to think that Ecoscenography will one day be integrated into theatre education and curriculum. I think we are getting closer to this reality and hopefully, my forthcoming book will help provide the foundation and framework to make this happen.

The post, Ecoscenography Q&A, appeared first on Ecoscenography.
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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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What are you reading? Introducing the Seasonal Book Club

Reading is one of my favourite past times and yet, I don’t get to do it nearly as much as I would like. One of the questions I love to ask people is “what are you reading?” because I am always keen to discover books that might open up new ways of looking at the world. This year I am launching the Seasonal Book Club as part of the Ecoscenography Reading Group with the hope of finding a few like-minded people who want to talk about books that have an ecological focus: Essentially, books that help us to engage with and reflect on the more-than-human world and thrilling and tangible ways! I am excited to have Alexandra Lord(Triga Creative) join me in hosting this 2022 series which will be run as a very informal online discussion (BYO wine and cheese!).

The Seasonal Book Club will take place online via the Ecoscenography Facebook Group, starting on the 3rd/4th of February. Please see our full list below. You can purchase most books from any good bookshop or check out your local library for copies. There are also some audiobook versions available for those who would rather listen (there is a free 30-day trial with Audible for new users). Please note: this book club series is open to anyone (you don’t have to be a theatre person to join in!).

Summer/Winter reading (Non-Fiction)
Thursday 4th February 7:30-9pm Toronto time | Friday 5th February 10:30am-12pm Brisbane time

The Enchanted Life by Sharon Blackie:

Blurb: A book of natural wonders, practical guidance and life-changing empowerment, by the author of the word-of-mouth bestseller If Women Rose Rooted. ‘To live an enchanted life is to pick up the pieces of our bruised and battered psyches, and to offer them the nourishment they long for. It is to be challenged, to be awakened, to be gripped and shaken to the core by the extraordinary which lies at the heart of the ordinary. Above all, to live an enchanted life is to fall in love with the world all over again.’ The enchanted life has nothing to do with escapism or magical thinking: it is founded on a vivid sense of belonging to a rich and many-layered world. It is creative, intuitive, imaginative. It thrives on work that has heart and meaning. It loves wild things, but returns to an enchanted home and garden. It respects the instinctive knowledge, ethical living and playfulness, and relishes story and art. Taking the inspiration and wisdom that can be derived from myth, fairy tales and folk culture, this book offers a set of practical and grounded tools for reclaiming enchantment in our lives, giving us a greater sense of meaning and of belonging to the world.


Autumn/Spring (Fiction)  *UK/Europe timeframe friendly*

Thursday 3rd March 6:30 – 8am Toronto time | 8:30-10pm Brisbane time | 10:30am -12pm UK time

The Performance by Claire Thomas:

Blurb: The false cold of the theatre makes it hard to imagine the heavy wind outside in the real world, the ash air pressing onto the city from the nearby hills where bushfires are taking hold. The house lights lower. The auditorium feels hopeful in the darkness. As bushfires rage outside the city, three women watch a performance of a Beckett play. Margot is a successful professor, preoccupied by her fraught relationship with her ailing husband. Ivy is a philanthropist with a troubled past, distracted by the snoring man beside her. Summer is a young theatre usher, anxious about the safety of her girlfriend in the fire zone.


Summer/Winter (Non-Fiction) — May/June TBC

Fixation: How to Have Stuff without Breaking the Planet by Sandra Goldmark:

Blurb: Our massive, global system of consumption is broken. Our individual relationship with our stuff is broken. In each of our homes, some stuff is broken. And the strain of rampant consumerism and manufacturing is breaking our planet. We need big, systemic changes, from public policy to global economic systems. But we don’t need to wait for them.

Since founding Fixup, a pop-up repair shop that brought her coverage in The New York Times, Salon, New York Public Radio, and more, Sandra Goldmark has become a leader in the movement to demand better “stuff.” She doesn’t just want to help us clear clutter—she aims to move us away from throwaway culture, to teach us to reuse and repurpose more thoughtfully, and to urge companies to produce better stuff. Although her goal is ambitious, the solution to getting there is surprisingly simple and involves all of us: have good stuff, not too much, mostly reclaimed, care for it, and pass it on.

Fixation charts the path to the next frontier in the health, wellness, and environmental movements—learning how to value stewardship over waste. We can choose quality items designed for a long lifecycle, commit to repairing them when they break, and shift our perspective on reuse and “preowned” goods. Together, we can demand that companies get on board. Goldmark shares examples of forward-thinking companies that are thriving by conducting their businesses sustainably and responsibly.

Passionate, wise, and practical, Fixation offers us a new understanding of stuff by building a value chain where good design, reuse, and repair are the status quo.


Spring/Autumn (Non-Fiction)  *UK/Europe timeframe friendly*September/October TBC

The Heartbeat of Trees: Embracing Our Ancient Bond With Forests and Nature by Peter Wohlleben:

Blurb: From the New York Times bestselling author of The Hidden Life of Trees comes a powerful return to the forest, where trees have heartbeats and roots are like brains that extend underground. Where the colour green calms us, and the forest sharpens our senses.

In The Heartbeat of Trees, renowned forester Peter Wohlleben draws on new scientific discoveries to show how humans are deeply connected to the natural world. In an era of mobile phone addiction, climate change and urban life, many of us fear we’ve lost our connection to nature, but Wohlleben is convinced that age-old ties linking humans to the forest remain alive and intact.

Drawing on science and cutting-edge research, The Heartbeat of Trees reveals the profound interactions humans can have with nature, exploring the language of the forest, the consciousness of plants and the eroding boundary between flora and fauna.

A perfect book to take with you into the woods, The Heartbeat of Trees shares how to see, feel, smell, hear and even taste the forest.


Winter/Summer (Non-Fiction) — November/December TBC

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer:

Blurb: As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer has been trained to ask questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces the notion that plants and animals are our oldest teachers. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer brings these two lenses of knowledge together to take us on “a journey that is every bit as mythic as it is scientific, as sacred as it is historical, as clever as it is wise” (Elizabeth Gilbert).

Drawing on her life as an indigenous scientist, a mother, and a woman, Kimmerer shows how other living beings-asters and goldenrod, strawberries and squash, salamanders, algae, and sweetgrass-offer us gifts and lessons, even if we’ve forgotten how to hear their voices. In a rich braid of reflections that range from the creation of Turtle Island to the forces that threaten its flourishing today, she circles toward a central argument: that the awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings will we be capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learn to give our own gifts in return.

The post, What are you reading? Introducing the Seasonal Book Club, appeared first on Ecoscenography.
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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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Ecoscenography Knowledge Exchange Platform

We have some exciting news! We are delighted to announce that Ecoscenography is partnering with the PQ Knowledge Exchange Platform to create an online open-source publication and community space.

The Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space is the world’s leading festival of design for performance, scenography, and theatre architecture for professional and emerging artists as well as the general public. As part of the 2023 program, PQ has been curating a new knowledge exchange platform that will be an open space for sharing ideas and communicating scenographic practice, research, and theory.

Over the course of the next six months, Ecoscenography.com will be creating more opportunities for knowledge exchange, interaction and discussion, and we want you to be part of it!

We wish to feature theatre organisations, artists and designers implementing new strategies in the ‘eco’ space, and share the innovative, ground-breaking work that is happening across the globe. Opportunities exist to feature your work through artist pages, interviews and articles. We are also eager to hear how you would like to use this platform to learn more about Ecoscenography and connect with other like-minded designers.

Our first call is for ‘Artist Pages’ where we would like to showcase ecological work from theatre artists through a series of images (including moving image) and short descriptions. If you would like your work to be featured on the platform, please email us!

Check out our new Ecoscenography Reading Group and join us for our [next] live online event in [October].

The post, Ecoscenography Knowledge Exchange Platform, appeared first on Ecoscenography.

———-

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

Go to EcoScenography

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Encounter-spaces and the City as Scenography: Interview with Aris Pretelin-Esteves (Mexico)

Aris Pretelin-Esteves is a Mexican vegan scenographer and scenic artist who cares deeply about animals, plants, insects, humans, objects and places. Her work is about understanding herself as an artist with social responsibility and as part of a community. She creates open scenographic actions that promote opportunities for humans and nature to connect with one another and participate in the recovery of public spaces. Her materials include waste, the discarded and the abandoned.

How did your interest in Ecoscenography and sustainable theatre production begin?

It is almost like one day I woke up and realised that I was surrounded by garbage. I went out to the street and saw trees dying from lack of water, their roots breaking through the concrete. I got to the park and there was no grass, there were no flowers, there was nowhere to sit. Everywhere I turned there was garbage. I realised then that there was no sense in continuing to create, especially if the only thing I saw on the way to the theatre was death, neglect, concrete and bad smells!

What is the meaning of doing theatre if we are trapped inside creating fictional worlds while ours is falling apart? This question is what prompted me to look for ways to generate projects that could transform our dying city into one that was full of life. I started by reimagining the city as scenography, one in which we can all participate. I began to consider waste and ruin as possibilities for creation and artistic production. Since then, I have started incorporating these ideas into my work and forging a new path of creation that continues today.

Photo by Vaiva Bezahan, 2019.

What does Ecoscenography mean to you? How do you define it (for yourself and others)?

In my opinion, Ecoscenography is a way of thinking about myself as a scenographer as well as taking an inclusive approach to artistic production. It is not only about recycling or using waste materials. For me, it is a way of conceiving the scene, as well as the management, materialisation and transformation of the processes involved.

Ecoscenography also implies placing myself within my own urban context and accepting the responsibility that this entails. Working with community requires a diagnosis of needs: to engage in reflection and collective dialogue; to imagine alternatives for transformation; and to foster care in the way we live and inhabit spaces. Ecoscenography is a political-artistic position.

Ecoscenography offers a change in perspective that displaces pragmatic ideas of scenographic creation and proposes a horizontal, collective, transdisciplinary and participatory approach to making openly sourced and accessible works. This means that Ecoscenographers understand scenography and theatricality as a means of social, political, artistic and environmental transformation.

Photo by Aris Pretelin-Esteves, 2019

Can you tell me about TEJIDOS?

TEJIDOS is a project created with, for and by the community. It involves several scenographic actions that seek to transform urban green spaces into inclusive gathering places and aims to reverse the neglect and devastation that surrounds us.

TEJIDOS begins with the donation and recycling of discarded garments that participants later transform, weave, design and install in a green area of the city. The fabric acts as a guiding axis for the project and is a metaphor for the multiple networks that connects us to the environment and the broader world. The scenography for TEJIDOS is created collectively, and participants undertake a journey during which the green space and its surroundings are perceived from different points of view, unveiling the history-memory of the space and therefore, its natural liveliness. In creating a collective, tactile, and memorable experience, a convivial bond is woven, fostering a sense of care for our green spaces.

Photo by Vaiva Bezahan, 2019.

Knitting and weaving are simple somatic actions that, by their continuous repetition, relaxes the body and encourages participants to listen and engage in dialogue with one another. These conversations and ideas are subsequently shared with institutions, committees, and neighbourhood associations to generate agreements and actions that will transform and take care of green spaces in the long term.

TEJIDOS responds to a ‘Povera’ aesthetic, seeking the transformation of waste materials by exposing them to a natural environment that modifies and activates them and creates a sense of meaning. The richness of the project lies in its ability to promote ‘encounter-spaces’ for collective action – to regenerate the social fabric and to resist the social-environmental crisis that we are experiencing right now in Mexico.

Photo by Aris Pretelin-Esteves, 2019

What were some of the biggest hurdles that you have had to tackle on realising the project? What are you most proud of?

It is not common to have these kinds of projects in Mexico. Usually, they are either social or artistic, not both. Scenographers are generally trained as creators who are unaccustomed to letting other people take part in their designs and the relationships can be very hierarchical. In addition, we don’t really have an environmentally responsible culture. So, no one found it attractive to weave a scenography with recycled clothing, or to create an installation with people from the community. The truth is, nobody really understood it, at least to begin with. They wanted to know why I was doing it and what was it all for? And what was I going to gain with all that? And they could not categorise it! No one understood if it was a play, a workshop, an installation, or a social intervention. I answered that yes, it was all that!

Photo by Carlos Casasola. 2019

Nevertheless, Pamela-Eliecer Badallo and I started the project without funding and without support. We were invited to PQ2019 so we joined our friends and colleagues Priscila Imaz, Nurydia Briseño and Jorge Hernández to start a garment donation campaign with neighbours, family, friends, schools and universities. We offered weaving workshops, and eventually many people who were not related to the theatre industry began to approach us, to support us with donations, and to talk about TEJIDOS with other people. And then, suddenly it became huge!

Many people started proposing ideas, donating materials, helping to structure the project and to assist in weaving. Soon colleagues who I had not spoken to for a long time appeared. Estela Fagoaga helped us to materialise the costumes, Miranda Aguayo supported with the realization of headdresses and costume details, the team of ‘Emprendedores Culturales’ supported us with the management of resources and Alma Carrascosa financed part of the project. Finally, we travelled to Prague carrying 200kg of fabric. And in the end, it was amazing!

During the last 3 years, we have met with Biologists, Social Workers, Professional Weavers, Photographers, Videographers who have enriched the project with their work and continue transforming it within the green areas in which we weave. I am proud that we have managed to bring together so many people to engage in meaningful conversations and create artistic works that are kinder to the environment and foster a better coexistence with humans and nature. I honestly don’t see myself working in any other way.

Photo by Carlos Casasola. 2019.

What tips would you give to a scenographer/theatre maker who is exploring sustainable practice for the first time?

  • Always be consistent with what you believe. Your ethical stance is what will give meaning and validity to your proposal.
  • Do not believe it when someone tells you that what you do does not make sense or is not valuable.
  • Research is the basis of sustainability. If you don’t test and explore enough, you won’t have good results. Take time to investigate your materials, try things out until you get the desired result.
  • Recycling is not enough. All material requires a transformation process, to develop greater possibilities for manipulation and therefore, creation.
  • Talk about your work. Eventually there will be someone interested that will support you.
  • Look beyond the black box. Scroll and look for ideas across other disciplines.

What is your next project? 

COVID19 has revealed the importance of more suitable public spaces in Mexico. Tejidos has continued with some virtual interventions in the community with the intention of doing residencies in town halls and green areas as soon as we have the possibility. I firmly believe that we still have much work to do. There are many spaces to transform, many memories to recover and many communities to weave together. On another note, we have also been working on a project called ‘Continuous Stops – How to waste time in a city without time’ where we explore immobility as a resistance to a city that forces you to move forward regardless of social and environmental consequences.

Photo by Carlos Casasola. 2019

(Top photo: Photo by Carlos Casasola, 2019)

The post, Encounter-spaces and the City as Scenography: Interview with Aris Pretelin-Esteves (Mexico), appeared first on Ecoscenography.
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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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Resourceful ingenuity: Interview with performance designer Imogen Ross (Australia)

Imogen Ross has developed a variety of creative responses to live performance, production and event needs for over 33 years. She collaborates with an array of artists and organisations, teasing out the creative pulse within each project and making it manifest. Imogen is the co-author of ‘Performance Design in Australia’ (2001) and runs the APDGreen Conversations for the Australian Production Design Guild.

How did your interest in Ecoscenography and sustainable theatre production begin?

I think my interest in sustainable theatre production has been there from the very start. As a young designer, I was always concerned about where the set would go at the end of the show. Living in a rural area meant that we all knew exactly what ‘landfill’ meant: the whole set was either going to be driven to the local tip on a Sunday morning OR it was going to be stored in someone’s shed until it could be re-used. The emphasis was always on re-use and upcycling because it felt like we were pouring our hard-earned money into the dirt when we took things to the tip. Working in a small theatre company means that everyone is involved in every step of the way, and every wasteful decision is discussed as the ramifications have impact on future budgets.

Some designers walk away at opening night and never look back. I seldom assume it is someone else’s responsibility to solve the waste problems created by my sets and I always try to present upcycling or recycling pathways for my design choices. I am well known for recycling and upcycling my sets/costumes. Many individuals and theatre companies now contact me to see if I know where to re-home post-show items.

Mr Lizard (Christopher Tomkinson), Snugglepot (Jacob Warner) and Cuddlepie (KirkPage) fight the villain Mrs Snake (Georgia Adamson). Snugglepot and Cuddlepie (CDP, 2015). Director: Susanna Dowling. Set Designer: Imogen Ross. Costume designer: Matthew Aberline. Photo Credit: Branco Gaica.

What does Ecoscenography mean to you? How do you define it (for yourself and others)?

Ecoscenography is about being environmentally consciousness at every step of the design and story-telling process. It is a conscious decision to choose upcycled elements, to re-use existing elements and to recycle them. I like to know the carbon impact of my design decisions, to discuss alternatives and be constantly learning.

Ecoscenography is also about discussing the ‘end of life’ stage of the project with the Director, the Production Manager, the actors and the crew. It is about having regular discussions; including the unlearning of problematic methods, techniques and technologies in performance design. It is about creating story driven, not ego/status- driven decisions.

The set of Kindertransport was made from 300 recycled boxes, all empty and facing the audience, standing 5m high. Boxes were recycled at the end and all furniture was purchased from 2nd hand shops and returned after the show. Most costumes were borrowed or hired. The floor was pieced together from vintage dress patterns on paper. Sarah Greenwood (pictured) as young Eva. Kindertransport (Darlinghurst Theatre 2017). Director: Sandie Eldridge. Set and Costume Design: Imogen Ross. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJODNfBdEQo

Can you tell me about one of your most interesting Ecoscenography projects?

Many of my shows designed for Monkey Baa Theatre have engaged with the serendipity of using repurposed and found items and second hand fabrics. The rigours of year-long touring has taught me the lesson that 2nd hand and true vintage costumes are NOT such a good idea but I will always try to include upcycled elements like 2nd hand buttons and fabrics into the making of hero costumes and their doubles.

In Diary of a Wombat, we collaborated with master puppet maker Briony Anderson who always incorporates upcycled elements into her work. The inner structures of her magnificent wombat are covered in ‘Who Gives a Crap’ toilet paper covers – a marvelous repurposing of something already recycled in its construction. For this show I designed and made an eight metre long ‘Earth Quilt’ made almost entirely of second hand fabrics to represent the cross-section of the landscape as it descends to a wombat burrow. It was stitched over two intense weeks in one long uncut piece with master sewer Matt Aberline in his tiny studio in Enmore. The scraps from the fabrics were used as stuffing so there was little wastage.

Mothball, our inquisitive wombat puppet is introduced to the ‘earth quilt’ in rehearsals. It was vital that the set was soft and without hard edges so that ‘Mothcall’ was not harmed during the show. Diary of a Wombat (Monkey Baa Theatre for Young People, 2017). Director: Sandie Eldridge. Set and Costume Design: Imogen Ross.

For me, upcycling and the use of ‘found’ items is not about stretching the budget (though it certainly was an initial factor when I was younger, working on unfunded Co-op shows) but about allowing the element of chance and happenstance to enter my design process. I enjoy accepting the design challenge of using what is thrown before me. I enjoy looking sideways at people’s rubbish piles, wondering if the missing piece to the puzzle may be there. So many design problems have been solved by the weird and wonderful things I find in my regular travels to and from a theatre space. The layers of complex spatial/colour/texture thinking we designers do as we process a play in our minds may actually bring certain objects to the fore – things we have not noticed lying about before on the periphery.

Second hand objects carry a resonance of their previous experiences. They bring something unique to the visual story-telling, even if no one but the performer or myself know its history. When designing costumes at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2003, someone in Australia asked me how on earth it could be justified spending all that money on hand-making items using 16th century style fabrics when it would be just as easy to use a sewing machine with store-bought fabrics. My answer was that it is the difference between tasting Cadbury’s dairy milk chocolate in a packet and tasting a Belgian handmade chocolate. They are both chocolate right? No. The sensory experience is completely different, though they both look like chocolate. The resonance of the chocolate maker’s hands is in one, the action of a machine in the other.

Can you tell me more about your community-engaged projects?

In 2018 I was asked by Karen Therese the artistic director of Powerhouse Youth Theatre (PYT) to work with them on a community theatre event called Little Baghdad: Cafes and Gardens in Fairfield. It was to be the culmination of two years of working closely with a mostly refugee Iraqi community in the grounds of Fairfield High School, with the assistance of the Parent’s Cafe: a locally run organisation that builds community, provideing education and employment for newly-arrived adults from war-torn countries.

My design brief was to bring together all the different elements that the community had been working on to tell their stories and weave a space for the audience to engage directly with the performers, culminating in a feast, with music, poetry and Arabic folk dancing. I worked with the Iraqi community for 6 weeks, helping to build and design a community garden with them, learning new gardening methods and exploring many new tastes. I found that sitting and listening was as much a part of the design process, as it was driving home while listening to Iraqi music and thinking about how many milkcrates I could safely fit into a 5m x 8m space.

The mobile art gallery in the school gardens had to be dismantled every evening after the event. There were over 40 paintings in total. Little Baghdad: Cafes and Gardens (PYT 2018). Artistic director: Karen Therese. Co-curators Jiva Parthipan, Haitham Jaju and Layla Naji. Event design: Imogen Ross. See https://vimeo.com/262508572

PYT recognises that sharing food and music are just as important as listening to performers tell a story. Musicians led the audience through the gardens as the sun set, introducing spectators to Iraqi language and culture while inviting them to taste the freshly cooked produce. Later, using the raised garden beds as room dividers, we laid out dozens of carpets and cushions made from upcycled hessian bags and Iraqi bedspreads. I covered milk crates with secondhand fabrics and foam and made instant tables from stackable timber stools. We used solar powered lighting for all but the stage area, with candles on every table. The lit trees became our backdrop.

At the end of the 2nd week of nightly performances, we donated as much as we could back to the community. The rugs and cushions were donated to the Parent’s Cafe; the milk crate cushions were donated to a struggling social-enterprise night market in Wollongong that could not afford seating; and the solar powered lighting was shared with a sustainable funeral event company that holds regular community events. PYT does not have much storage space in its tiny offices in Fairfield, so they always plan the waste streams of their sets and costumes carefully in pre-production.

A performer, dressed in intricate gown and elaborate gold headdress sewn by the women of the Iraqi Parents Café, prepares for rehearsal. Little Baghdad: Cafes and Gardens (PYT 2018). Artistic director: Karen Therese. Co-curators Jiva Parthipan, Haitham Jaju and Layla Naji. Event design: Imogen Ross. https://vimeo.com/262508572

What tips would you give to a scenographer who is exploring sustainable practice for the first time?

  • Don’t start with the idea that everything must be recyclable. Many things that are not recyclable can still be re-homed, re-used and reimagined by others.
  • Sustainability is about being creative and having a willingness to discuss alternative solutions with directors and production managers. Don’t be afraid of asking, ‘how do we solve this together’?
  • Always mention cost saving strategies when talking to the production manager. If something is more expensive to buy initially but will save the production money in the long term, promote this!
  • Ask for things to be put in writing. It is amazing how a sustainability discussion at the beginning of a process can be easily forgotten or overridden at the end of the process due to stress and time restraints.
Over 3 months of ensemble workshops, Imogen worked with teenage performers to create their vision of an apocalyptic war, heralded by the fabled horsemen of the apocalypse. All materials used were either found, 2nd hand or purchased from Reverse Garbage in Sydney’s inner west. Everything usable was returned post-show to where it had come. Plastic scraps were collected, bagged and recycled responsibly. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Senior Ensemble, State Drama Festival (The Arts Unit, 2017). Director: Nadia Emery. Artist in Residence – Imogen Ross.

What do you think the future of theatre will look like for a climate-resilient world?

I think we will become less ego driven in our designs. I was appalled at a recent panel discussion of graduates from a leading theatre design school when asked about their thoughts on re-use and re-cycling. This new generation of designers was still espousing very outmoded ideas about the need for a designer to assert their style on a production by never using elements from someone else’s design. It was as if the word re-use was a dirty word.

In the future, I think the designers who are clever and creative in their constant re-use and re-imaging of scenic elements between productions will be lauded. This is not about appearing old fashioned and retrospective, as some designers have expressed their fear to me. Instead, new material technologies may make this re-imagining of scenic elements even more exciting, as we can reduce things back to their base elements before re-constructing a new purpose.

Building mask and music rituals using recycled materials with young performers during holiday workshops in Wollongong. Masks made by performers from upcycled milk bottles and costumes made from food box packaging. Creativity Camp, (Merrigong Theatre, 2016 ) Facilitating Theatre Artist: Imogen Ross.

What are you working on now?

During the bushfires and COVID restrictions of 2020 I adapted and readapted an ongoing collaborative design project called The Chaos Loom – Habitats for an Uncertain Future

This year I want to work more closely with nature and develop a stronger ecoscenographic voice. I am not sure yet where this decision will take my practice.

Until then, I am working on Life:

Finding joy.

Relationships in all their messy clunky forms.

Solo/group exhibitions with a range of local artists

Teaching the art of ‘seeing, listening and observing’ to young artists

Studying for a masters/phd in the future (soon)

Writing more. Learning more.

Growing things in my guerilla garden and creating spontaneous community sculptures to surprise passersby.

Watch this space…

As artist in residence for Outback Theatre for Young People in 2016, Imogen worked with school students, local artists and businesses to create changing installations across the town using found and upcycled materials. The installations occurred in the evenings so that the new recycling stories could be experienced by the townfolk in the mornings. The multiple installations culminated in the recreation of a sculpture that had won a local school competition to create something meaningfull from rubbish. The winning sculpture was an ‘echidna’ made froma 2litre red tomato sauce bottle and chip packets. The final giant sculpture was built on top of a rented horse float and used beer cans, fencing wire, cardboard boxes and chaff bags to replicate the original. The Giant Echidna (pictured), #While You Were Sleeping, (Outback Theatre for Young People, 2016). Director: Sarah Parsons. Art Workshops and Sculpture Creation: Imogen Ross.

(Top photo: Snugglepot (Jacob Warner) and Cuddlepie (Kirk Page) asleep on the 360 degree rotating tree trunk. Snugglepot and Cuddlepie (CDP, 2015). Director: Susanna Dowling.Set Designer: Imogen Ross. Costume Designer: Matthew Aberline. Photo Credit: Branco Gaica.)

The post, Resourceful ingenuity: Interview with performance designer Imogen Ross (Australia), appeared first on Ecoscenography.
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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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Joyful Eco-creativity: Interview with Marie-Renée Bourget Harvey (Canada)

Marie-Renée Bourget Harvey is French-Canadian scenographer who is passionate about integrating sustainability and poetry at the heart of her artistic approach. She seeks to erase the boundaries between her personal and professional values to create an impactful and necessary reconciliation. The more she advances in this process, the more she realizes that all our actions, however small they may be, have an impact on the community, on everything. Instead of denying these ties, she now seeks to forge them.

How did your interest in Ecoscenography and sustainable theatre production begin?

My passion for sustainability has been there from the very beginning of my theatrical journey (over 15 years). When I first started out in the theatre, we worked in very small teams and did everything ourselves, so nothing was thrown away unnecessarily. It was only recently that I realised how sustainability has always been at the heart of my artistic approach. I was always the ‘annoying one’ on productions – the person who ensured and insisted that nothing be thrown away!

It took Jasmine Catudal (who organized the Quebec exhibition And after at the Prague Quadrennial in 2019) to alert me to my sustainability ethic and insist that I be part of the delegation of artists at PQ. Previously, I had been inclined to keep quiet about my sustainability concerns and put all the responsibility of Ecoscenography on my shoulders.

Now, I am grateful and so full of joy to work with Anne-Catherine Lebeau (Écosceno) to share my sustainability journey with others.

What does Ecoscenography mean to you? How do you define it (for yourself and others)?

Love. Really! For me, eco-design means to love and take care of others, the planet and myself. It is the main inspiration that drives me and challenges me in infinite ways.  And the more ‘I love’, the more it becomes a natural part of who I am, not just as a concept, but also as part of my reality. This changes everything because nothing is external to me anymore, and I am no longer separated from my personal and professional values. Love is a powerful tool that keeps me thriving.  My passion also comes with an infinite dose of hope that allows me to move forward and continue wanting to do and see things differently.

When I define eco-design to others, I describe it as a process of creation that adds meaning to our artistic voice. We must take the time to think about the community and inject meaning into our decisions. We must make sure that we respect all matter as well as human beings – to love them, to take care of them, to allow them to regenerate. It is respecting all that is. Eco-design is a way for me to create a healthy environment right now and for the generations that will follow.  It is also, and above all, a commitment to perpetuate life. And it is extremely motivating to choose this commitment.

Incendies, Théâtre du Trident 2018. Director: Marie-Josée Bastien. Light: Sonoyo Nishikawa. Costume: Sébastien Dionne. Pictured: Réjean Vallée, Jean-Sébastien Ouelette, Gabriel Fournier, Lise Castonguay, Véronika Makdissi-Warren. Photo: Stéphane Bourgeois

Can you tell me about your work on La forêt?

La forêt consisted of a labyrinth of trees where more than 20 actors and musicians came to life under the theme of disillusioned tales. It was set in an underutilised site in the city, a vacant lot between two streets, under highway ramps. For this project we used security barriers (rented) and covered them with branches recovered from the pruning and ecocentres of the city. We also rented a tent to house the musicians and actors. The vast majority of the accessories and costumes were created from rental and second-hand purchases. The pennants were made from used sheets and have been reused several times since on other projects. The wigs were customized and were subsequently given to Drag Queens for their own performances. All tree branches were gently removed and shredded to create compost. To my delight, during the 4 weeks that the scenery was set, the birds came to settle in the temporary forest. I admit that I was very happy to see the city planting trees on this site the following year.

La Forêt, Où tu vas quand tu dors en marchant? Carrefour international de théâtre 2013-2014. Pictured: Jean-Michel Girouard. Light: Laurent Routhier. Costume: Sébastien Dionne. Makeup: Élène Pearson & Nathalie Simard. Photo: Francis Gagnon.
La Forêt, Où tu vas quand tu dors en marchant? Carrefour international de théâtre 2013-2014. Pictured: Maude Audet. Light: Laurent Routhier. Costume: Sébastien Dionne. Makeup: Élène Pearson & Nathalie Simard. Photo: Nicola-Frank Vachon.

Can you tell me about your work on Tom à la ferme?

For this project, the director and I had a strong desire to represent the rural universe of the play realistically but with a poetic touch. In Quebec there are many barns with weathered timber – a look that is part of our rural landscape. Many barns are dismantled, and the wood is sold for its rustic appeal. I took advantage of this opportunity and purchased the reclaimed timber boards and then worked with the carpenter to build directly on the site to minimise excess waste.

The structure of the barn for the show was made solely from rented scaffolding structures. A good part of the house, which opened at the end of the room, was also structured in the same way. All the accessories were bought from antique dealers or borrowed from a family barn belonging to the parents of one of the actors. All the artefacts were returned at the end of the piece. I also donated the barn wood or antiques via social media. The ground was covered with soil that was recovered and donated at the end of the last show.

It was fascinating to see how the use of recycled material can create a visual and artistic richness; the passage of time gives it a complex beauty.

Tom à la ferme, Théâtre de la Bordée Director : Marie-Hélène Gendreau, 2011. Light: Dominic Lemieux and Hubert Gagnon. Costume:  Maude Audet. Photo: Dominic Lemieux. 
Tom à la ferme, Théâtre de la Bordée Director : Marie-Hélène Gendreau, 2011. Light: Dominic Lemieux and Hubert Gagnon. Costume:  Maude Audet. Photo:  Guillaume D. Cyr. Pictured: Steve Gagnon.

Can you tell me about your work on Madame butterfly? 

This project was also created with weathered timber (recycled barn wood). For this design, we proposed to those who had sold us the wood to come and collect it at the end of the production. They accepted with joy! They were even surprised by the offer as this meant that the company could resell the wood and increase their profit on the same material. We also offered them all the wood they wanted from the decorated structure. Thus, a greater percentage of wood was recycled. This project proved that people are often more open than we think! Furthermore, my whole approach shows me that one of the reasons why I love creating so much is because it allows me to make surprising encounters than more ‘traditional’ ways of doing things. Every project, every subject, every way of seeing things differently allows me to make encounters that enrich my life.

Madame Butterfly, Opéra de Québec. Director: Jacques Leblanc, 2013. Light: Serge Gingras. Photo: Louise Leblanc
Madame Butterfly, Opéra de Québec. Director: Jacques Leblanc, 2013. Light: Serge Gingras. Photo: Louise Leblanc.

In my conceptualisation of Ecoscenography I am interested in how ideas of co-creation, celebration and circulation can be considered as a fundamental part of the design process. ‘Co-creation’ implies ways of using local, serendipitous, place-based solutions in the making of the work; ‘Celebration’ is about using the stage as a platform to showcase sustainability and test out new ideas; and ‘Circulation’ is about taking the afterlife of theatre materials and ideas into consideration. Can you highlight any examples of your work that address these stages in interesting ways? 

Co-creation: I am completely animated by the concept of co-creation and involving the use of local materials. Creating from what exists around us, to design an aesthetic with a local signature pleases me greatly! I believe it is possible to create this by remaining and curious.

Celebration: Up until now I have tried to prove that we can create eco-responsible scenographies without drawing attention to its sustainability credentials. Now, I am more interested in highlighting the ecological implications of a show with its audiences. I truly believe that the whole theatre community must be part of the solution. Creating for and with the wider community is a very rewarding path from all points of view.

Circulation: I am really animated by the idea of making matter circulate – to allow it to become something else, to have several lives and possibilities. This is something I take into account from the very beginning of the creative process – thinking about other ephemeral uses, but more often than not, I think about sustainable alternatives to facilitate reemployment. The truth is, I’m a matter lover. I find it moving to see materials circulate and engage with several audiences – to bring meaning into more opportunities.

What have been some of the biggest hurdles that you have encountered in implementing Ecoscenography? What are you most proud of?

I think one of the biggest obstacles I have faced is the lack of time. The conditions of creation are so short and intense that it is often lack of time that causes unsustainable practices to persist as eco-design (at least at the moment) invariably takes more time. I am truly aware that our system is not sustainable and that aiming for productivity, speed and the desire for tailor-made spectacular designs at all costs encourages over-consumption and over-exploitation of both human and global resources. I hope that in the near future, the methods of creation will change and that time will play in our favour instead of being perceived as our enemy.

In these unprecedented times (when the cultural environment is in hiatus), many people no longer want to work a senseless number of hours with unhealthy pressure and speed. Many of my colleagues are going back to school or changing jobs because the insecurity that existed before is now tenfold. When the cultural system resumes, will we refuse the old methods of operation, or will we fall back into our old habits for fear of losing contracts or of being perceived as disruptive agents? I sincerely hope that we will dare to speak and stand up to protect what we hold dear and what we care about and help create a healthier environment.

Another major obstacle that I have encountered is the lack of education and/or openness of some people who do not wish to make the effort to change their working methods. When I hear the phrase, “We’ve always done it this way…”, I sometimes rage inwardly or feel a burst of frustration. I understand that questioning our unsustainable methods requires reflection, time (and yes, again that!) and energy, but stagnating and believing that we always do the right thing – without questioning ourselves – also takes a lot of energy and removes some much needed flavour to life! I find it stimulating to question myself, to seek what is healthiest, to be alive!

What tips would you give to a scenographer who is exploring sustainable practice for the first time?

  • Do not take the entire fate of the universe on your shoulders because guilt or burden is not sustainable in the long run.  It is healthy and realistic to share this responsibility. It also allows us to realize that this is both an individual and collective process.
  • Find some fellow eco allies! They will help to exchange experiences, to alleviate the pressure, and to see the whole picture from other perspectives. This will make finding solutions easier.
  • Accept the fact that you are always imperfect, that we are all imperfect and and that’s okay. Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn, it’s pretty fair actually. Mistakes are part of the process and make it possible to learn very quickly – remember them!
  • Be patient with yourself and the others, but not too much! Remain action-orientated (not too much in your head) and be curious and open.

What do you think the future of theatre will look like for a climate-resilient world?

I hope to see a more holistic way of creating by allowing people to realise themselves both personally and collectively. I believe the solution lies there. Creating for the service of the community brings such great meaning, greater than oneself. This motivates and nourishes. I hope that the notion of waste will no longer exist, and that everything will be considered as resources, therefore upgraded and loved again and again. I hope that governments will quickly prioritize the common good and put forward policies that accelerate the circular economy and make the linear economy obsolete or even illegal.

I also hope that this approach will soon be embraced by all disciplines in the industry, not just designers because I think that’s where the solution lies. Let the designers adopt this creative process, but let them be joined by the directors, technical and production directors, the workshops, the actors, all disciplines. I sincerely believe that this is the only way it will change in a global way, that responsibility and pride will be shared. And I dare to believe that we are already on this path and that everyday more people are joining it.

What is your next project?

Currently, almost all theatres or museum projects are cancelled, postponed or virtual and especially in stand-by since last March. I am very grateful because the projects that come to me are meaningful, bigger than me.

Anne-Catherine Lebeau (Ecosceno) and I are preparing training sessions in ecodesign and ecoresponsibility for the museum and cultural community that will be held in the winter and spring of 2021. I find it extremely inspiring to see the enthusiasm for these training sessions. It fills me with much hope to see that this is starting to become a main concern, that people are finally wanting to change their way of creating.

Incendies, Théâtre du Trident 2018. Director: Marie-Josée Bastien. Light: Sonoyo Nishikawa Costume: Sébastien Dionne. Pictured: Gabriel Fournier. Photo: Stéphane Bourgeois.

(Top photo: La Forêt, Où tu vas quand tu dors en marchant? Carrefour international de théâtre 2013-2014. Pictured: Joëlle Bourdon. Light: Laurent Routhier. Costume: Sébastien Dionne. Makeup: Élène Pearson & Nathalie Simard. Photo: Francis Gagnon)

The post, Joyful Eco-creativity: Interview with Marie-Renée Bourget Harvey (Canada), appeared first on Ecoscenography.
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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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Community Engaged Eco-theatre Action: Interview with Xiao Ting (Singapore)

Xiao Ting is a freelance Singapore-based hyphenated practitioner – performance-maker, movement-based performer, actor, educator and interdisciplinary collaborator. She was a recipient of the Singapore National Arts Council Undergraduate Scholarship and graduated from Lancaster Institute of Contemporary Arts (LICA), Lancaster University, UK, where she received the LICA prize for Outstanding Achievement in Theatre. She is currently an Associate Artist with The Theatre Practice (Singapore) and Programmer for Practice Tuckshop.

How did your interest in eco-theatre and eco-scenography begin?

I absolutely love hiking and trekking in the mountains (responsibly, of course!). Climbing Mount Rinjani (Indonesia) and completing the Annapurna circuit (Nepal) were two of the biggest highlights in my life. It was only a matter of time before I started thinking about integrating two of my greatest passions – the natural environment and theatre.

What does ecoscenography or eco-theatre mean to you? How do you define it (for yourself and others)?

I believe that Eco-theatre is about harnessing the power of theatre to advance a slowly-but-surely cultural shift. For me, theatre is a space for stories. Theatre is a space for hope and transformation. There’s already so much good work by local communities about how to contribute in meaningful ways that I think the best thing theatre can do is to be a bridge – to empower or motivate people to care, to think differently and take action in their own ways.

Eco-theatre is as much about creating work, as it is about ethics in collaboration. So much of our work also involves fostering meaningful relationships to build a healthy ecosystem that we can create within. For example, how do we embed environmental sustainability into our operations, logistics and creative practices?

In my practice, I use an interdisciplinary approach to create work that inspires climate action. I want to create different ‘access points’ for specific audiences. This means each work will look very differently, depending on the audience. Therefore, I am always on the lookout for inspiring collaborators around the world who may vary differently in art form, but stem from the same ethos.

Poppy (by Ang Xiao Ting, Jean Ferry, Zoea Tania Chen.) Composer: Sim Shao Jean. Lighting and Set Design: Kuo Jian Hong.

Can you tell me about your latest project, Poppy?

Poppy was inspired by the ‘Greta Thunbergs’ of the world. It was also written in response to Kuo Pao Kun’s ‘The Silly Little Girl and The Funny Old Tree’. We wanted to maximise the potential of digital theatre to create a live-streamed hybrid performance of film/animation/theatre specific for young people (14-18 years). So, we ended up with Poppy â€“ a story of an adolescent environmentalist, who goes on a journey navigating the complexities of climate action and social media activism culture.  

Through the use of social media platforms such as Telegram and Instagram (@p0_ppys_ok123), we positioned our young audiences as social media followers, so they have to experience and witness the complexities of talking about the climate crisis online. They experience first-hand, how easily it is to say something in an effort to ‘do something’, and how challenging it is to follow-up with meaningful action.

As the majority of Singapore youths are ‘city kids’, this entry point for climate action is familiar. This means that we were able to engage them in deeper conversations at the post-show segment.

Animation still from Poppy (by Ang Xiao Ting, Jean Ferry, Zoea Tania Chen.) Illustrator: Mary Bernadette Lee. Animator: Jawn Chan.
Poppy (by Ang Xiao Ting, Jean Ferry, Zoea Tania Chen.) In picture: Ang Xiao Ting, Tan Beng Chiak.
Post-show conversation from Poppy (by Ang Xiao Ting, Jean Ferry, Zoea Tania Chen). In picture: Ang Xiao Ting, Masturah Oli.
Poppy (by Ang Xiao Ting, Jean Ferry, Zoea Tania Chen.) In picture: Ang Xiao Ting, Masturah Oli.

Can you tell me about your longstanding projects, Recess Time and c o o p?

Food waste is one of the biggest waste streams in Singapore and the amount of food waste generated has grown by around 20% over the last decade. In 2019, Singapore generated around 744 million kg of food waste. That is equivalent to 2 bowls of rice per person per day, or around 51,000 double decker buses. As most food in Singapore is imported from overseas and bought in supermarkets, consumers are used to purchasing unblemished produce. In order to de-stigmatise ugly produce, we created Recess Time!

Recess Time is a lunch party at the heart of the Singapore arts district. It is a long-running participatory work that stages a social situation, i.e. lunch, as the site for public engagement. It has served 30 lunch sessions to date. For this programme, invited chefs go on rescue missions to salvage unwanted or ugly produce. They then incorporate the rescued produce in their menu. Each Recess Time also features a “Kaypoh” King/Queen, whose main job is to archive the conversations that emerge from a lunch like no other.

Recess Time Chefs, also known as Makan Masters. In Picture: Imran Kidd and Priscill Koh.

Meanwhile, audiences also get to enjoy their food in the premises of Practice Tuckshop(@practicetuckshop) or on c o o p – a multi-level outdoor installation created by DO Agency with support from Nanyang Polytechnic. This reusable modular architectural system was built using biodegradable strand-woven bamboo. Herbs from the solar-powered aquaponics garden are regularly incorporated into our daily menu. It was awarded the COLA Environmental Sustainability Merit Awards (2018) and the Singapore Good Design Award (2019).

Last year, Recess Time was featured in a documentary about ground-up initiatives that tackle the climate crisis in Singapore.

Rescued produce, Practice Tuckshop

What were some of the biggest hurdles that you have had to tackle in creating these project/s? What are you most proud of?

Narrowing the scope of the research for each project is always daunting. The climate crisis is a global problem, but the way in which it manifests in each country is indisputably specific. To identify a focus area for each project, we start by asking:

  1. In terms of our local emissions, who are the biggest contributors and why?
  2. As city-dwellers, what is our relationship with the natural environment?
  3. How does that translate into practice with regards to the climate crisis?

I am most proud of the ‘sphere of influence’ each climate-focused project has generated. For instance, to be able to hear members of the creative team go: wow! I’ve always felt so much guilt about needing to do something for the environment, so I end up doing nothing. I never thought I could make a difference…

c o o p (by The Theatre Practice and DO Agency)

What tips would you give to a theatre maker who is exploring eco-theatre and sustainable practice for the first time?

I read an article by Jonathan Franzen (The New Yorker) and it really resonated with me. Franzen writes:

“In times of increasing chaos, people seek protection in tribalism and armed force, rather than in the rule of law, and our best defense against this kind of dystopia is to maintain functioning democracies, functioning legal systems, functioning communities. In this respect, any movement toward a more just and civil society can now be considered a meaningful climate action.”

So I would start this exploration by first asking: As a (insert role), what is a possible ‘meaningful climate action’ for me and my community?

Also, as someone who struggles with climate depression, I also think it’s about constantly reminding yourself that there is hope for the future because every bit counts!!!

What do you think the future of theatre will look like for a climate-resilient world?


I think it will be come increasingly collaborative. Practitioners will find more reasons to do work online as geographical borders will become increasingly irrelevant, also because the amount of carbon footprint in air travel will be and has been, a serious point of consideration.

What is your next project?

I am currently in the midst of translating Poppy and doing a Chinese-language version of the work, as well as conceptualising Poppy 2.0. This next phase will include international artists who work in the intersection of theatre, education and climate action. We want to continue experimenting with Digital Theatre and bring teens from different parts of the world together on Zoom – without accumulating carbon footprint in the form of air travel!

If you are curious, find out more here.

(Top photo: Recess Time (by Ang Xiao Ting, Sim Xin Yi and Joey Cheng), Practice Tuckshop.)

The post, Community Engaged Eco-theatre Action: Interview with Xiao Ting (Singapore), appeared first on Ecoscenography.
———-

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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Earth-based Serendipitous Scenography: Interview with set and costume designer Ruth Stringer (UK)

Ruth Stringer is a set and costume designer and creative facilitator, based in South Wales. Ruth is passionate about how site-specific projects can encourage engagement with the local community, and in exploring how designers can be storytellers. She believes that theatre and performance have an important role to play in the development of ecological thinking and has recently been exploring how her practice addresses climate change and sustainability.

How did your interest in Ecoscenography and sustainable theatre production begin?

I don’t think there was a defining moment for me. Whilst training as a theatre designer and working in scenery workshops, I felt very uneasy with the process of poly-carving; watching tiny piece of plastic falling everywhere like snow – more ending up in the bin than it did in the final sculpture. From there, the notion of reusing, repurposing, recycling was always integral to my process – looking at how I can be sustainable in theatre design and making, and consider where I might be able to improve.

Ever since my first role with National Theatre Wales, I have looked at what the landscape provides, allowing it to inspire and build my designs. I remember looking out of the window of our facility one morning and seeing a shopping trolley half-buried in a sand dune on the beach.  I knew it would be perfect for a large, mobile torch that I needed to make, and loved the idea of transforming this forgotten piece of rubbish into a prop! I made a light installation out of old abandoned umbrellas, which I sourced from pubs and nightclubs.  I was inundated with items that had been long-forgotten, waiting to be turned into art. Site-specific really opened up my practice in terms of responding to a site, and working with it, rather than imposing my vision upon it, which I think is fundamental in Ecoscenography.

What does Ecoscenography mean to you? How do you define it (for yourself and others)?

To me, it is thinking about the whole and taking responsibility for where our sets and costumes come from and where they will go once the production is over. It is about thinking how theatre can connect to a wider ecosystem. How can our practices be inspired by locality, and in what ways can it benefit a local community? How can we work in a way that allows people to take notice and celebrate what is around them? How can we make sure that we can give a voice to those who would otherwise go unheard? This bigger picture involves considering the final product as more than a piece of live art. It includes the wellbeing of the people involved in making the work and the sustainable practices being adhered to in order to achieve it, as well as the legacy of the project itself (beyond the production).

Ecoscenography is about acknowledging that theatre and performance design have a role to play in mitigating climate change – in both the stories it tells and the way it tells them. It’s not about leaving it to someone else to sort it out. And it is about acknowledging our own place in nature; learning from it, being inspired from it and giving back to it.

Egin Residency, National Theatre of Wales, 2019. Photo: Ruth Stringer

Can you tell me about one of your most interesting Ecoscenography projects? What was it about and how did you bring an ecological ethic to the work? (i.e. strategies, materials, approaches and aesthetics considered?)

In 2019 I took part in a climate change residency called Egin, organised by National Theatre Wales and Natural Resources Wales.  We spent two weeks in Snowdonia National Park, visiting local areas to learn more about their ecosystems, engaging with local connectors and bringing conversations about climate change to the table. We also had time to research and begin to experiment with our own ideas.  I worked with dancer and choreographer Vikram Iyengar on a series of interventions on the landscape. This included choreographed walks in various places, with Vikram wearing garments made of materials that contrasted with the local surrounding area. I made him a garment made of wood and bark which he walked into the lake with.  Myself and fellow artist Emily Laurens constructed attire made out of locally growing fern, which was worn to the nearby disused slate quarry.  Lisa Hudson, a local artist and connector, loaned one of her pieces, a dress made out of slate for Vikram to wear in the forest.  And on the side of a mountain, he performed in a dress I had made from all the single-use plastic we had collected over a day and a half of the residency.

These experiments encouraged the viewer to slow down, to walk in and notice the gentle rhythm of the natural landscape, to consider the materials that are of the area, as well as those that were brought into the area. I allowed the quality of the materials themselves to inspire the shape and style of the garments I was making.  The garment made of wood was held together by tough elm bark, which acted as a type of string, and took on the appearance of armour.

The bright green and varying sizes of the fern leaves leant themselves to a carnival-style dress.  The least enjoyable one to make was the plastic dress.  I washed all the plastic pieces by hand and put them on a rock to dry before fusing them together with an iron – they smelled horrible and handling them all continually put me a bad mood. They contrasted sharply with the rocky mountainside that Vikram performed in, and this was the garment that was least sturdy, and began to fall apart as Vikram danced. But this fragility also became woven in to the content and meaning of the piece – a parallel to the short-term durability of high street fashion items. Ultimately, this performance also made me think about human activity, and fashion – with the exception of Lisa’s slate dress, each piece was made specifically for the choregraphed walks – celebrated, and then discarded. The fern and bark dresses were returned to their landscape and allowed to biodegrade as they would have done before. The plastic dress ended up in the bin, but as a part of our process it had enjoyed one more use, one more purpose before it’s inevitable fate. But it made me consider: what are most of our own garments made from? How long do we love and celebrate them, and where do they end up?

Egin Residency, National Theatre of Wales, 2019. Photo: Ruth Stringer

What have been some of the biggest hurdles that you have encountered in implementing Ecoscenography? What are you most proud of?

Time and budget are major influencing factors of any theatre project. Both are often in short supply.  I find that it takes extra time to implement my Ecoscenographic practices: to research and speak to local suppliers about a specific material and experiment with it; to trawl charity shops and second-hand websites (to avoid buying new costumes from fast fashion chains); or to strip down old theatre sets so I can reuse them in a new form. Inevitably, at some point my time runs out and I have to resort to shortcuts I would rather not use. Similarly, budget constraints mean that I cannot afford to pay someone to help me with the extra labour of searching for sustainable materials, or in the process of reusing items.

Another problem I have is one of communication. As a freelance designer, I work with several different companies across the span of a year. Whilst I have noticed an increase in concerns about working ecologically with some companies, the change is slow. Coming on board as a designer partway through a production process means it is often too late to begin implementing ecological practice. It is far easier if the entire company is committed to sustainability, rather than one person attempting to do it on their own.

I think I can say that I most proud of being open about my own journey towards implementing Ecoscenography: from starting out with small steps of exploring how to incorporate second hand or recycled items into a design, to producing work outdoors and integrating myself with the local environment as part of the creative process, to seeing sustainability as the focal point of new works that I can inspire and drive forwards.

What tips would you give to a scenographer who is exploring sustainable practice for the first time?

It’s easy to feel alone in what you’re trying to do, but you’re not! Talk to your peers, begin conversations, get involved with sustainability initiatives. You don’t have to tackle this alone, and it is so much easier to share ideas and practices with others. Start small – look at realistic, achievable goals that you can achieve and make a positive contribution with.  And don’t feel disheartened by failure – we’re all learning, and sometimes that involves using the wrong thing or forgetting to consider a certain factor. Know that you can move forward from your inevitable mistakes.

Fabulous Animals Den. Idea conceived by: Zosia Jo. Sound: Christopher Michael Young. Photo:Ruth Stringer.

What do you think the future of theatre will look like for a climate-resilient world?

My hope is that theatre will slow down, celebrate what is around it, and put value into new aesthetics and practice: aesthetics that show a consideration of the natural world in the form and materials used, and practice that allows the designer-maker to work with their hands, understand the properties of a material and adopt techniques we might have forgotten. I am excited by the opportunity of allowing artists to visit and inhabit a place and be inspired by its local stories and idiosyncrasies, to work with the community to bring their stories, experiences and expertise to the forefront.

What are you working on now?

I’ve just completed the first stage of a research and development project, funded by the Arts Council of Wales, with writer Sara Lewis and Vikram which explores rivers. We are looking at connecting community stories of the Rhondda Cynon Taf rivers in South Wales with those across the world, such as the Ganges in India.  We are exploring similarities and differences in local relationships to rivers, including how climate change is beginning to manifest itself in natural disasters such as flooding. It’s the first time that I’ve led a performance project, and I’m excited about how we can implement local experiences and bring awareness to and celebrate the unique beauty of the areas we work in.

I am also working with a group of peers to update Ecostage – a website which includes ecological guidelines for anyone working in the performing arts to apply and communicate their practice, as well as inspiring case studies and a library of sustainability resources.  We’re hoping to launch the website early in 2021.

(Top photo: Egin Residency, National Theatre of Wales, 2019. Photo: Steve Peake.)

The post, Earth-based Serendipitous Scenography: Interview with set and costume designer Ruth Stringer (UK), appeared first on Ecoscenography.
———-

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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Performing Sustainability: Interview with designer Silje Sandodden Kise (Norway)

Silje Sandodden Kise is a freelance scenographer and costume designer based in Norway. She graduated with a BA in Scenography from Oslo Academy of the Arts in 2008. She also studied 2 years at the Bergen School of Architecture, and has a BA in Theatre Studies from University of Bergen. Her work covers a broad range of productions: from text based theatre productions in large theatre venues to smaller, more experimental independent projects. Slije often works on cross disiplinary projects, and has been focusing on merging scenography and music/sound to tell stories through visual and auditive means as much as text and movement.

How did your interest in Ecoscenography and sustainable theatre production begin?

Over the last few years I have been increasingly aware of the climate crisis but wasn’t sure how to respond to this urgency as an artist, despite taking small steps towards sustainability in my personal life. I actually started to feel a bit guilty about spending all my time making theatre and art, instead of working on the ‘really important issues’ of the world. Then in 2014/2015, I was asked by a colleague, singer Bodil Rørtveit, to join in developing a theatre/music project about sustainability. This performance work (entitled, Sustain) became a big part of my life for many years and sparked my interest in sustainable theatre production. The project has influenced my work ever since.

Sustain (by Bodil Rørtveit, Jørn Lavoll, Vibeke Havre, Silje Kise.) Scenography/costume design: Silje S. Kise. Costume maker: Ceri A. Rimmer. Light design: Silje Grimstad. In picture: Bodil Rørtveit. Photo: Thor Brødreskift.

What does Ecoscenography mean to you? How do you define it (for yourself and others)?

Ecoscenography and sustainable performance art is gradually becoming a more important aspect of my work – it informs all the decisions I make on my projects. I am still in the process of defining Ecoscenography for myself, and to explore what it means for my artistic practice. For me, it is about creating an awareness of all the choices that are behind the making of a performance, especially in creating the design of the scenography and costumes, and the choice of materials. But I also find it relevant to many other aspects of production. For example, the choice of the performance theme, the location and its relationship to the audience, as well as all the practical aspects of making or touring the production, including what happens with all the material objects afterwards.

While I find working with an ecoscenograhic approach very demanding, I do think that it gives something extra to my creative processes. Nevertheless, there are certainly a lot of challenges that can make it hard to make sustainable choices. Sometimes it has to do with low budgets and/or too little time, especially in smaller independent projects. In the bigger institutions, I often find it difficult to get the rest of the theatre team on board to prioritize sustainability – theatres can be such big ‘machines’ with huge time pressures, with a ‘this is how we have always done things’ mentality. It is especially hard to come from the outside (as a freelancer) and try to tell the institutions to change and make other choices.

Fortunately, I have been noticing a big change in the Norwegian performing arts sector over the last couple of years. Almost every organisation now has a focus on sustainability, with a commitment to implement this into practice. Some theatres have actually put these demands into contracts for freelance artists (i.e. that they should choose sustainable ways of working and travelling to the theatre). This is very inspiring and makes it easier to demand that theatres make sustainable choices.

Sustain in symphony (by Bodil Rørtveit, Jørn Lavoll, Vibeke Havre, Silje Kise, with Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, 2020.) Scenography: Silje S. Kise. In picture: Magnus Brandseth. Photo: Magnus Skrede.

Can you tell me about Sustain? What was it about and how did you bring an ecological ethic to the work?

The aim of Sustain was to make a show about sustainability, overconsumption, and the way us humans have distanced ourselves from nature. I worked with two composers/musicians: Bodil Rørtveit and Jørn Lavoll, director Vibeke Flesland Havre and producer Hjørdis Steinsvik. Together, we wanted to make a performance for musicians to take centre stage (without actors). The images, music and actions of the musicians and the scenography would tell the story we wanted to convey. We wanted to make a strong political performance about sustainability, but at the same time, give the audience a powerful artistic experience, that they could interpret using their own associations and imagination. The process was very crossdisiplinary. We were able to develop the various components of the work (i.e. music, dramaturgy and design) at the same time: the director and me collaborating very closely on the visual concept, the plastic design inspiring the composers and the music etc.

Drum kit made of plastic garbage, from Sustain (by Bodil Rørtveit, Jørn Lavoll, Vibeke Havre, Silje Kise.) Instrument design: Hans C. Senneseth and Silje S. Kise. Photo: Thor Brødreskift.

The scenography consisted of self-designed instruments, made out from plastic garbage or reclaimed plastic. We chose plastic for several reasons. Mainly because plastic is not biodegradable and therefore causes big problems when it ends up out in the wild. We were inspired by Chris Jordan photography work (The Gyre) which depicted birds from the pacific ocean that have died because of eating plastic. Jordan’s images show the heartbreaking reality of decomposed carcasses of birds; bones and feather, together with lots of small plastic items, things such as toothbrushes that you use every day. We also chose plastic as a challenge to ourselves, because it is very hard to play music on plastic! Luckily, we worked with a very skilled sound designer, Thorolf Thuestad, and our brilliant musicians (Terje Isungset, Annlaug Børsheim, Magnus Brandseth) learnt how to play the unusual hand-made instruments, searching for ways to produce a lot of different soundscapes with these strange objects.

For the scenography, we made a big tree out of plastic bottles, and filled meters and meters of fishing nets with plastic garbage hung from the ceiling, conveying the image of big branches and leaves of the tree. I spent half a year searching for plastic garbage – finding pieces by the seashore and along beaches, by the road, or in my kitchen – and knocking and banging on things to find the right sounds! What shocked me was how easy it was to find used plastic bags and packaging for the set design. We asked a couple of big stores for their plastic trash, and in just a couple of days they had collected more than we would ever need! We had a big car full of plastic.

Percussion set made of plastic garbage, from Sustain (by Bodil Rørtveit, Jørn Lavoll, Vibeke Havre, Silje Kise.) Instrument design: Hans C. Senneseth and Silje S. Kise. Photo: Thor Brødreskift.

What were some of the biggest hurdles that you have had to tackle in designing Sustain? What are you most proud of?

The hardest part was to design and build instruments that actually worked. Plastic is a very hard material to work with. I tried to find environmentally friendly solutions and avoided using as much chemicals as possible. However, that meant that we had to put things together in a very labour-intensive way or use things like epoxy glue because we found no other solution. I was lucky to work with some very skilled people, and we found much joy experimenting and looking for solutions.

I think the biggest hurdle was talking to people about the work. Many people thought that it was kind of embarrassing to make a theatre production for adults that fore-fronted environmental issues. They assumed that sustainability would not make for good art. However, a few months before the premiere at Bergen International Festival in 2017, a large dead whale washed up outside our city with plastic in its stomach. This caused a big stir in the national media, and suddenly everyone was focusing on plastic and marine pollution! We had been exploring plastic waste for 3 years through our work on Sustain, and the show provided a timely platform for audiences to relate to the issue.

Another thing that I am proud of is that we have been able to perform this production in a diversity of arenas and formats (from 2017 to 2020).  Our last performance so far, was very special. We were asked by the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra to create a new version of the performance, where the composers rewrote the music to include 80 philharmonic musicians and a children’s choir. We filled the philharmonic hall with an audience of over 1000 adults and kids amongst the mountains of plastic garbag!

Sustain (by Bodil Rørtveit, Jørn Lavoll, Vibeke Havre, Silje Kise.) Scenography/costume design: Silje S. Kise. Light design: Silje Grimstad. In picture: Bodil Rørtveit. Photo: Thor Brødreskift.

What tips would you give to a scenographer who is exploring sustainable practice for the first time?

Embrace sustainable choices as opportunities, rather than limitations. The search for alternative solutions can sometimes lead your projects in ways you could never imagine. Embrace the unpredictable and let the material(s) lead the way for the development of your design. New and experimental use of materials can sometimes lead to completely different aesthetics than you might have planned, but this can be a very fruitful part of your creative process.

Sustain in symphony (by Bodil Rørtveit, Jørn Lavoll, Vibeke Havre, Silje Kise, with Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, 2020.) Scenography: Silje S. Kise. Light design: Silje Grimstad/Ivar Skjørestad. Photo: Magnus Skrede.
Sustain, frontal version (by Bodil Rørtveit, Jørn Lavoll, Vibeke Havre, Silje Kise.) Scenography/costume design: Silje S. Kise. Costume maker: Ceri A. Rimmer. Light design: Silje Grimstad. In picture: Bodil Rørtveit.

What is your next project?

I am still working (and struggling) to fully integrate ecoscenographic thinking into all my theatre productions, and I don’t succeed 100%. But my aim is to always consider every choice carefully and to look for sustainable solutions as much as possible. I have just finished making a set for Jølster Hotell by Jeff Pedersen Productions, a theatre production about refugees, where a big part of the set was made from used bedlinens (sourced from asylum seekers centres). This autumn, I used ecoscenographic thinking and the Covidsituation to make ‘hammock concerts’ in the forest, where the audience broughttheir own hammocks. This was in cooperation with singer/composer Bodil Rørtveit from Sustain and director Ingrid Askvik. We are now making a new performance, about the dilemmas you facewhen you try to live a modern life as environmentally friendly as possible (and also a little bit abouttrying to change the world through singing). This performance will hopefully tour by train (when thepandemic is over), and all the items for the show will fit in 2-4 suitcases. For the big finale I am making a gala dress out of pine- and spruce cones. It makes the most marvellous sound when thesinger walks!

Cone dress from RØYST (means: VOICE/VOTE), (Bodil Rørtveit, Ingrid Askvik, Silje Kise 2021). Costume design: Silje S.Kise, costume maker: Julie S.Jensen. In picture: Bodil Rørtveit. Photo: Silje Kise

More information about Sustain can be found via: www.sustaintheconcert.com

(Top photo: Sustain (by Bodil Rørtveit, Jørn Lavoll, Vibeke Havre, Silje Kise.) Scenography: Silje S. Kise. Light design: Silje Grimstad. Photo: Thor Brødreskift.)

The post, Performing Sustainability: Interview with designer Silje Sandodden Kise (Norway), appeared first on Ecoscenography.
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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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Place-based Ecoscenography: Interview with Noémie Avidar

By tanjabeer

Noémie Avidar continually revisits and questions design and production processes in the performing arts. She has used printmaking, photo-collage, text, digital, internet, plants and audience participation in her work as a scenographer. Her research focuses on the interrelations and ecology of theatrical space as well as language as the foundation of the identity experience.

How did your interest in Ecoscenography and sustainable theatre production begin?

Working as a designer and assistant scenographer on different projects, I always felt that projects were very much separated from the contexts surrounding them. There was an overwhelming amount of waste and toxicity in set the and costume workshops which separated the designer’s relationship with material and their use. My interest in Ecoscenography started by focusing on surrounding materials or found objects that could inspire the stage designs. For example, if a stage prop, set or costume could be sourced locally, instead of recreating it from scratch, I would always try to work with this possibility. Research and inspiration from other designers helped me to find validation in my approach and nurture my interest in ecology. When I use the word ‘ecology’, I am not just talking about using recycled materials or water-soluble paints. For me, it is more about how I engage with the space itself – how I can create a conversation with it and inhabit it without erasing its characteristics.

What does Ecoscenography mean to you? How do you define it (for yourself and others)?

Ecoscenography is about how shaping a space for a performance in a way that acknowledges and embraces its surroundings. One that creates a conversation between all the elements that compose it: human, vegetal and inert substances. It is about taking into account the history, the integrity and ability of each of these elements so they play a role in the theatrical piece.

Can you tell me about some of your Ecoscenography projects? What were they about and how did you bring an ecological ethic to these works? E.g. Strategies? Materials? Approaches?

I was hired to design the scenography of Winslow in 2019 by the theatre and company L’Escaouette in Moncton N.B, Canada. The play told the story of Sir John Winslow, an English officer who organized the French Acadian deportation in the 18th century. People were imprisoned in boats and most of them died before arriving at destination. The piece aimed to show how this historical event has been forgotten (or wanted to be forgotten) by the present Acadian population, and how it systemically affected their language, ambitions and identity loss. I took inspiration from the territory and the surroundings of the theatre building. The sea and its presence in the Acadian peninsula, identity and landscape is clear. New Brunswick has a thriving fishery community which harps back to the deportation era. Every five years, the fishermen replace all their cables and ropes, and this provided a valuable opportunity for the set design – to repurpose ropes from Acadian salted water. I used most of my budget on construction as well as buying materials from local stores. Each rope was painted white, creating a wall made of rope that was 50 feet by 20 feet high. A total of 1462 ropes.

What happened to the ropes after the show?

They are stored and can be used in different projects such as remounting the show, installation in museums and pedagogical projects for the schools.

What were some of the biggest hurdles that you have had to tackle in your practice as an Ecoscenographer?

The way theatre is produced and how these habits have become so entrenched can make it difficult for producers or production managers to engage in different ways of working. There are collective challenges that come with Ecoscenography. Engaging authentically with people or place as part of the aesthetic process can be counterproductive to the goal-oriented way of working that we are familiar with in a fast productive and capitalistic society. The other challenge is to distinguish ecological practice from a purely environmentalist practice. My use of the word ‘ecology’ is really about highlighting the interrelationships and connecting systems to the production teams and the general public.

What are some of the benefits of being an Ecoscenographer?

Engaging with my surroundings is now part of my way of creating. It is about extending the idea of a public performance to an everyday performance, a kind of game. I get to meet so many people and to acknowledge their presence in my creative process is a pure joy.

What tips would you give to a scenographer who is exploring sustainable practice for the first time?

Don’t constrain yourself with limitations and rules. There is no right and wrong. We are polluting and always will be, but we can decide how we do it and what kind of waste it will create too – It can be beautiful and used for greater purposes than our basic needs. Don’t feel guilty. Creating is fun and it deserves to be shared. However, it needs to be reflected on… sometimes for a long time…

Nothing is everything. Everything is nothing.

What is your next project?

I am finishing my MFA in directing this year and I want to bring ecological thinking and this kind of awareness to the performers I am working with. I want to acknowledge the space that receives the piece, how it affects their performance, how everything melts together or is related.

The post, Place-based Ecoscenography: Interview with Noémie Avidar, appeared first on Ecoscenography.
———-

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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