Uprooted was a project close to my heart because it combined ecological practices with theatre design. While sustainability is something I naturally do in my own practice, I never really made a statement of it. When I work on a theatre project, my first stops are charity shops, scrapyards, skips and local shops and trying to reuse as much as possible. High street shops and online shopping are my last resource but this probably started with the challenge of having small budgets before realising the substantial waste in the industry.
Tanja designed the show with reclaimed objects that we found during our shopping trips. It was good to introduce her to my favourite local places and find 2nd hand objects and set pieces that the actors and director could devise a story from. It was quite different from the traditional ways of designing from a model box. I was particularly impressed by the ‘zero-waste’ set and how it was repurposed to create a permanent art installation in one of the schools. It let the children appreciate the lifecycle of the plants and also to avoid another theatre set being forgotten in storage.
Working outdoors for most of the project was lush and made me feel connected to nature and people – much nicer than being stuck in a black box for days. I garden at home on my balcony and it was lovely to actually do it as part of the design. I learned a lot of gardening tips from Katie, the permaculturist on the project. This included the chance to create the planted hats for the performance which everyone was excited about. The biggest challenge was to keep the plants stable and lively enough for each show.
When the show was ready to go on the road, I jumped at the offer of being the project’s stage manager. I wasn’t ready to let go yet. Transitioning from my role as assistant designer to touring as stage manager was quite particular. Suddenly the relationships changed and I was telling the designer what I needed! But I am glad I did it. At first I was hesitant about spreading my skills too much, but it showed me how the design works while touring and how sometimes we don’t see things until we are on the road. I definitely mastered the art of the drill fixing bits and pieces on the set! It was a big set to be touring for such a small company and the performers were very helpful and essential to the setting up of the stage. For example, to help with the get-in, we created a colour and number-coded system for each plant to find its place on set for the whole tour. Each performer would set their own corner of the set as they had the best knowledge of the plants that they were performing with.
This way of designing sets with found objects (rather than working from a preconceived plan or idea) gave me back my confidence in set design. I intend to make a point of sustainability when I next work with other companies, stating my wish to reduce waste and hoping they will embrace the change.