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The Theatre Green Book

| 15 September 2021
During the creation of Grief & Beauty, we worked with the Theatre Green Book, a manual for an ecological way of working in the theatre business. An interview with Carmen Hornbostel, dramaturge for the performance and a member of our Ecoteam who initiated the project.

What is the 'Theatre Green Book'? 

The Theatre Green Book is a UK-based initiative that provides common standards and tools for working ecologically in the theatre sector. It aims to be a manual for every (producing) theatre company to work sustainably. The iniatiator, Paddy Dillon brought theatre-makers together with sustainability experts to create these realistic but challenging standards for sustainable theatre.

The name Green Book is inspired by the Yellow Book, a standard in the theatre sector for safety measures in the UK. It is so well known there that everyone immediately knows what you are referring to. The Green Book has the same ambition. 

The most important is that the Green Book connects sustainability to the core of the artistic work. You can't add sustainability to the process, you have to think about it from the start. You have to take sustainability into account as soon as you develop an artistic concept.

You can't add sustainability to the process, you have to think about it from the start.

What does it actually look like?

The ‘book’ is actually an open source online document. At the end it will consist of three part: sustainable productions, sustainable theatre buildings and sustainable operations. The first part has been published and is now in an international trial phase. What works, what needs adaptions, how generally applicable are these standards over the different theatre and artistic work methods? And NTGent is part of this trialling with the production Grief & Beauty.

You have three different levels to choose from: basic, intermediate and advanced. For each of these levels the goals and to do’s are indicated. To give you an example: in the basic level 50% of each category of materials used  (set, props, costumes etc) has a previous life. In the intermediate 75%  and in the advanced 100% and all materials are from recycled material. In the advanced level you even work with a carbon budget.

Of course the book gives you all the necessary information of what is meant by each goal, what you need to know in detail and examples for calculations of carbon, planning and budgetting, etc. and it also contains a tool kit. We are developing a ‘Flemish’ toolkit to add (e.g. a list of sustainable suppliers of all kinds of theatre materials). We need to avoid that everyone has to do the same research over and over again instead of working with the knowledge that many people already gathered... Another aspect of sustainability you could say.

For which level did you choose?  

We chose for the basic level – the team of the production and the whole theatre chose for it. We wanted to challenge ourselves but stay realistic. We see: there is so much work to do about sustainability! However when I look at what we already reached we might have underestimated ourselves.

How do you get a whole team on board with that idea? 

It is the responsibility of the whole team, not just of the director, or anyone else in the team. That is why we all signed a kind of contract at the beginning of our project stating the agreed standards.   Each team member, technician, designer, caterer, actor and actress… signed to take responsibility to reach these standards. The Green Book comprises i.a. a blank agreement.  Additionally we appointed the 'sustainability champion'. This person takes up the role as coordinator. But again: it’s a shared responsibility to work sustainably. It is beautiful to see how everybody in the team is taking this very serious and that like this sustainable work is less hard than expected.  

It is really a team work as it determines every choice in the process:  How do we move cast and crew, where do they stay if needed? What adaptions does the set design need if there are no ecological alternatives? What are these alternatives? Can you produce ecologically fog on stage? How do we plan our rehearsals sustainably (e.g. avoiding travels)? I could go on here …

Is it more expensive? 

It is not more expensive, but it does take more time. You don’t go to IKEA for a new chair, you have to take the time to find the chair you want for example in a second hand shop. That takes longer. And it doesn't end with the premiere either, it continues when we tour, and after the performance. What do we do with all our material? We will give back the material we got at the Ecoshop afterwards and we make a plan for where which material can be recycled or reused. The Green Book offers a 360° manual for the whole process.

What is the difference to before?  

NTGent communicates about climate change on and off stage e.g. within School of Resistance, supports structural exchange within international networks and activist initiatives e.g. No Cap Tomatoes (part of The New Gospel) and uses by now nearly 100% of green energy. The difference is that we now bring it to the core of our artistic practices. It's time to rethink our attitude towards sustainability. It is not an event or a figurehead. You should not have to mention that something is sustainable produced – it should be the standard. 

Sustainability is not only about products, it is about our behaviour.

How do you spread the idea among the employees who are not tied to production? 

It spreads through different channels. The most important is still the personal talks in or after a meeting or at the coffee machine. For example: our stage manager talked with someone from the public outreach team about the Green Book and suddenly they came up with the idea to use the tablets (ed. which are used to make performances accessible) to distribute new scripts instead of printing them.  

In addition, there will of course be an evaluation in house and with the initator of the Green Book. Furthermore we develop workshops at NTGent for self-analysis, knowlege transfer, to set concrete goals for the future. We also put sustainability earlier on the agenda: in the decision with whom we work, our programm etc.  We could add the Green Book to the contract with the director, for example. There are still many steps to take.  

What we are trying to change is the idea that sustainability is only about products, it is about our behaviour. We have to turn it around: sustainable behaviour has to be the standard.  

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