Aotearoa Green Theatre Plan launched

Thursday 4 July 2024

Theatre makers, drama teachers and performers in Aotearoa New Zealand now have a practical, locally-relevant green guide to help them start lowering the carbon footprint of their theatre productions.

A scene from a 2019 Climate Change Theatre Action street theatre production.

Written by Professor Elspeth Tilley from Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa Massey University’s School of Humanities, Media and Creative Communication and published by Playmarket, The Aotearoa Green Theatre Plan covers seven key areas to help theatre makers reduce their environmental impact while involving audiences in greener thinking.

Playmarket Tumuaki (Director) Murray Lynch, who commissioned and edited the guide, says, “We’re thrilled to publish Elspeth Tilley’s pragmatic green theatre plan which has easy-to-honour goals for producing sustainable theatre.” 

Professor Tilley says the guide was first conceived during her work with the biennial international movement Climate Change Theatre Action (CCTA). She started working with CCTA in 2015 as a playwright but soon began seeking ways to address climate issues practically as well as thematically.

“In 2017 when I first attempted to produce a low-carbon CCTA event, there were no guidelines or blueprints for theatre. There was a lot of information, but none of it quite fit the theatre context. I had to cobble together different checklists and calculators and try to customise them.”

By 2019, after researching Aotearoa-specific sustainability values and challenges and seeking advice from a range of sustainable events experts, Professor Tilley had a draft template that covered ways to reduce impact in theatre-specific areas, from props and costumes to rehearsal catering and transport.

“I tested the initial template in 2019 with the aim of a carbon neutral CCTA production. It was exciting to see all the research and idealism trialled in the crucible of reality, and we did achieve a zero-carbon event, within certain parameters. But I also learned a lot about how to make the carbon journey more inclusive, collaborative and fun.”

That template has now evolved into The Aotearoa Green Theatre Plan, a comprehensive 35-page booklet with a pull-out checklist inserted in the back.

A key feature of the plan is its inclusion of environmental values and practices found in mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge).

“We can’t put on environment-related performances in Aotearoa without understanding how tangata whenua interpret, experience and fulfil responsibilities to the environment. Values from elsewhere don’t fit our bicultural context,” Professor Tilley explains.

One such value is kotahitanga or working together.

“Your audiences can be part of your greening journey alongside your cast and crew, and it’s going to work much better if you can make that collaboration fun, inclusive and optimistic.”

As well as introducing some important Māori environmental values, the plan covers communication, waste management, energy efficiency, water conservation, transport, food and carbon counterbalancing, a term Professor Tilley developed to replace ideas of offsetting.

“Offsetting uses a capitalist mindset that we can buy our way out of our emissions problems. Counter-balancing involves direct action through engaging with local, grassroots initiatives such as tree-planting as part of the theatre production itself. For example, in 2019 we gave free kawakawa seedlings to audience members to plant, so that they could both nurture a carbon-capturing tree and bring a food source closer. We were still receiving photos of people happily harvesting their kawakawa tea three years later.”

The Aotearoa Green Theatre Plan was published on 2 July by Aotearoa’s leading theatre agency and advisory service, Playmarket, as part of their seven-volume guidelines series. The guidelines give practical advice on topics to enhance theatre practices, ranging from accessibility, collaborative writing and devising, safety, caring for audiences and cultural practice to, now, sustainability.

The Aotearoa Green Theatre Plan is available from Playmarket.

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