Wednesday 11 June 2008

'most important conference you'll go to'

Some chronological notes from yesterday's Theatres Trust Conference on 'Building Sustainable Theatres' held at the NT's Cottesloe:

9.30am. Welcome
The day's chairman Nigel Hinds said, 'Everyone will have something to learn and something to offer. If you're nurturing an awkward question, please don't withhold it from us.' The Guardian's John Vidal said, 'This is the most important conference you'll go to. It's the great debate of our time: what sustainability is, and how we get there?'

Opening Address
Margaret Hodge, Minister for Culture, said, 'A quarter of the adult population attends the theatre each year. Audiences are increasingly aware of environmental issues. You're missing a trick if you don't trumpet your successes to the audience.'

9.45am. Keynote
Sunand Prasad, President RIBA, said, 'Buildings contribute 50% of greenhouse gas emissions. We need to reduce our energy demand through lifestyle changes. We need to make our buildings and transport more energy-efficient. We need to meet that residual energy demand from a decarbonised energy supply.'

10am. 'Perspectives'
John Vidal said, 'The whole idea of contraction and convergence came from a violinist. It's a superb example of how the arts has put a great idea on the international stage.'

Richard Simmons, chief exec CABE, said, 'By 2019, the government's ambition is that every building will be zero carbon. What does a zero carbon building look like? I don't think anyone knows. You'll have to display the energy use of the building. Those of you who run theatres will find your audience is more aware than most. They're beginning to ask: how sustainable is this?'

John Graham, chief exec Historic Scotland, said, 'What is the physical impact of climate change going to be on buildings? What are the best forms of intervention for reducing emissions? Dealing with climate change is going to be an extension of proper maintenance. Don't forget about the occupants. The occupants are key.'

Ruth Mackenzie, expert adviser DCMS had been general director of the Manchester International Festival. She half-joked, 'If you're an international festival, don't do it. Or only do it if you can invite international artists who cycle from up the road.' (The Manchester International Festival was going to bring the city £30m in economic benefit.) 'It wasn't a possibility not to do it. The challenge was how to do it in a sustainable way. If you are an institution you need to look at your own practice, at your audience, and most of all at your suppliers.'

11.15am. 'Directions'
Peter Gingold, exec director Tipping Point, said, 'The theatre is a perfect medium for airing, exploring and discussing climate change. It's a vital issue, an existential issue: how we relate to each other, how we relate to the planet. Sometimes I think there's now scientific proof of what John Donne said, "No man is an island". I don't think it's clever to distinguish the lighting, cooling and heating from the artistic side. We're perfectly placed to have a continuum. I would argue that theatre has a duty to lead on the subject. It doesn't have to be hectoring, shrill or in-yer-face.'

Kirstin Warley, Linklaters, said, 'Don't wait for the law. The law is quite behind on this. If you want to lead the field you have to go further and beyond what the buildings regulations are at the moment.'

Mark Watts, climate change adviser, said that London theatres produce 50,000 tonnes of C02 compared with London's overall emission of 44 million tonnes, but 'theatre can play a totally disproportionate role in terms of its ability to communicate with seven million Londoners.'

Alistair McGowan, actor and impressionist, said, 'As actors, we have health and safety explained to us as soon as we arrive at a theatre. The same should happen with environmental policies. Because we don't create a product, we feel we're exempt. We should be green from the stage door to the box office, from the first production meeting to the end of the show. Just because we work with make-believe it doesn't make our emissions any less real.'

Ben Todd, Arcola, said, 'It's all about creativity and excitement. Not about "Thou shalt not do this, thou shalt not do that". Don't force activities in the wrong place. Do the basics now. Lead with exceptional art. Link delivery to productions. Learn and share.'

Gus Christie, exec chairman Glyndebourne, spoke about the wind turbine: the rising costs of energy were an operational concern. The single wind turbine would cost £800,000. With the public inquiry, costs rose to £1.2m. The current energy bill is £120-150,000 per annum. The payback would be 10 years. It would reduce direct carbon emissions by 70%. It would sell to the grid in winter and buy back from the grid in the summer. 'A major point is the awareness-raising. They're symbols of our age.'

[12.30pm. Lunch.]

13.30pm. 'Developments'
Alan Short, architect, said, 'Actors are the most enthusiastic proponents of working in a naturally-ventilated environment. There's been a lot of advancement in understanding how air moves round the building. The trick is to design the building so that doesn't matter.'

Ian Smith, partner Max Fordham, said that instead of greenwash, there should be greenhush - 'Get on with it quietly, sensibly'.

Stephen Jolly, Buro Happold, said, 'Complaints of high temperature coincide with complaints of stuffiness and sleepiness.'

Peter Wilson, project director RST, said, 'Doing very big projects is no different to doing small projects, except that the things you can't afford are bigger. You can design a building that's green and sustainable, but it takes will on the part of the user to use it that way.'

Rab Bennetts, architect, stressed post-occupancy. 'We've been able to improve the performance of a building by 30% after we've finished.'

Iain Mackintosh, Cottesloe designer, said, ' There are two key issues. One is the amount of heat generated by stage lighting. It's increased exponentially. The second is, has the audience's expectation of comfort gone too far?'

Alex Wardle, venue consultant for Arup, said, 'Please don't put anything in concrete. Bolt it. So that we can reconfigure it.'

15.00pm. 'Adaptations'

Kevin Faulkner, premises manager, Plymouth Theatre Royal, said, 'At the Pavilion Leisure Centre we got daily electricity bills of £1000 a day down to £600 a day. I'm talking pounds not kilowatts because that's what drove it. You have to look at all the things in your building that operate for 18 to 24 hours a day.'

Natalie Lewis, environmental officer ATG, said, 'People had resistance to change because they didn't have the time and they saw it as something getting in the way of their job. To combat that we organised for all levels of staff to buy in. The most important thing is to share ideas and best practice.'

David Richards, Arup, said, 'Some of your funders will want to see proof of your environmental credentials. That's the sharp end. You're going to have to get a lot more accurate about the data you have.'

John Langley, theatre manager NT, said, 'Our wake-up call came in 2006 when we came out of a long-term energy contract. In retrospect, we talked to our staff in an irritable schoolmasterly way.' The sponsorship deal with Philips was an important moment. 'It got a lot of publicity. It turned the tide within the building and brought the staff on board. We have a long way to go. Everyone has a long way to go. We've learnt a lot about how to inspire our staff in taking that journey with us.'

Lee Collins, deputy director, Theatr Brycheiniog, said, 'It's easy to provide evidence of the social and economic benefits [of solar energy] and stress the theatre has a fantastic role to play in benefitting the public.'

16.30pm. Closing address
Peter Head, director Arup, said, 'We're going to have to retrofit the way we live in a very significant way in a very short period of time. It's a powerful opportunity to reconnect people with the deep cultural roots of sustainable development. What's the strapline? It's smart, responsive simplicity.'

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