Wednesday 1 April 2009

scudding cloudcuckooland

Cloudcuckooland (pic) is a loose adaptation of Aristophanes' The Birds. It takes the idea that there are 27 times as many birds as there are humans, so if birds revolted against humans for trashing the planet, the birds might win. The secret weapon the birds employ, as they launch attacks on major cities across the world, is bird poo. (Tour dates here.)

Last week, Cloudcuckooland's producer Helen Eastman wrote a message on the internal email for SCUDD (Standing Conference of University Drama Departments) outlining the show's environmental credentials:

'We send the cast everywhere by train rather than driving them, and we offset all our flights. The show has a lot of props, so we have to be certain that they are all kind to the environment ... We've got a brilliant cast and crew, and we always get fantastic feedback from kids and their parents. I think that's why everyone's prepared to go the extra mile to practice what the show preaches.'

This led to a good exchange. Steve Bottoms, from Leeds University, took exception to this 'self-aggrandising publicity fluff', writing back:

'The fact is that theatre -- like very much else in our everyday experience of the world -- is an inherently carbon-emitting activity, and we need to face up to this rather than pretend that "the creation of a completely sustainable touring model" is this easily achievable.'

Helen Eastman replied, saying 'fair comment, but you have to start somewhere'. Eastman went on:

'When we took this show to Edinburgh last summer, we discovered that the festival (unlike most music festivals etc) had no environmental policy on its website, no attempt to get people (audiences or companies) to share transport to get there, no policy for recycling the millions of fliers handed out in the streets.'

Franc Chamberlain, from Cork University, joined the debate:

'There are people on this list [SCUDD] who've been engaged in environmental politics and trying to be environmentally aware for over thirty years. if you're serious about raising the awareness of some festival organisers, then band together with other interested companies to force change and simply don't go if the festival organisers aren't prepared to make changes. There are plenty of other festivals that are concerned about environmental issues.'

Gareth Somers, from Portsmouth University, took the challenge to another level. Leaving aside the specifics of Cloudcuckooland, he wrote to point out that many people on the SCUDD list:

'question the value (in ecological terms) of a humanist theatre that supports anthropocentric values. In this light sustainability might be viewed as green-washing - Is a theatre that exploits the "natural world" as metaphorical resource to discuss human centered issues, in itself an ecologically positive force - whether the production be sustainable or not?'

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