Monday 30 June 2008

return of familiar character

There’s a recognisable comic character emerging in the climate sceptic movement. He’s an elderly man, distinguished in his time, who goes round saying, ‘I think it’s very important to look at this issue rationally.’ As soon as someone expresses a very rational point of view that isn't his own, he splutters, ‘I have seldom heard such a farrago of wishful thinking and muddle’.

Pompous, irascible and reactionary, he’s the modern Colonel Blimp.

pic. Roger Livesey as Colonel Blimp more ...

Sunday 29 June 2008

modernism and CO2

The problem today is that architects build thin walls with thin materials that cost the earth in carbon emissions. more ...

Saturday 28 June 2008

contradictory behaviour

The New Yorker film critic Anthony Lane has a grim time watching The Happening. He writes, 'It may be because The Happening is an eco-drama, and that, I regret to say, is a contradiction in terms.'

Oh well. This site is dedicated to contradictory behaviour.

Our list of more than 35 companies in the UK performing eco-dramas is here. Our list of more than 200 eco-productions is here. more ...

Friday 27 June 2008

if you remember one number

350. more ...

defining moment

We need a definition of 'sustainability', says Christopher Meyer, who goes on to offer one:

'An activity is sustainable when all costs are internalized.' more ...

Thursday 26 June 2008

far from the holy huddle

Evangelicals make up a quarter of the US population and four years ago nearly 80% of evangelicals voted for George W. Bush. But Frances Fitzgerald reports in the New Yorker that influential pastors have set a new national-policy agenda which is based on a slightly different understanding of the life of Jesus and his ministry to the poor, the outcast and the peacemakers.

These pastors and their congregations lack 'the fundamental resistance to modernist thought, such as distrust of science'. They also represent a shift from individual faith and mutual service ('the holy huddle') to serving the community as a whole. This has resulted, for instance, in the Environmental Climate Initiative, which states:

'Millions of people could die in this century because of climate change, most of them our poorest global neighbours.'

Fitzgerald writes, 'Of all the initiatives the new movement has taken, that on global warming has provoked the most fury from the right.' more ...

Wednesday 25 June 2008

the guide

More productions than ever about the environment: with shows on climate change, animals, oil, poverty and last year's floods. Our guide to this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe. more ...

Tuesday 24 June 2008

cultural tip

In a questionnaire in today's Guardian, the Life Is Sweet star Jane Horrocks goes back to her roots to answer the question: 'what cultural tip would you give to a tourist?'

Horrocks says, 'See a production by Horse and Bamboo, a puppet theatre in the Rossendale valley, where I'm from.'

Full details about Horse and Bamboo, their ways of working, their vision, and a description of their productions, can be found on the Ashden Directory database. more ...

Monday 23 June 2008

switch off

The green TV programmes that are now appearing, says the Boston Globe's TV critic, are shallow, self-satisfied, condescending, preachy , supercilious and smug. His advice? Stick with Planet Earth. more ...

Sunday 22 June 2008

better than good

As Gordon Brown visits Saudi Arabia, the Observer's political columnist Andrew Rawnsley writes, 'Green politics matter now more than ever. It is not woolly to be green at this time. It has never been more hard-headed.' His piece ends, 'Green is better than good. It is smart.' more ...

Saturday 21 June 2008

where it ends

'First, many of the trees turned a strange brownish-yellow colour and rotted. Then the rice paddies stopped growing and festered in the water. Then the fish floated to the surface of the rivers, gasping. Then many of the animals began to die. Then many of the children began to die.'

Johann Hari reports from Bangladesh on the causes and the impacts of saline inundation.

'It is happening because of us. Every flight, every hamburger, every coal power plant, ends here, with this.' more ...

Friday 20 June 2008

taking action

'They have decided to take action in the face of huge challenges, displaying not just patience and persistence, but a sense of urgency and determination.'

Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai on the winners of last night's Ashden Awards. more ...

Thursday 19 June 2008

the great outdoors

One of tonight's finalists at this year's Ashden Awards is Sandhills Primary School, Oxford. 'Energy is taught throughout the curriculum and sustainability is the theme of the current drama production.'
Case study. The play will be performed in the new grass amphitheatre in the school grounds. Pic of theatre here. more ...

Wednesday 18 June 2008

real kick

Last month this blog speculated on how theatre might be
more seasonal. Christopher Woodward, director of London's
Museum of Garden History, says, 'There is a real thirst
to bring nature and the seasons back into the concrete city.' He even takes part in his first act of guerrilla gardening. 'There's definitely a real kick, isn't there, to digging up public land?'

Video of some comic street theatre: guerrilla gardeners are planting forget-me-nots (above) one night at the Elephant and Castle roundabout when some policemen arrive and threaten them with arrest for criminal damage to public property. more ...

Tuesday 17 June 2008

punch lines

Communism produced joke after joke after joke. And, some say, that helped defeat it. Will the same be true for climate change? more ...

Monday 16 June 2008

next billion

Two takes over the w/e on the cultural impact of the internet. Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, says,

'If you think the internet has transformed the way we live, the way we work and - crucially - the way we learn about the world, imagine what happens ... when the next billion people come online, as will happen in the next five or 10 years ... What an extraordinary wealth of local knowledge they will bring.' [Article appeared in yesterday's Observer, but not yet online.]

Tyler Cowen, economics prof and Marginal Revolution blogger, gave a talk on Saturday (blogged at Arts Admin) saying the last five years have seen more changes to the way we consume culture than at any other period. Will these changes kill the performing arts? He doesn't think so. At the end the day, people still want to go out. more ...

Sunday 15 June 2008

the evolving world

J. G. Ballard says that a lot of writers are 'intensely nostalgic'. Take the Angry Young Men. Kingsley Amis, John Osborne and others weren't responding to what was really going on in society.

'The laying down of the M1 was much more important than anything Jimmy Porter's father-in-law thought about this or that. The motorway system had a much bigger influence on freedom and possibility ... I was interested in the evolving world, the world of hidden persuaders, of the communications landscape developing, of mass tourism, of the vast conformist suburbs dominated by television ...' more ...

Saturday 14 June 2008

not-so-concrete proposal

Alex Wardle writes that his comment ('please don't put anything in concrete') that's quoted below was only repeating a point that had been 'raised in several guises' at the 2006 Theatre Engineering and Architecture Conference.

The American lighting designer Stan Pressner and the NT's production manager Jason Barnes had both made requests for buildings to be as reconfigurable as possible.

Jason Barnes had said, 'Don't pour concrete and don't weld anything.' more ...

Friday 13 June 2008

sunshine kids

Robert Redford, Cate Blanchett, Edward Norton and Daryl Hannah.
(Click and scroll.) more ...

Thursday 12 June 2008

conference press

More on the Theatres Trust conference: The Stage covers Culture Secretary Margaret Hodge's work-together-on-climate-change speech here, David Richards' advice on energy certificates here, the Theatre Royal, Plymouth making savings of 50k here, and the solar-powered Theatr Brycheiniog here. more ...

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.'
more ...

Tuesday 10 June 2008

one thing worse

A few days ago, there was a post on Theatre Ideas suggesting that a useful job for theatre bloggers would be to go to theatre conferences and write them up for people who couldn't be there.

The first comment that followed that post starkly disagreed. 'There is one thing worse than sitting thru blah blah blah,' it said, 'That would be being charged with reporting on that blah blah blah.'

Undeterred, this blog is spending the day at the Theatres Trust Conference on 'Building Sustainable Theatres' and will be reporting back on the 'blah' tomorrow.
more ...

Monday 9 June 2008

close, but no cigar

In Havana, the Robert Redford character says that 'A butterfly can flutter its wings over a flower in China and cause a hurricane in the Caribbean. They can even calculate the odds.' But apparently that's not what Edward Lorenz, who came up with the idea of the butterfly effect, meant at all.

'It is probability, not certain cause and effect,' writes science journalist Peter Dzikes, 'that now dictates how scientists understand many systems, from subatomic particles to storms.' (H-t: A&L) more ...

Sunday 8 June 2008

on demand

The rock industry takes steps to turn its audience green. Alison Tickell, director of Julie's Bicycle, says:

'What's interesting is that rather than an industry being led by consumer demands which is the usual way change takes place, the industry itself is saying we have to do something.' more ...

Saturday 7 June 2008

if the shoe fits

In his day job as chief policy adviser for Greenpeace, says Charlie Kronick, he works on the basis that 'if I know more than the other guy it will somehow change his behaviour.' But he's also a trustee of Cape Farewell, and the arts are different. 'It's not what you know, or who you know, but what you feel.'

Kronick was speaking on Thursday evening at the RSA's launch for its Arts and Ecology Day next year. There's a neat example of the point he's making that involves Kronick himself. A couple of years ago, he went on the same Cape Farewell expedition to the Arctic as the novelist Ian McEwan. On the trip he discovered they have the same shoe size.

As this blog reported, a certain amount of chaos developed in the bootroom and it became hard to find your own boots. The frustrations that emerged from this has become a vivid part of the climate-change theme in McEwan's next novel. Since they share shoe size, the chief policy adviser for Greenpeace may well be the one who provided the novelist with the spur for his next big subject.

Also at the launch, and also sticking to the five-minutes-only rule,
were the President of RIBA, Sunand Prasad. He spoke about the steps we take to mitigate climate change. 'In this area no action is too small.' John Hartley, from the Arts Council, England, launched a web-based energy management tool, And Joe Oliver, from the eco-entertainment company Bash, read out the homiletic poem, attributed to William Penn, 'I shall pass this way but once ....'

more ...

Friday 6 June 2008

question of science

Melvyn Bragg finishes off his In Our Time newsletter this week by asking:

'How is it that every scientist I meet, or have met, over the last few years ... speak of a serious pessimism and distress at the teaching, funding and organisation of science in this country, which for two or three centuries has contributed so astonishingly to the success of pure science and to the invention of the modern world?'

For one answer, see neolithic present and neolithic present (2). more ...

politics as theatre

Andrew Sullivan tells his fellow Atlantic blogger Marc Ambinder why it matters that Barack Obama is light years ahead of his competitors when it comes to public speaking:

'I'm a big believer that politics is about public speaking. I have a Greek understanding of where democracy comes from. It comes from the arena, and speaking in the arena, and changing people's minds in the arena. It is not actually about administration. That's government. Politics is a bigger, broader, more theatrical endeavour.'

And with YouTube, the arena just got a lot bigger.
more ...

Thursday 5 June 2008

hair-shirt on bike

David Hockney sees red when asked about climate change:

'Oh no. Here's another hair-shirt person coming towards me and telling me to ride a bicycle. I blame computers. They can make predictive models of anything, and tell us we're all heading towards doom. But in our grandparents' day, what do you think people were worrying about? Hellfire and eternal damnation caused by our bad conduct. Global warming has just replaced God. Something to feel guilty about. The new religion.'
more ...

Wednesday 4 June 2008

twin cultures

Art meets science: a New Yorker article about John Milton opens with the 30-year-old poet's meeting with Galileo in 1638.

Science meets art: an exhibition of astrophotography. more ...

Tuesday 3 June 2008

elegant variations

The playwright Charlotte Jones got the idea for the central character of her play Humble Boy when she heard the physicist Brian Greene talk on the radio about his book The Elegant Universe. (I wrote about it here.) Now The Elegant Universe has inspired a ballet. more ...

Monday 2 June 2008

putting the boot (room) in

In a documentary about one of the Cape Farewell trips to the Arctic, the novelist Ian McEwan reflected on (a) trying to see climate-change from the POV of the polluter and (b) the not-entirely selfless behaviour he witnessed in the boot room.

It sounds as if the latter has really caught his imagination. more ...

Sunday 1 June 2008

una scomoda verità

First reaction to news that La Scala's to stage Al Gore's power-point movie is: doesn't sound very dramatic. (No love songs - except to the planet.)

Second reaction to news: what could be more dramatic?

(There's an even chance of one billion people being short of water by 2050.)

Third reaction: it's genius to do something so obvious.

The composer of the new opera Una scomoda verità, Giorgio Battistelli (above), says that artists:

'make you see things differently, make you see things in a new light. When we see a painting by Francis Bacon or a film of Sydney Pollack, we get a very precise idea of the problems of our century'. more ...