- By Steven McIntosh
- entertainment reporter
A new theatrical production will leave the cast, crew and creative team as they leave London to tour the UK.
It’s A Sin star Lydia West will appear in a one-woman play about climate change at the Barbican in London this week.
The show is supported by 10 cyclists on stage, who pedal continuously to generate energy to fuel the performance.
But when the London residency is over, West and the team won’t be taking the show to other stops. Instead, local teams will reassemble it in each region.
A new regional star, director, choir and creative team will be performing the same play as it premieres in Coventry, Stoke-on-Trent, Plymouth, York and Merseyside.
The concept was devised in an effort to explore ways to reduce the theater industry’s impact on the environment and prevent the need for travel.
A Play for the Living in a Time of Extinction, written by Miranda Rose Hall, has been successfully staged across Europe, with ideas now moving to the UK.
Director Katie Mitchell, who has been working on climate change productions since 2012, first launched the show in Switzerland two years ago, before the show went on to show in other locations across the country. continent.
“I suggest we don’t move materials and people between locations, and we do an international tour, based on that principle,” Mitchell told BBC News.
Hall’s play was later selected for the venture and the idea has now been picked up by UK touring company Headlong for a series of performances around the UK.
“It was a subtle test of what happens when we really try and engage with a local audience instead of just offering the same product,” said Holly Race Roughan, artistic director of Headlong. products across the country, that’s what we usually do.”
There’s likely to be a discrepancy between each local ad group’s interpretation and Hall’s performance of the play – which the team considers one of the concept’s key selling points.
“I don’t know anything about what’s going on in Coventry or Stoke-on-Trent, I don’t live there, I don’t know the audience,” Mitchell noted.
“So it’s lovely that the young directors in those cities, by a few parameters, have created something completely different.”
Roughan added: “There will be a relationship between all the shows. Not quite twins, more like siblings.
“So if you rock in Plymouth, you’ll find a performance that feels like a Barbican show or a Coventry show, but each local artist group adds more. their transformation, the way they meet their audience.”
Each venue was issued a set of guidelines, one of which stipulates that the performance must be “off-grid”, with electricity generated by cyclists riding stationary bicycles during the performance.
Across the arts industry, more and more performers and producers are trying to incorporate sustainability into their tours, as part of a larger effort to become more eco-friendly. .
Coldplay adds a dynamic dance floor and stationary bikes that store energy during their recent Music of the Spheres tour, encouraging fans to fuel the show by dancing or cycling.
“So when a head guy says ‘we need you to jump up and down,’ when I say that, we really need you to jump up and down, because if you don’t then the lights go out, ” said singer Chris Martin. BBC News 2021.
The group also planted a tree for every concert ticket sold, made sure their wristbands were made of biodegradable and plant-based plastic, and encouraged fans to bring reusable bottles. for free water stations and powering the concert from renewable energy.
In addition to the sustainability concept surrounding A Play for the Living in a Time of Extinction, the show itself also addresses environmental themes.
The plot follows a young theater worker who wants to stage a play about climate change as she takes into account the man-made damage to the environment. It’s a slightly meta premise – basically a play within a play.
“As a company, every year we commit to doing a play that directly addresses the climate crisis, or to innovate and experiment with touring in a greener way. Sometimes it can do both. two, that’s the purpose of this project,” says Headlong’s Roughan.
When the play was staged in Canada, Theater critic Savannah Stewart said: “For a show about mass death, it deftly avoids pushing the audience into insurmountable existential fear. The message it leaves viewers with is hope, not despair.”
While there is no documentation to accompany the show around Europe, the bike technology will travel between UK locations due to limited resources in some local areas.
Watching rehearsals take place deep underground in the Barbican, it’s impressive how much energy it takes to provide the small amount of light and amplification needed for a woman’s performance.
10 cyclists must pedal continuously, maintaining a certain power, displayed directly on a pair of screens. And yet, the program has a much lower energy consumption and production value than average.
“That’s 120,000 watts for a normal Barbican program,” explains Mitchell. “We’re going to reduce it to between 500 and 600 watts.”
That means the cycling model is unlikely to be applied to high-yield musicals in the West End any time soon. But the group hopes to encourage debate in the theater industry about how to incorporate green policies into production.
“You can’t implement this model easily,” admits Mitchell. “But it’s an avant-garde model, so what it’s trying to do is have a conversation about touring.
“When we visit any performance, be it a big musical or a one-woman show, we can begin to ask harder questions about the movement of women. people and materials between locations?”
West says sustainability is the direction of the theater industry. “That’s how we need to tour in the not-too-distant future, and it proves that art can be ecological and sustainable,” she said.
While the general public is well aware of climate change and may therefore have changed their lifestyles, getting them to come see a good play on the issue in their spare time can be a potential obstacle. .
But Roughan says she sees the show as a slightly different proposition. “I think it’s an invitation to come and be part of imagining another way to do something,” she said.
“We would never imagine saying ‘OK, we’re done, from now on, all the theater is going to be done this way’. I think we’re trying to exploit the idea. that the theater has been able to do the same way we’ve always done, using this project to catalyze.”
West adds: “I hope people will feel connected, talk, see and hear and that brings the audience closer to me and to each other – and they bring a part of that into their lives.” their day-to-day lives with everything they interact with, because we’re never out in nature.”
A Play for the Living in a Time of Extinction opens at the Barbican in London on Wednesday, before touring Coventry, Stoke-on-Trent, Plymouth, York and Prescot (Merseyside).