Zero waste theatre seeks to show we all can act for change

By Barbara Lewis and Sarah Mills

LONDON (Reuters) – Surrounded by the glass and steel towers of London’s financial district, a low-rise construction made of re-used materials has sprung up to make the point we have collective power to tackle climate change.


The Greenhouse Theatre, billed as Britain’s first zero waste theatre, is staging plays in London over the summer months when long, light evenings reduce the need for electricity.

It has been built by a team led by artistic director Oli Savage, 26. He says his target audiences, aged around 16 to 35, tend to be very worried about the environment, but pessimistic they can do anything about it.

He wants to show them sustainability can be easier and more fun than they might think.

“Everything that we use has had a life before and once we’re done with it, or if we’re done with it, we work very hard to make sure it goes on to have a life after us,” he told Reuters. “There’s no reason to make excuses.”

He also says theatre’s role is to help people get beyond the daunting facts and figures of climate science through stories they can relate to.

His show “To the Ocean” aims to help “people feel connected to the natural world and to each other”, he said.

The theatre will also host 15 other shows during its London summer season.

Among the visiting companies, Signe Lury, artistic director of the Gift Horse Theatre, signed a contract that commits “to working in a zero-waste capacity, upholding this practice in both work and behaviour on site”.

Over the five years since the Gift Horse Theatre was set up as environmentally-conscious theatre, Lury senses actors and audiences have become more willing to confront the climate issue.

“Making and supporting this kind of work now feels unavoidable,” she said.

Other industry observers say building an entire theatre from re-used materials, although exceptional, is aligned with a trend that gathered momentum in lockdown.

While theatres were closed, staff had time to think and in Britain the Theatre Green Book was born as a manual on cutting emissions, firstly by focusing on the materials used in staging productions as the source of carbon over which theatres have most control.

The Theatre Green Book’s co-founder architect Patrick Dillon said it has been adopted across the world and is being translated into 11 languages.

Research has also found audiences increasingly expect theatres to spearhead change.

Cultural sector consultancy Indigo and pointOne, a digital payments provider, found 77% of those questioned thought cultural organisations had a responsibility to influence society about the climate emergency and 90% expected them to build sets from re-used or recycled materials.

(Reporting by Barbara Lewis and Sarah Mills, editing by Ed Osmond)