What a cycle-powered play can teach us about sustainable solutions

What a cycle-powered play can teach us about sustainable solutions

By Pamela Jolly  June 8th, 2023

English theatre director, Katie Mitchell, has found a creative way to engage audiences on climate change - through her innovative approach to both the content and production of her plays.


Katie’s show “Living in a Time of Extinction” performed at London’s Barbican Theatre, not only captivates audiences with its subject matter but also raises sustainability awareness through its unique production techniques. The play’s light and sound systems were powered using cycle energy and costumes were crafted using upcycled materials. A large screen displayed for audiences in real time the wattage counter of electricity created to keep the lights and sound equipment going for the 70-minute duration, highlighting the importance of sustainable practices.

Katie attributes her shift towards sustainable theatre to her collaboration with Oxford University’s professor of computational science, Stephen Emmott. Stephen’s passionate approach to climate change and the pressing planetary emergency it poses became the inspiration behind her 2012 play “Ten Billion”. This production served as a catalyst for Katie’s commitment to sustainable theatre and her determination to incorporate environmental themes into her work.

She admits that in the beginning the subject matter was so massive it was difficult to develop ideas for performances without being overwhelmed. However, she persevered, refining her craft, working with scientists, and experimenting to bring an environmental lens to her work.

A recent research study by Griffith University, sheds light on the growing interest among Australian theatre companies embracing sustainable practices. It reveals challenges they face including limited engagement from management and budget constraints as sustainable materials can be more expensive. Local theatre groups could draw inspiration from Katie’s approach to prioritise sustainability into their processes.

Katie reflects on her experience, noting that working on sustainable shows has unexpectedly stimulated her creativity, forcing her to explore new solutions in content, form and production. What she initially perceived as a process of reduction has, in fact, expanded her artistic horizons.

In the case of “Living in a Time of Extinction”, this has meant sharing guidelines and cycle technology with a local director and group of performers, enabling them to produce the play locally. This approach has removed the need for the costly and carbon emitting process of transporting large amounts of material and people, usually associated with the traditional touring model.

Not all of us can utilise cycle power to charge our work tools (although we would be a lot fitter if we did), but we can assess our systems and processes for better and more sustainable solutions.

For more inspiring sustainable business models, check out our case studies on the Australian Circular Economy Hub. Join the sustainability conversation and share resources through Planet Ark’s circular economy community portal.

Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes


Pamela Jolly

Pamela is a Marketing Communications professional with over 10 years experience working for both agencies and organisations in communications, travel, finance and retail industries. Pamela loves to be in nature riding a bike, skiing, appreciating the trees at her local park or exploring wild places abroad with her family.

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