How can theatre fight the green fight? One way is to make an entire set from recycled materials, as designer Francisco Rodriguez-Weil has done for Aria Entertainment and SOT Stage’s Blood Wedding at The Courtyard theatre. When Rodriguez-Weil attended a talk at London’s Young Vic theatre on making eco-friendly work he immediately took up the challenge to make a sustainable set. His design for Blood Wedding was already complete at this stage, but he decided to rip it up and start again driven by his personal interest in climate change and the environment. In Rodriguez-Weil’s words it was “a last minute challenge and I’m much happier with the current design”. I chatted to this brave and inventive designer about the challenges of making a sustainable set and what he sees for the future of eco-friendly theatre.
Rodriguez-Weil is a designer who enjoys immersing himself in different forms, a way of working which requires a certain passion for experimenting and learning from different approaches. This quality must certainly have helped when creating this new set for Blood Wedding. When working on a design, he enjoys collaborating with the director to create a “three-dimensional space from a two-dimensional script”. Bronagh Lagan, the director for this production, allowed him a lot of freedom when it came to the design and this is why he was able to make absolutely everything sustainable. “I went overboard on this project,” Rodriguez-Weil admits, and adds that this amount of commitment to an eco-friendly design probably wouldn’t be possible with every production. Blood Wedding had a set where everything could be adapted, “and I don’t think all directors will be happy to do that”.
Even with eco concerns in mind, the most important thing remains the script and the production itself. Should an eco-friendly way of working, however, be something we give more importance to and that more directors are open to? After all, using recycled components for the set doesn’t seem that far removed from the tight-budget, university productions that are every director’s training ground. Sometimes it does us good to accept a challenge and the best ideas can happen through working under limitations.
Rodriguez-Weil certainly wants to continue to explore this way of working, “but I’m not sure how far I’m going to go”. For him the biggest issue for the future of green theatre doesn’t come from the productions. Paint is, he says, an issue, as if the set isn’t painted in eco-friendly paint then none of it can be recycled. If this is tackled, however, all theatrical sets can be recycled through various companies. “The biggest waste comes from the theatre buildings themselves”, Rodriguez-Weil believes and goes on to list such areas as heating, usage, doors being left open – general building based concerns – as the areas where we need to start making the most changes. He does, however, believe that we can “all make a big impact in the end” if everybody starts to “put in their little grain of sand”.
How easy is it, then, to work in an eco-friendly way? Rodriguez-Weil used the floor from an opera he’d done before, sustainable paint, no print “I didn’t make a model, we worked with visuals and computer simulations”. The entire set is made from recycled items and consists of a lot of different doors; in keeping with the text Rodriguez-Weil sees the doors as representing “the hell behind every door” in Lorca’s play. Working with recycled items, though, he feels gives the set a “unique character”. The fact that it “has already had a life, it has its own character” brings an additional element to the production that Rodriguez-Weil particularly likes, and he claims to be extremely proud of this set.
Going overboard to create an eco-friendly set does not, however, come without its challenges: “it demands a different mindset” from the way one might work on a more conventional design. One thing Rodriguez-Weil found particularly challenging was “having to adapt already existing items” rather than, for example, ordering the doors to be custom built to the exact dimensions in a workshop. “I did have to work more”, Rodriguez-Weil admits, “but I gained something special that I wouldn’t have gained otherwise and I’m proud of that”.
It certainly seems that, in the age we live in, eco-friendly theatre is something we should be concerned about. Plus, as Rodriguez-Weil has illustrated, it is an enjoyable challenge that can develop our ways of thinking and working for the better. I particularly like the notion of everything on stage having had a previous life; it seems fitting for theatre which is such a living medium. In this era of idolisation of the new there’s something nice about being able to sit back and appreciate things that have already had a life. I wonder how this approach would work for a piece of new writing or a more contemporary production?
Blood Wedding is at The Courtyard Theatre in Hoxton until 16 November. For more information and tickets visit The Courtyard’s website.