Studying at The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA) for a BA in Theatre and Performance Design has encouraged me to think even more about the benefits of acting sustainably when putting on a production, both in order to keep the costs down and more importantly to help curb the wastage of unwanted clothes.
With the recent government arts cuts, the arts industries, and specifically those working in the performing arts, have to think up new strategies to be more budget-savvy. These cuts not only affect the actors, dancers and singers who appear at the forefront of a production, but also have a knock-on effect on all the people working behind the scenes to keep the cogs turning.
Whilst studying at LIPA, one module which was particularly instrumental in teaching me the benefit of operating sustainably was one on design construction/deconstruction. The module was split into two halves: the construction side taught students how to source period dress from modern-day cheaper materials without compromising appearance, and the deconstruction side of the module taught students how modern-day garments are constructed and how they can be taken apart and altered for refitting. In these turbulent time,s the ability to give a new lease of life to some old worn out jeans or a jacket is a valuable skill. With a bit of practice, clothes we feel are worthy of a place only on the rubbish dump can be transformed into beautiful, bespoke, couture pieces.
For me, the dual challenge of sourcing sustainably and keeping costs down actually gets my creative juices flowing even more. It has taught me to look at old garments in a totally new light and often the final results are even more rewarding. With an emphasis on the historical, the module at LIPA showed that periods of recession in Britain actually act as a launch pad for great creativity across the nation. Designers who flourished during the hard times of the 70s and 80s, such as Vivienne Westwood, still have a strong influence on theatre and performance design today. Prolific designers, such as Westwood and the late Alexander McQueen, have helped to inspire costume designers and in turn have contributed to the success of British theatre, which is revered the world over.
We were taught to look beyond our initial research of a particular period and to draw on other creative references to create costumes that boast a stamp of our own individuality. After all, theatre is an expressive art form to be embraced and not repeatedly replicated. With these transferable skills, I and a fellow student from LIPA were able to put this recycling technique, known as up-cycling, into practice, when we designed and created the costumes for a musical entitled 1,000 Suns. The set was sourced entirely from rescued items and the costumes were donated to us following a call out for clothing via a social media campaign. In the end, we received 14 bags of clothing which were renewed to make a total of 24 costumes.
Our commitment to sustainability paid off as the performance was shortlisted by The Edinburgh Festival Sustainable Practice Committee as being one of the top 20 most ecologically friendly productions at the festival. This recognition has helped to spur us on even further to create more sustainable productions in the future. After the success of the Edinburgh leg of the production, I am now busily working with the cast of 1,000 Suns on our next production, which is due to take be staged in Liverpool in 2014.
Anna Dunn is a Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts graduate. She is now in the process of setting up her own business in digital printing fabrics and is currently working at The Theatre by the Lake in Keswick. This summer Anna and a fellow LIPA student produced the costumes and set made entirely from recycled material for a play which debuted at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival.