The real green room
From recycled costumes to bio-designed sets, on World Environment Day, meet theatre groups that respect nature while rehearsing for, staging and touring with plays
In holding a mirror up to society, theatre, by extension, holds a mirror up to itself. Or, it ought to. If plays on environmental crisis make it to the stage, can what transpires backstage be removed from the script? Can venues that host productions with a green message serve chai to their patrons in Styrofoam cups?
Prithvi Cafe, attached to the city’s mecca for theatre, has made a conscious shift towards a greener ethos, with food served in pattals (leaf plates) and ceramic crockery, while its garbage bins are lined with biodegradable corn starch trash bags. Harkat Studios co-founder Karan Talwar tells us that with their functional design, everything at the Versova venue has multiple uses. From tables made of repurposed window shutters and a bookshelf made out of an old ladder, to using white cloth over flex for projections, a minimalist, eco-friendly principle guides their daily affairs.
But is it possible to adhere to these principles when time-strapped actors meet for rehearsals, directors translate their vision through set design or companies travel with their productions? Yes, with a little thought, assure these thespians.
An example for young minds
In October last year, while accompanying a touring children’s theatre project by Mumbai-based Gillo Theatre Repertory in and around Dahanu, this writer remembers being met with disapproving looks upon taking out a plastic water bottle from her bag to refill it with the water can the team was carrying. “We’ll share our green charter with you,” said one of the actors, as the team made its way through the many hamlets in the area. Reading the charter on our way back to Mumbai made it easier to understand the little things the Gillo team did and didn’t do in the course of the day.
The repertory uses natural materials for props and costumes, and cloth banners
“No tetrapack-based drinks (eg juice) or sachet-based drinks will be purchased (eg chaas in a plastic bag),” read one of the 35 points, which even included a section on noise pollution, drawn up in consultation with a sustainability expert. And so, we all had coconut water and ganna juice before we called it a day. “There is a difference in knowing the better option and living it,” says the repertory’s artistic director Shaili Sathyu, who considers it important to set the right example for its young audience. “Kids in rural areas tend to have a certain perception of urban life,” she says referring to our wasteful ways. “We cannot be reinforcing that.”
Activism through theatre
“Whether the play is about the environment or not, my politics is about saving the environment and it has to reflect in what I do,” says theatre director Faezeh Jalali. And fittingly, she got a bio-architect on board to design an eco-friendly and reusable set made of bamboo for her award-winning play Shikhandi, which premiered in 2017. “The underlying idea is that when you are done with a show, you should not have generated any waste,” she adds.
The bamboo set of Shikhandi
With her next production, A Farming Story — a dystopian fairy tale about farmers battling climate change — she took things up by a notch where not only was the set made of upcycled cardboard and wood but all the costumes were fashioned out of older clothes, too. Months before the play made its stage debut, she put up posts on social media requesting friends and colleagues in the theatre fraternity to pitch in with clothes and items she could use as props.
That apart, like the Gillo Repertory, all actors of her theatre company Fats the Arts are encouraged to bring their own bottles, plates and cutlery during rehearsal. “Sometimes, I have gone thirsty on shoots where only small plastic bottles are available and no dispensers to refill mine, but that’s a cost one needs to pay to sensitise others,” Jalali shares. “There are people who are fighting with their lives to save Aarey, our mangroves and forests. I am not doing that but my activism is through theatre. That the environment is not No 1 on our priority list is very scary.”
A favourite souvenir from Thespo among volunteers, participants and the audience is the tote bag recycled out of the flex boards that are put up at the annual edition of the youth theatre movement. “When Quasar [Thakore Padamsee] went to the Manchester International Art Festival, he saw that they had recycled their flex boards as mementos for guests as a legacy of their work from the earlier years. We really liked the idea,” says Toral Shah about fellow co-founder of Thespo.
“There are budget constraints that come with a crowd-funded festival. But we aim to move to a point where we will print [our publicity material] on fabric and make cloth bags out of it,” she says. Until then, it’s on a best-effort basis, with reliance on plastic having been consciously reduced.
Inspiration from the capital
For a decade, Katkatha, a 20-year-old Delhi-based puppet arts trust, was located on an organic farm where members would grow their own vegetables. Despite having moved to a much smaller location in Jaitpur in the capital, the space retains its green facade, giving young residents of the surrounding slum the only open space they have access to. “We work with children specifically in the area of recycling, for it all boils down to choosing your habits,” says puppeteer and managing trustee Anurupa Roy. Apart from using puppets largely made of papier mâché, which last them for years, for children’s workshops, they reuse newspapers and plastic bottles.
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