ED2019 Chris Meets ED2019 Interviews ED2019 Theatre

Grace Thorner: The Greenhouse

By | Published on Tuesday 20 August 2019

With the climate crisis ever more present in the headlines, one venue project at this year’s Fringe immediately stood out. The Greenhouse, set up and run by BoxedIn Theatre, calls itself the Festival’s first zero-waste venue.

A 30 capacity performance space at Edinburgh’s Dynamic Earth complex, The Greenhouse is not only set up to be more environmentally sustainable, but its programme also embraces this theme, with shows, workshops and talks all centred around our relationship with the environment.

Intrigued about the whole project, how it came about and what making it happen has involved, I spoke to BoxedIn Theatre’s Grace Thorner to find out more.

CC: Tell us about the premise of The Greenhouse. What did you set out to achieve?
GT: The Greenhouse was set up to prove it is possible to create theatre in an environmentally conscious way. We found there was a common misconception that adopting an eco-friendly practice would lower the quality of the work you produced and make the project more expensive.

Through creating The Greenhouse and staging the eight shows it has housed throughout The Fringe we have proved – we hope – that neither of these things are the case.

We are so proud of the standard of the work our incredible team has put together. Their creativity has not been compromised in any way, and the shows which are being performed are – in our opinion – exceptional.

What is more, building The Greenhouse was not an expensive process. Our designers Calean Mitchell-Bennet and Lucy Reis did a fantastic job of sourcing previously-used building materials, so our costs were kept very low.

So hopefully we have achieved what we set out to do: to show that an environmentally-friendly practice can be adopted without any comprise to artistic integrity.

CC: What motivated you to launch a zero-waste venue at the Fringe in particular?
GT: Last year BoxedIn Theatre went on a ‘back of the van’ tour which finished with a two week run at the Fringe. It was a two and a half month tour in total and, as you can imagine, we printed a tonne of flyers and posters to take to each of the seventeen locations.

After many flyers and many posters had been given out during our tour, we were then stood on the Mile doing the obligatory flyering during our Fringe run and I got talking to Oli Savage, our Artistic Director.

We had sold 75% of the tickets to one of our shows before we’d even flyered. People were taking our flyers without really looking at them and we really doubted they were actually doing much for getting more people into our shows. And above all, they generated a huge amount of paper waste.

That was when we thought about trialling a zero-waste marketing campaign at the 2019 Edinburgh Festival, and it kind of snowballed from there.

CC: How do you define zero-waste?
GT: So for us, zero-waste means everything we’ve used in the project – from the build to the shows – has had a life before and will have a life after. Nothing from the project will end up in landfills. Plus a lot of the materials we have used have been prevented from going into landfill by us using them.

CC: What are the most challenging aspects of building and running a zero-waste venue?
GT: With regards to building the venue itself, one of our designers, Caelan Mitchell-Bennett, says that one of the biggest challenges has been making all this happen with such a small team. Although everyone is extremely dedicated, there are only 33 of us in total running an entirely new venue – and in every aspect that’s pretty challenging.

That said, working as part of such a small team is what makes this project so enjoyable. We have all bonded through working together, and at the end of the day we are all friends who have collaborated to make something new which is truly special.

CC: How did you select the shows that are appearing in the venue?
GT: We put out an open call for pitches at the end of October last year. Submissions were reviewed, judged and decided upon by a panel consisting of the aforementioned Oli Savage our Artistic Director, as well as Executive Director Emily Hepher, Creative Director Louis Catliff and Creative Producer Sarah Chamberlain.

CC: Although there is a thematic link between the shows, it feels like quite an eclectic programme. Was that deliberate?
GT: In short, yes. The diversity of the shows meant that there was a wider range of angles to approach the climate crisis, meaning that everyone who wanted to come to The Greenhouse could find something that they could connect with.

CC: How important is it to you that audience members think or learn about the issues your programme explores, or that the venue seeks to address?
GT: It’s vitally important to us that our audiences connect with the messages on stage. Part of the aim of The Greenhouse – and why we think the project is so important – is that the venue is an open, non-confrontational place where the issues surrounding climate change can be thought about and discussed. We want to spark a much-needed conversation about the climate crisis, and the only way this can happen is if audience members engage with the issues explored through our programme.

CC: Obviously that climate crisis is increasingly in the headlines, which makes your project and the shows you are presenting much more newsworthy. Has that helped?
GT: Obviously, there is a lot of media attention surrounding the climate crisis at the moment. However, a lot of that coverage has been quite negative, and The Greenhouse is a positive antidote to this, providing an example which, we hope, can show to others that there is something we can all do to enact change.

CC: Tell us more about BoxedIn Theatre. How did the company come together? What are your aims?
GT: BoxedIn Theatre was founded by Oli in 2016 during his second year at St Andrews University. The aim of the company is to create theatre which engages with important issues and which encourages our audiences to do the same.

CC: You have a partnership with the Pleasance for the venue project. How did that come about?
GT: We met with the director of Pleasance, Anthony Alderson, to get some advice as a young theatre company trying to create our first venue. He offered us the opportunity to become a pop-up venue sitting under the Pleasance banner and we are so grateful for the opportunity to have this platform. It has allowed The Greenhouse to reach audiences we would not have been otherwise able to, which has been beyond amazing!

CC: Do you think that the environmental impact of a festival like the Edinburgh Fringe should be a much bigger talking point within the Fringe community? And if so, how can we make that happen?
GT: Yes, definitely! And that starts with no longer thinking about sustainability as an added extra. Sustainability needs to become part of the everyday conversation. It’s also important that everyone involved consider their environmental impact. It’s not someone else’s responsibility, it’s everyone’s responsibility, whether that be individual performers, audience members, venues or Edinburgh City Council. We all need to work together to ensure that the environmental impact of our work is taken seriously.

CC: In terms of the festival’s environmental impact, and the sustainability of the Fringe’s infrastructure, have things got better or worse in recent years, do you think?
GT: For me it’s not a case of whether things have gotten better or worse. It’s a case of trying to operate in an outdated system. Our current social, political, economic, and environmental climate is changing drastically and every aspect of our lives needs to be updated accordingly. This includes how we make theatre.

Therefore, instead of thinking of recycled theatre as cheap and lower quality, we need to see that it can have just as much artistic merit as big budget theatre. And instead of asking how we can make flyering environmentally friendly – because we can’t – we need to be looking at ways of marketing Fringe shows without flyers. The solution comes from changing our mindsets.

CC: What simple – and cost effective – things could performers and venues be doing to reduce their environmental impact?
GT: Sourcing set and costumes from things they already own is a massive one. As students we’re used to using our wardrobes and our living rooms to decorate our plays and it doesn’t hamper our creativity.

Another thing that we found is that, once we’d committed to going zero-waste, everything became a lot easier as we had non-negotiable rules to follow. So we would suggest finding one sustainable goal and sticking to it no matter what. It’s surprising how easy things can be when you have no other alternative.

CC: We are heading into the final week of the Festival. What have been the highs and the lows of this Fringe for the Greenhouse team?
GT: The high would obviously be managing to build such a wonderful venue together and have audiences come and enjoy our shows. The low would probably be that the climate crisis is obviously a very controversial issue and, consequently, we find it can be difficult for some people to address and confront. However, we hope that through our inclusive and non-confrontational atmosphere, The Greenhouse can become a place where people feel comfortable to tackle these issues.

Find out more about The Greenhouse project here.