Somewhere That's Green: Ways VR Can Make Your Production More Sustainable
3 Ways to Use Extended Realities to Make Your Theatrical Production More Sustainable and Green
As a general rule, theatre runs more sustainably/green/Earth-friendly than a lot of industries—but who among us cannot find room for improvement? We may not directly contribute to air or water pollution, but Broadway does run a lot of washing machines between shows… And have you seen how much paper waste ends up on the floor in the form of playbills tossed aside at the end of each performance? We love our souvenirs as much as the next person, but what if we gave the option for a digital playbill to those who had no interest in lugging the paper copy home? But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Here at BroadVersity, we love talking theatre, we love talking tech, but we want to make sure that we leave the Earth better than we found it. So why not use some of these technological advances to move theatre into an even more sustainable space? The Guardian, while being quite cheeky about the topic, hit the nail on the head when they said: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that environmental sustainability and show production are not compatible. After all, the play's the thing, competing priorities are book-ended with vision and money – sustainability is a nice-to-have.”
(A note: before we get too deep into the topic, we’d like to acknowledge the decade and a half long commitment the Broadway Green Alliance has made to this endeavor. While we will reference many resources and sites, much found here will be directed toward work already compiled by them.)
You might be surprised to learn that National Theatre in London has been leading the charge on greener theatre in many ways. They’ve made several changes, including major financial switches. The arts, nonprofit in particular, have long relied on the patronage of large companies to keep moving forward, but in 2019 as a response to the climate crisis, the National Theatre cut ties with Shell, one of its largest benefactors. A representative of the theatre is quoted as saying, “However, we believe theatre can be part of the solution - we tell stories, shape culture, and encourage empathy and understanding. Our industry is made up of creative and inspiring people who are motivated to make change.”
So, to celebrate Earth Month and further incite that change, here are 3 ways to use theatre in extended realities to make your production more sustainable and green.
1. Limiting Your Carbon Footprint Around Transportation
Let’s start at the very beginning, the developmental stages of your show. Traditionally, everyone has come from far and wide to get together for something as simple as a table read. The majority of your cast may just be driving in, but what about the celebrity you flew in from LA, or the summer stock kids brought up from the city? Even in recent history, some would say a way to “greenify” this part of the production would be to walk, bike, or take public transportation to meet up with your cast and crew (provided you all live in the same vicinity).
But why even go that far? Sure, taking your bike works better than driving or flying, but…
We’ll do you one better—why not table read virtually? Of course, as staunch fans of the metaverse, we’re advocating for spinning up a virtual world in some other reality and popping your characters in there, but you don’t even need to go that far. If you’re not ready to make that leap, we know Zoom makes an excellent substitute.
If you do choose to take that step and start your production in extended realities, there are a wealth of social platforms, ready to be adapted into virtual theaters (stay tuned for more info on that coming soon!).
An unlimited number of resources exist about how individuals and organizations can limit their carbon footprint, so rather than get into that, we’ll instead point you in the direction of some fantastic materials. Unsurprisingly, CarbonFootprint.com has a wealth of information, but if you’re not in the mood to comb through their vast array of lists and articles, you can pop over to AustinTexas.gov to see 10 ways to make a quick difference.
We would be remiss not to also point you in the direction of The Broadway Green Alliance. They are the leaders in our community when it comes to sustainability, and on their site, you can find everything from case studies on how the Broadway community works together to be greener, as well as resources on how to reopen in a more green manner following COVID-19’s notorious shutdowns.
2. Use Virtual Sets and Costumes in the Early Stages of Design
We’ve all heard stories about multi-million dollar set pieces that get cut in preliminary stages of development just because they don’t work with the story for one reason or another. Some may get repurposed into another portion of the set, but what if the scene gets cut entirely? It’s wasteful and, frankly, unnecessary.
Take your set design off the page and bring it to live in the metaverse. This not only allows you to save on materials and waste, but also gives your production the opportunity to try multiple designs before deciding on your final choice without watching it clutter up a landfill.
Why WOULDN’T you want to test out different skins for your world before having to pay the outlandish cost of materials? This, however, would not work on zoom the same way that step one would.
But design goes beyond sets, costumes, too, can be conceptualized in virtual reality. Just like set designs, everything from fancy dresses in shows of yore to giant ape-like monsters can be produced in virtual reality. And props? Yup, those exist there, too! Just like the shop out back of your high school theatre where kids were figuring out how to make stuff work, it’s going to take a bit of trial and error, but it can be done.
If you’re not quite ready to jump into virtual costuming just yet, but still want to move your production to a greener space, The Broadway Green Alliance has posted a case study on Sourcing Sustainable Costumes, which is a good start.
3. Sustainability Through Global Connections and Reaching Massive Audiences
A bit more esoteric, sure, but meeting people in a virtual reality promotes the opportunity for understanding and connection.
Travel remains one of the least Earth-friendly activities, but we never want to remove the connections and learning it provides. Seeing other cultures, other countries, allows us to connect with what they experience daily, and how they live. But why not do more of that virtually?
Why not teleport to the arctic to see the ice caps melting and bring home the message of what our daily practices are doing to the planet. As well as what others are doing better.
Still, it goes beyond that. Global connection can take on forms of all kinds. Take, for example, pop sensation Ariana Grande’s leap into the Fortnite universe. Even a singer of Grande’s popularity would rarely be able to reach such a massive audience in one sitting. Perhaps she’d go on tour to reach her fans, traveling the world and setting up a grotesquely large stage each time, eager to fit as many adoring teens into the arena as possible. We can’t fault her; this has been the way for as long as pop stars have existed!
Maybe instead she might choose a television special to reach the largest number of followers in one swoop. It plays across the country, sometimes the world, all at once. Okay, but what physical requirements remain? She still needs a venue, she still needs lighting, sound, projections and props. All of these items come at not only a monetary cost, but a wastefulness cost as well. One night only and here we are with a trash heap to contend with.
“But, but live music!” You might be screaming at the screen as you read this. We agree. Unlike other metaverse concerts, Ariana’s WAS live. While still viewable months later, the fans who arrived ready to party on August 6th of 2021 saw her live—virtually, but live no less.
Circling right back to the concept of global connection, imagine being a fan of someone like Ariana Grande and receiving the opportunity to get much closer to her in this world than you ever would in our reality. Bodyguards be damned, here you could see, well, at least her avatar, up close and personal as she ushered fans into another world entirely.
The same concepts here can be applied to any theatrical production. Imagine being ushered into the Opera by the Phantom, surrounded by the millions of “Phans” around the world who have been dying for decades to experience the show together. That is connection. Enjoying a show on your living room television set may be all well and good—but you’re alone, or even just with friends or family. Part of the raw energy afforded a live theatrical moment comes from the audience. Hold for applause? Yes, please, we’d love to.
To find even more information on sustainability in your production overall, visit The Sustainability Production Toolkit, a free guide for green-minded theatre folk. You can take your show’s consciousness a step further and donate pieces when you’re done. The BGA has compiled a list of organizations that will take a variety of gently used theatrical and art materials. And finally, UC Merced has division they call “The Earth Shakes Alliance” with the adorable tag line of: “Uniting Shakespeareans to care for all Earth’s creatures.” This group has gathered resources useful to any production company.
We hope you’ve found these tips and tricks useful, but we welcome any more. If there is something you’ve been practicing in your own productions, we’d love to hear about it! Drop us a line here, or via any of our social media @BroadVersity!