‘How about we stop?’ How Australian art tours are changing to save the planet

Ohen Chloe Leong goes on tour with her colleagues from the Sydney Dance Company, the environmental impact of her work is always top of mind. “I believe art is about touching the present and that’s a huge topic in the world,” she says. “What we have now will not be what we have tomorrow.”

Leong has just completed a five-week regional tour in Australia, and before that, four weeks in France. “We travel with KeepCups and bottled water and bring our own shampoo and soap so we don’t use single-use items,” she says. “We book apartments and turn off the air conditioning or heating and cook our own meals. We reduce waste by sharing a suitcase full of olive or coconut oil, salt and pepper and breakfast cereals so we don’t have to throw it away and buy it all over again. neighboring city.

The dancers try to eat less meat but, when they do, Leong seeks out a local butcher who sources from regenerative farms; in Rockhampton, ‘the beef capital of Australia’, she found ‘amazing butchery and organic farmers’ markets’. In France, dancers traveled by coach to reduce flights, stopping for frequent stretch breaks. “We walk back to the apartment together or, if it’s too far, we carpool,” she says. “If we’re in a hotel, I keep my do not disturb sign on to reduce cleaning.”

The company’s dancers have even reduced their sock budget. “We wear little flesh-colored socks and we’d wear five or six pairs on a tour. Now we ask the costumer to fix all the little holes we have around the toes instead of buying a new one. Everything counts.

Sydney Dance Company dancers rehearsing in 2020. Photography: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Individual action matters. But the fact remains that art touring is a carbon-intensive business, especially in Australia where venues are often hundreds or thousands of miles apart.

According to figures from the Sydney Dance Company, during an 11-week national tour, each member of the company was responsible for about seven tonnes of carbon emitted. Australia’s average per capita emissions over one year are, according to OECD figures, around 21 tonnes (well above the global average of 4.5 tonnes). In those 11 weeks, each member of the company had already achieved one-third of the average.

And international touring from Australia pushes those numbers into the stratosphere: one person on a return economy class flight to the UK is responsible for around 6.1 tonnes of carbon.

But, as touring resumes after the pandemic hiatus, many live music touring companies and organizations are working to reduce their carbon footprint. Bell Shakespeare, who has undertaken annual national tours for decades, is one example. Its production of The Comedy of Errors has arrived in Sydney, a major stop on a four-month tour of every state and territory capital and more than a dozen regional centres. Every year, the company’s staff, crew and cast rack up hundreds of thousands of miles of driving and flying; in 2019, they covered 650,000 km.

“We are still far from being the poster child for reducing carbon emissions,” admits Bell Shakespeare’s chief executive, Gill Perkins. “But the pandemic has been a circuit breaker in many ways. It gave us a break in which we were able to think more laterally about what it means to be a national company and maintain this deep live theater experience for our audience in a responsible way.

Bell Shakespeare’s 2017 production of Richard III, starring Kate Mulvaney as Richard. Photography: Prudence Upton

Sydney has traditionally been the last leg of a Bell tour, Perkins says. “This year, we have reassessed the structure of the circuit in order to reduce transport-related emissions. We are actively minimizing the number of flights we take and the short hops we would have taken on airplanes that we now do by coach and carshare. »

Whenever possible, cast and crew share the driving in hybrid vehicles and stay at accommodations with established green policies on energy, recycling, and waste reduction. The company uses rigid wheelbase trucks, rather than semi-trailers, because they are more fuel efficient. The entire production is designed to fit in a single charge and the assembly requires no modification between sites, further reducing costs and the risk of wastage.

“Early on in the production process, we took a closer look at the materials we use, what we can recycle and how we dispose of them at the end,” says Perkins.

But the geography of Australia for a national touring company is a challenge. Australia lags behind much of the developed world in terms of high-speed rail (“it would be so game-changing for us,” says Perkins) and electric vehicle charging infrastructure in regional areas.

Despite the challenges, all businesses and artists need to consider their carbon footprint, says Perkins:. “The costs of climate change are already becoming apparent. We usually perform in Lismore. But not this year, with the venue out of service after the area’s worst flooding in decades.

Net zero by 2030?

Critical Stages Touring, a Sydney-based organization that organizes cross-city and regional tours, is one of many organizations – including Arts on Tour, Bell Shakespeare, Monkey Baa Theater Company, children’s theater group CDP Theater Producers and Flying Fruit Fly Circus – who have committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2030. Beyond that, according to Critical Stages Touring Managing Director Chris Bendall, he hopes to pave the way for “net zero” touring. positive”.

“When you have a show in Port Macquarie, for example, it can save hundreds of people getting in their cars and driving to Sydney to see something at the Opera House,” says Bendall.

Currently, the industry is focusing on sustainable constructions for stage productions. “At the moment, nobody can really see a way forward for sustainable travel,” says Bendall, who sent The Listies’ Hamlet: Prince of Skidmark to the Edinburgh festival. “We cannot charter an ecological catamaran, it is not feasible, so we are looking for compensation. But the bigger question is should we fly to the Edinburgh Festival? Do we need it? What if we stopped to save the planet?

Flying Fruit Fly Circus performs
Flying Fruit Fly Circus, one of the companies committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2030. Photography: Wendell Teodoro/WireImage

For now, national and regional tours are the easiest way out, says Bendall. “The key is to fly less, but it’s a huge country. So this means that visits will take longer and it will cost more. All companies will have to adopt carbon offsets and again it will cost more.

Will this mean an increase in ticket prices? “We don’t know yet,” Bendall said. “My feeling is that we cannot pass on the additional costs to the public. We need funding agencies to help us. The Australia Council, he adds, has just added a budget line that makes carbon offsets a recognized expense in federal funding applications.

There’s also the Green Touring Toolkit: developed by New South Wales touring organization Arts on Tour, it’s a practical, step-by-step guide to reducing emissions, not just while touring but also during the creation phase. A “green covenant” may include a requirement to adjust air conditioning levels, use energy-efficient LED light fixtures, provide recycling bins, remove single-use items from locker rooms and kitchens, and seek meatless food options.

The toolkit includes access to an online emissions calculator created by Arup, a London-based sustainability company. “The calculator helps a company decide whether it’s cheaper to build two duplicate sets in Sydney and Melbourne or Perth, or cheaper to ship them,” says Antonia Seymour, executive director of Arts on Tour. “We’re going to need two budgets for everything: a financial budget and an emissions budget.”

For live music tours, Green Music Australia has unveiled its own plan, funded by Creative Victoria: Sound Country: A Green Artist Guide, which covers concerts and has been developed with input from artists such as Allara Briggs-Pattison, Missy Higgins, Jessica Cerro (Montaigne) and regurgitator.

But the classical music sector – orchestras and opera – is “miles away when it comes to green initiatives”, according to a source who wished to remain anonymous. “We still transport musicians and conductors around the world every day. We have a long way to go.”

Efforts to tackle carbon footprints in the arts may be in their infancy, but Seymour says it only takes small changes to make a difference: “Four people traveling in a hybrid car, instead to fly, reduce emissions by more than 70%. Using a 3.5 tonne truck instead of a 7.5 tonne truck for freight reduces emissions by more than 40%.

Ultimately, Bendall thinks, those who tackle their carbon emissions will be rewarded: “We are already making the choice to use a greener bank or buy greener products. I think the public will follow. They will choose the greenest arts businesses to support and there will be a backlash for those not on board.

. stopped how artistic tour australian change for save planet Organize

. stop Australian art tours changing save planet

PREV Giant rainbow fleur-de-lis painted on Bourbon Street in time for Southern Decadence
NEXT How two friends are disrupting design discussions via a podcast