Case Study: Creative and Sustainable Re-use with Reset Scenery
A huge range of unusual materials pass through the hands of Reset Scenery.
Reset Scenery was formed by theatre carpenters Matt Doolan and Simon Cook in an effort to deal with the significant amount of waste produced by the creative arts sector. Here, they tell us about how the developed the idea, and what the organisation aims to achieve.
Reset Scenery (CIC) is a Scottish based, not for profit company dedicated to providing the Scottish creative arts sector with an environmentally responsible and economical alternative to landfill for its unwanted scenery, props & furniture.
Currently the vast majority of scenery, props and furniture generated in the theatre, screen and events industries end up in land fill at the end of the production cycle. Often the performances the items are used on are considerably shorter than the time it takes to make in the first place, and are certainly shorter than the useful lifespan of the materials typically used to create them.
Whilst the actual duration of productions can vary greatly across the sector, from as much as a couple of years to as little as a single day, the outcome is always the same. In recent years this problem seems to have been exacerbated by a shift in the production dynamic. Anecdotal evidence suggests that once expensive materials have become relatively cheap, whilst at the same time affordable storage has become increasingly rare. Consequently fewer companies are maintaining stores as it has become more cost effective to build from fresh rather than reusing old stock.
The same can be said for dismantling and reclaiming materials as the cost of labour and space outstrips the value of any materials recovered, and the time required to effectively recycle a show rarely fits within a companies busy scheduling. The problem is exacerbated by poor cross sector awareness and visibility of the resources each of the disparate industries are creating in isolation of one another.
The time for planning and production for the set of a show can often exceed the length of a theatrical run.
Reflections on Theatre Waste
We had always been aware on some level that the theatre industry was incredibly wasteful but we never really acknowledged it. In theatre you often accept things as “just the way it goes” as you rarely have time to reflect on the show that finished because the next three are already underway. It wasn’t until we started working at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS) that the problem became much more apparent due to the very short production cycles and high volume of shows being produced. A typical set for one of our shows represents over 2 months of combined effort from a team consisting of the designer, carpenters, scenic artists and props makers to just realise something that is only used for five or six performances before being skipped.
RCS is not unique in this, every producing company in Scotland undergoes a similar process, the only difference is their productions tend to run for weeks or months, but ultimately, the end result is the same and otherwise usable resources end up as landfill simply because the show that generated them has closed.
Why are we throwing away these resources which still have value and a life span which can last long after their initial use?
Aside from the obvious moral issues with shipping materials from the other side of the globe, there are economic issues as well. This holds particular relevance in a climate of shrinking budgets and increasing prices.
Often, large and very specific pieces are built for each production.
To give some context to the problem: last year at RCS we used roughly 3 kilometers of linear timber, 5 pallets of sheet material and 400 meters of steel. Once you include plastics, foams, furniture and fixings this equates to an around 8 tons of scenery waste per year. If you factor in the 5 other similar sized repertory companies in Scotland, our combined output comes to 40 tons of scenic waste per year.
Now add to this a national opera company, national theatre company, a burgeoning TV and film industry with international producers, events, exhibitions, a multitude of small to mid-scale theatre groups as well as amateur dramatic societies, you can start to see the potential size of the problem. And that’s before we even consider the world’s largest arts festival…
This is of one of the biggest challenges currently facing us as a sector. As far as we know there simply isn’t any coherent record of the amount of waste across the disparate industries in the Scottish creative arts sector, which makes it difficult to frame the problem for stakeholders and funding bodies.
Early in 2016, in our spare time, we started an unfunded pilot project under the working title of 2nd Hand Scenery using a Facebook page to test engagement and to create our marketplace.
Later that year we were fortunate enough to meet Joe Kilmartin from the Bullwood Project who kindly let us use a small area in their space to take in donations of scenery, which enabled us to overcome one of the major hurdles facing companies hoping to pass on or acquire scenery.
Typically one company’s disposal deadline rarely matched up to the beginning of another company’s production process and as neither party had access to sufficient storage, the opportunity was lost. This small space meant that we could now bridge the time gap and ensure that the resources were still available for the receiving company when they were ready for it, without causing space issues for the donor company.
We have a number of aims which drive our work:
- Reduce the environmental impacts of the creative arts sector in Scotland through re-use & recycling of materials, scenery and props;
- Promote cross sector collaboration on improving the environmental footprint of scenery and props and assisting in the development of sustainable construction methods and material selection;
- Provide employment and an alternate pathway into the creative arts sector;
- Support the growth of social impacts though the sharing of materials with social economy, amateur performance arts companies & schools;
- Provide a complete sector specialist separation and recycling service for production resources that have reached the end of their usability.
One of the aims of Reset Scenery is to provide alternative pathways to employment within the cultural sector.
Since 2016 we have gathered a community with over 1300 members and our wee storage space is full to the gunnels, with a regular turnaround of stock.
We have facilitated the sale and exchange of numerous items of props and scenery to a diverse range of customers from within the arts sector and, surprisingly, external to it. In the process we have uncovered a huge amount of positive support for the company as well as a tremendous desire for the Scottish creative arts to be more proactive in its environmental responsibility.
Although we are still working in our spare time we have been making progress towards our key goals and have been fortunate enough to receive development support from Zero Waste Scotland and Resource Futures which has put us in a much better position and we are seeking funding to help us grow and move to our own premises.
Our Future Ambitions
Now renamed ‘Reset Scenery’, we have a number of ambitions for the future:
- The creation of onsite fabrication space for emergent makers/freelancers
- Improved waste separation and compaction
- Offer full soundstage clearance service to the major Scottish television and movie production hubs
- Incorporate Edinburgh International Festivals & Fringe into the circular economy
- Creation of regional depots to facilitate activity in the highlands and Islands
Reset Scenery enables shows with short runs to recover the value of their sets.
Reset Scenery are a member of our Green Arts Initiative: a growing networked community of practice of 220 Scottish cultural organisations committed to reducing their environmental impact. It is free to become part of the community, and there are lots of resources and case studies (like this one!) to support #GreenArts organisations. Take a look at our Green Arts Initiative page for more information.
Reset Scenery are also part of our Sustainable Suppliers List: a group of environmentally-conscious companies and organisations in Scotland supporting a greener cultural sector.
All images are from Reset Scenery