Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Good, Cheap, Fast….and Sustainable: Can We Pick Three? (See the pictures! Watch the video!)

How sustainable is our design process? This was one of the questions we set out to explore in Childsplay's second Sustainable Stage Craft Summit.

At our first summit in February, we examined the materials sourcing and waste stream of our theatres. Participants agreed that as the first curtain time draws nearer any thoughts of sustainability go out the window…whether it is materials choice, time, or money. To put it another way…the paradigm of “good, cheap, fast: pick two” becomes just “fast.”

We focused our second meeting on the how and why of the design process: are there new ways to inspire creativity? What impact does the structure of the design process have on the final product?

“To show our simple skill, that is the true beginning of our end.”

We started off the day talking about what works and what doesn’t in our current processes.

An important part of the process was the back and forth of ideas between the creative team and production staff. It was suggested that if the director and designer “don’t click, it can lead to disaster.”

Starting with big ideas and narrowing down to fit the constraints was the known process in the room. Yet we wondered, has anyone ever tried to start small and grow to fit the available resources?

“The course of true love never did run smooth.”

Everyone agreed that the way we have to design our production schedules leave little to no room for the realities of life or even the possibility of making a mistake. Couple that with a lack of time for research and development of techniques and materials and we begin to get an idea why we often stick with what we know.

(Photo 1, above) Childsplay production manager Anthony Runfola shares his team’s design of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

It was also noted that it is unfortunate that the people who collaborate the most on the show – the actors – are the last group brought into the process.

Continuing to work with students from Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability, an activity was created that would simulate the design and production of scenery for A Midsummer Night’s Dream from the first design meeting through to strike – all in about an hour and a half. The attendees were split into two groups: Team Puck and Team Theseus. While each group included artistic directors, directors, scenic designers, technical directors and production managers, everyone switched roles throughout the process in order to get a feel for each other’s positions. From the outset, design parameters were set – the teams were given a budget and a theatre in which to perform. Sustainability was given to one group specifically as a criterion, while the other group had to deal with a surprise budget-slashing in the midst of their process.

(Photo 2, above) Arizona State University professor Rachel Bowditch and Actors Theatre production manager Erica Black take us through their team’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

As could be imagined, there was resistance at first.

But, once the groups dove into the play and the ideas started to flow, everyone engaged.

The exercise gave everyone a chance to take the time to think objectively about their design processes and think about where possible changes could be made. Most significantly, when looking through the lens of sustainability, everyone found that they made difference choices about the design even before the pencil touched the paper.

Making choices earlier clearly emerged as a key to sustainability, yet we also concluded that it would be difficult to change the design process without changing processes throughout an organization. Many factors affect the production calendar (marketing, audience willingness, money, performance space, etc.) that are beyond the control of the designers and production team. Nonetheless, we did identify several opportunities to effect change. It was suggested that our decision trees should include the impact of our artistic choices on the sustainability of our staff. Since both teams had a technical director on them, it was also recognized that having that person engaged more throughout the process made it much smoother. Confidence in feasibility of achieving the design was much higher, and it gave the TD insight into the “whys” of the design.

While our second summit did not end with transformative actions that the participants could take, we do hope that we took the first step in adding adding “sustainability” into the good, cheap and fast paradigm.

Watch the second Sustainable Stage Craft Summit here:

Childsplay - Sustainable Stagecraft Summit #2 from Anthony Runfola on Vimeo.

--Jenny Millinger & Anthony Runfola, Childsplay

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