How the Edinburgh Festival can help keep the planet sweet

The climate crisis is a hot topic in Edinburgh this August. Here, festival performers share ten ideas for saving the planet with Mark Fisher.

Climate change protesters on the march in London
Climate change protesters on the march in London

1 Put your money where your mouth is

“The big challenge to making green theatre is mind-set,” says Oli Savage, artistic director of the Greenhouse Theatre, the Fringe’s first zero-waste venue. “The creative process is very single-use; we develop a concept and then begin collecting materials. There isn’t much room for considering the materials themselves. In building the Greenhouse, we looked for materials that were readily available, recycled and would have a positive impact on the environment. This is a fundamental change. No longer is the art itself the only goal.”

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Pleasance Pop-Up: The Greenhouse by BoxedIn Theatre, Dynamic Earth.

2 Take a bus and have a laugh

“For the biggest improvements in cutting carbon emissions, I’d say to audiences, use trains or buses to get to Edinburgh, then bus, cycle or walk while you’re here; eat vegetarian/vegan,” says Ben Twist, director of Creative Carbon Scotland. “To venues I’d say, buy genuine renewable electricity from Good Energy; serve only veggie/vegan food in your cafés; promote zero-carbon travel – and enter the first Sustainable Fringe Awards. Companies should use the Fringe Swap Shop when their season’s over and everyone should enjoy a great night of comedy at Stand Up For Your Planet.”

‘Stand Up For Your Planet’, Assembly Hall, 5:30pm, 19 August.

3 Protest and survive I

“We engage in a form of protest known as nonviolent direct action,” says Lucy Byford of Extinction Rebellion Edinburgh. “Martin Luther King wrote that nonviolent direct action seeks ‘to dramatise the issue [so] that it can no longer be ignored’.

“The arts are fundamental to the ‘dramatisation’ of the issue of ecological breakdown. Art can solicit emotional responses to the crisis and envision a world that could replace the current system. Waking up to the reality of the crisis is an act of the imagination.”

Extinction Rebellion, events and exhibition, Summerhall, until 25 August.

4 Protest and survive II

“Is it possible to protest and keep your sense of humour?” asks comedian Sam Haygarth. “It’s not only possible, it’s absolutely imperative. I helped organise the Extinction Rebellion protests and when we put a massive pink boat in the middle of Oxford Circus it wasn’t entirely serious. In fact, it was basically a piece of surreal performance art. But its ability to make you laugh was part of its point. To protest is to resist. And so, sometimes, is to laugh. Otherwise, what the hell are we actually fighting for?”

‘Sam Haygarth: Climate Crisis’, Just the Tonic at the Mash House, 6.35pm, 1–25 August.

5 Care for the animals

“We’re experiencing the sixth mass extinction of life in the Earth’s history,” says theatremaker Tom Bailey of Mechanimal. “It’s estimated that the background extinction rate is up to 1,000 times faster than normal. What can we do? On a political level, enforce vast, immediate international wildlife conservation protection zones. Get off fossil fuels and limit the use of natural resources. Take plastic out of circulation, or massively invest in recycling technologies. On a personal level, make space for nature and cultivate plant/animal life in your garden. Revolutions start at home.”

Vigil, Summerhall, 1pm, 2–25 August.

6 Stay put

“Can there be an adequate replacement for a human being in the room?” asks Canadian theatre-

maker Anita Rochon who challenged herself to create a show on tour that needed no performers. “Yes, absolutely. With Pathetic Fallacy we have a human replacement for the central performer who is not there. We choose these performers for a bunch of reasons (super-talented, smart, funny, great following in Edinburgh) but the overarching one is that their body is close to the theatre. They don’t have to travel to perform. And their body is essential to the unfolding of the show.”

‘Pathetic Fallacy’, Canada Hub @ King’s Hall, 5pm, 31 July–25 August.

7 Educate and engage

“We want the science of the climate emergency to be at the heart of the conversation this Fringe,” says Patrick Dunne, who has coordinated a public reading of the entire 2018 IPCC Report on the impacts of global warming.

“We want to engage with audiences, while challenging artists to make this issue part of every show. The IPCC Report highlights the unprecedented changes necessary to limit the impacts of warming to a level below catastrophic. We need creativity to achieve a just and inclusive global change. Where better to start than in the Fringe?”

‘1.5 Degrees Live!’, Greenside @ Infirmary Street, 12–16 August.

8 Think global

“It feels important to be engaging with perspectives on the climate crisis from beyond our own context,” says Sam Pritchard, associate director (international) of London’s Royal Court, who is bringing together writers from Brazil, China, India, South Africa and Syria for an International Climate Crisis Residency. “We wanted to hear from artists thinking about this huge challenge in different ways. A global emergency felt like the perfect subject on which to engage them. Our work with the Edinburgh International Festival also felt like the perfect context to ask questions to which we don’t know the answer.”

International Climate Crisis Residency, The Studio, Festival Theatre Edinburgh, 12pm, 13–17 August.

9 Use technology

“We have reduced the print run of the Fringe Programme by 45,000 over the past two years and encourage audiences to swap their programmes with someone else,” says the Fringe Society’s Michelle Mangan. “Our #QuickFlyer campaign on social media allows performers to digitally pitch their shows, reducing the use of paper flyers. As another alternative to paper flyering, we have created an ‘Inspiration Machine’ enabling artists to record a ten-second video flyer for their show and provide audiences with a random suggestion at the click of a button.”

10 Enjoy yourself

In a bumper year for green-themed shows, there are many more where these came from. As well as all the BoxedIn Theatre shows at the Greenhouse Theatre, look out for Sea Sick (Canada Hub) about the threat to the ocean; When The Birds Come (Underbelly) about melting ice; and The Rubbish Show (The Space on North Bridge) about the fragile environment. For children, there’s Superhero Academy: Environmental Adventure (Pleasance) and comedy fans should check out Jon Long: Planet-Killing Machine (Underbelly) and Matt Winning: It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (Pleasance).