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Rewriting the Script: Theatre Playwriting Practice and the Design of an Ecological, Sustainable Theatre

Research Lunch – Hamish Muir

  • 8 January 2021
  • 12:00 – 1:00 pm
  • Online Event

Theatre set designs are bespoke, conglomerated, sculptural constructions that are difficult to reuse. They can become waste material ending in landfill or incineration plants. This paper looks at how theatre can become more environmentally sustainable, particularly in the consideration of how theatre can move towards a circular economy. The paper considers this pragmatic issue from a multi-disciplinary perspective and through a practice of playwriting. Moving the theatre industry towards a circular economy is a complex shift to do with issues such as intellectual property, storage, ephemerality, and aesthetic expectation. This complexity suggests a need to redesign the system of theatre or the creation of a new form of theatre.

The paper questions whether the play-script can play a role in this. Playwriting exists at the inception of conventional forms of theatre and so it poses a conceptual opportunity to consider the ethical meaning of what form and function of theatre is produced, and whether that meaning is incongruous with the themes or positions within the drama. This extends the narrative vision on the page to include the material construction on the stage, and characterises theatre as a ‘total art’ encapsulating both the stage and backstage. Literary studies have documented play-scripts in the context of the history of literary movements but there is limited research that connects the form, context, and design of a play-script as a practice to induce performance. Dallas J. Baker identifies that ‘scholars of writing for performance have tended to focus on live performance, using scripts merely as reference points’ rather than ‘writing as a distinct creative and research practice,’. The paper will look at examples of different playwriting and creative writing practices and question if they have an impact on the type of theatre that is produced. By considering the linguistic, literary, and poetic aspects of the play-script and relating them to the contrasting issues of technical, pragmatic, and material construction, it will be suggested that sustainable theatre must communicate not only through what it stages but also the way in which it stages performance.

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Image: Set of play-script experiments (2019) written and illustrated by Hamish Muir

About the speaker

  • Headshot of Hamish Muir

    Hamish is a PhD researcher investigating sustainable and ecological theatre at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. Hamish’s research focuses on playwriting and waste – particularly the role of the script in its relationship with the production of sustainable theatre and how waste can be used to question assumptions of theatre practices, aesthetics and meaning. His background is in civil and environmental engineering at Imperial College and art history at Christie’s Education, associated with the University of Glasgow. Hamish has worked at several museums and auction houses in London and Edinburgh. He is also an independent artist, playwright and sustainability consultant. In 2017, Hamish established the production studio Arctic Lion, which creates sustainable, experimental performance (https://www.arcticlionart.co.uk).