Apr 16, 2024

The Lír Commits to Sustainable Practices Under Theatre Green Book

"The show doesn't end at the get out."

Laura O'CallaghanTheatre Editor

The endeavour to forefront environmental awareness in the public eye through art was taken on by the creative team at The Lír this March. Running from Saturday, March 23rd to Wednesday, March 27th, The Lír produced an ambitious take on Simon Stephens’ Punk Rock. At face value, the production is not what you’d imagine sustainable theatre to look like; slap-dash and interesting, and that was key. Nothing in the finished product gave way to the months of planning, manpower and resources that went into producing this particular play. Sticking to the commitment made in The Lír’s Sustainability Policy and Action Plan, at every stage this production abided by the Theatre Green Book’s baseline standard, creating a spectacular show with sustainability at its core.

The University Times sat down with Tom Creed, the director of Punk Rock, Catherine Fay, the production’s costume designer, and Sinéad Wallace, the Lír’s acting sustainability manager, to discuss the reality of executing a successful Green Book show. The Theatre Green Book is an initiative set out in three volumes to foster a circular economy in theatre-making. Though already implemented in the UK’s three national theatres, this will be the first production in Ireland piloting the baseline standard of the Green Book. Sinéad Wallace described the initial review and assessment process she undertook in 2023, “in those eight months we started by looking at other schools and similar organisations and looking at their policies and how established they were”.

The discovery of the Theatre Green Book during this review period was an invaluable one, and meant that The Lír could immediately get stuck into the implementation stage of their sustainability ambitions, “we had essentially a guidebook for how we could do it”. With a willingness to jump right in and work out the kinks as they arose, Wallace and the team began to apply the Green Book structure to working practices at the Lír.


Punk Rock was not the obvious first choice for a Green Book pilot show at The Lír, but it was the right choice. Originally performed in The Royal Exchange in Manchester back in 2009, the play explores the innumerable pressures facing a group of students in a fee-paying school as they prepare for their mock exams. A far cry from Paradise, The National Theatre’s exemplum for a Green Book show in action, eco-anxiety is not the primary, nor even a secondary concern of the plot. Director Tom Creed addressed this disconnect between content and working practices saying, “we also thought, given that this was going to be the first sustainable show, you know, let’s maybe not do a show about environmental collapse”. With a fully realised set, a study room with lived-in shelves and a stark white ceiling with fluorescents that would transport you straight back to your school days, Creed and set designer Paul O’Mahony displayed the versatility of the Green Book for Irish theatre makers. The slick production shows “that you can make a show and actually you don’t have to compromise on what you’re trying to achieve aesthetically and do it within these parameters which are so important”.

Creed recalled various pieces he saw at the Avignon festival last July which moulded the traditional structures of live performance to allow for an eco-dimension. Softening the edges of expectation an audience member is predisposed to when entering the theatre, the space itself was stripped back, “there was a whole series of performances that happened in nature”. Though favourable weather is a slight pipe dream for the Irish, the work done at Avignon marks another way creative vision can be preserved while also engaging with the natural environment in theatre.  

The Lír has a responsibility to guide their students and their audiences on this journey to realise a sustainable future in theatre. Creed talked about the incredible capacity shown by the students working on Punk Rock to absorb this shift in practices, “and that’s the crucial thing, this is how we embed those practices in the future of Irish theatre and world theatre, it’s by training the next generation of technicians and costume supervisors and scenic painters to internalise those things.” Wallace also speaks to the importance of prioritising the people, the theatre makers, to maintain the future of this initiative, “It’s very much that idea of a circularity but with people at the centre and the idea of human sustainability running alongside environmental sustainability”. 

Theatre is not a root cause of the climate crisis. But the practices previously depended upon, the ‘do it now’ build things up from scratch just to tear them apart, practises, have engaged with the root causes. To feel out of depth in the face of affecting any change at all this late in the game and in such a tangential area as the theatre industry is natural. Wallace speaks to this insecurity and describes how the power of theatre has always resided in story tellers’ tendency to focus on a moment where time explodes, “so much great theatre is written about that moment of transition from thinking in a traditional way to thinking in a new way about a topic…So a lot of work that already exists can already be told through the lens of climate activism or through this moment in time, this climate crisis and how we respond”.

Along with a leap of faith and creative diligence, all of these ambitions desperately need investment. Catherine Fay, Punk Rock’s costume designer, stressed the necessity of investment as well as “space and time” in completing the circuit of a sustainable economy. You can have the best makers in the world to build and work sustainably, but Fay points out that the money must be available to hire these workers. Investment is the key to ensuring that “the show doesn’t end at the Get Out”, as Wallace puts it, and that materials will go on to be carefully taken apart and reused countless times over. Creed acknowledged that with current practices we’ve ended up in “a theatrical equivalent to fast fashion” where it’s cheaper to throw things out than to keep them. The question now is “how do we affect that kind of mind shift practically?” This production’s response: investing our time, care, and funding into the future of sustainable theatre.

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