© Yanick Macdonald
Welcome to the mind of an Écoscéno ecologist!
I’m Marianne. I studied scenography and have been part of the Écoscéno team since January 2020. I am also a true millennial, which means that I grew up with the zeal to reuse ziploc bags and the determination to carry my groceries without a bag, even if it means overstuffing my coat and pockets. I am, as a matter of fact, a vegetarian. I am the spitting image of my generation: trying to save the planet one step at a time has been a given since childhood.
Why move from design to the environment?
Although my background is in stage design, I’ve branched off and reoriented myself towards eco-responsibility. This change is the consequence of a disillusionment that I experienced with my practice a few years ago – a disillusionment that turned into a desire to actively participate in change.
My wake-up call took place during the first theatrical teardown I attended. For those familiar with the scenic world, I’m sure I don’t need to explain the tragic fate of set and stage materials after a production. For others: consider that the majority of the majestic scenery you have admired is headed for landfills. I was overwhelmed by this sad reality, especially considering the very ephemeral nature of the sets. The worst part? Knowing that during this first teardown, I was the cause of all this waste. While I was drawing my set ideas on reused paper sheets, I hadn’t thought about the fate of the decor after the curtains had closed. Much like the recycling bin that lessens our guilt, I convinced myself the items would be kept or sorted, somehow – as if there was a set support system. I hadn’t realized then that we, the designers, participate in this system of consumption and have an important role to play in it. Designers must have a global vision and understand the mechanics behind the life of sets to allow them a second life.
How do we change the designer’s practice?
Changing your individual actions is one thing, but changing how your discipline works is another. In the wake of the 2019 collective revolt, embodied by Greta Thunberg’s climate strike movement, the Pact for Transition, and the Marches for the Earth, I jumped into change with both feet. I made a bet that yes, our environment can change. To do this, I started a master’s degree in Environmental Design to conduct research, and I work to develop initiatives with Écoscéno. I am fortunate to be at the forefront of the implementation of circular economy and ecodesign projects applied to the theater. However, to achieve real global change, I believe it’s important to share inspiring examples first and then dialogue.
Change by example
Eco-anxiety can be crippling. To turn this sense of helplessness into action, I suggest setting aside scare-mongering and defeatist rhetoric first. Rather, I propose to raise awareness about initiatives that are being enacted, because there are so many of them growing all around us.
Here are two examples that inspire me on a daily basis, made by creative and resourceful humans:
This monarch sanctuary is an office tower that will soon flourish in the middle of Manhattan. The building’s facade is designed to serve as a monarch vivarium. It provides an ideal environment for these migrating butterflies, in addition to acting as a nursery to increase their population. On the one hand, this project is gripping because it combines creativity and utility in responding to the declining monarch population. On the other hand, this original solution demonstrates how environmental design doesn’t have to come at the cost of function or comfort. On the contrary, this proximity to nature will improve the mental health of workers.
Closer to our field, here is The Living Stage. Australian scenographer Tanja Beer has designed a set using second-hand materials, with the goal of being “recyclable, compostable and edible”. What’s more, the production had the mission of educating its community on gardening and the origin of food. During the performance, the set design was partly harvested and consumed by the audience, and the remaining vegetables were redistributed to community gardens. The set was therefore designed according to the existing materials available and the needs of the community.
The Monarch Sanctuary and the scenography by Tanja Beer illustrate how human creative genius can build the world of tomorrow! These are examples of regenerative designs, meaning they give back to their ecosystem and their community. In the theatrical world, eco-responsible initiatives are thriving, whether it is the Broadway Green Alliance in the United States, the Festival d’Aix en Provence, or Fringe in Scotland. They demonstrate the opportunity to actively participate in change. My message for you is: be that change!
Change through dialogue
For change to be holistic, it must begin with collaboration. By this I mean collaboration with its community of practice and its social community. Then you need openness. A personal openness, to be able to accept new and changing realities, and a collective openness to rethink the world of tomorrow.
One asset of my young millennial age is that I have a lot to learn. And to get there, I am speaking to you, dear artisans of the cultural milieu. To all of you with years of experience in the field, how can we learn from your wisdom? Do you have any solutions and ideas to suggest? Techniques to share with the community? We would all benefit from learning from your expertise.
Contact me. Tell me about your experience and I will share it with the community. Whether you have a sustainable practice or are unsure of where to start, I want to hear and understand you. Let’s build resilience together!