26 October 2021

Ecodesign: a team effort

By Marianne Lavoie
Interviews with Daniel Brière, Karine Galarneau, Isabelle Gingras and Catherine Moisan

After L’enclos de Wabush and Conjuration, the Nouveau Théâtre Expérimental has embarked on a third eco-design support with Écoscéno for the play Les Morts. Directed by Daniel Brière and both written and performed by Alexis Martin, this creation is on view at Espace Libre until November 6, 2021.

Les morts proves that sustainable design does not limit creativity. On the contrary, you could say that it feeds it! The set is teeming with second-hand or certified eco-responsible materials. The design’s success is due to the motivated and resourceful team at the NTE. As such, we decided to ask different key players what they get out of their eco-design experience.


Daniel Brière – Director

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Marianne Lavoie (ML) : Why is engaging in an eco-responsible approach important for the NTE?

Daniel Brière (DB): The role of the NTE is to question the theater and our ways of doing things. As we always question how to write, play and put on a show, it made sense to think that design and production are part of the creation process. We are now asking questions such as how are we going to choose materials and make people work? What are the working conditions? The idea is to stop doing theater without thinking about all that the process involves.

We are citizens, we are aware of what is happening now, we cannot pretend we belong to another sphere. In the theater, everything was thrown away until quite recently and we purchased irresponsibly. We can no longer afford to do as we did before. Once this questioning is undertaken, it is impossible to go back. The collaboration with Écoscéno allowed professional responses to our concerns.

Once this questioning is undertaken, it is impossible to go back.

ML : What role do you see a director taking in an eco-design process?

DB : Even though we are a theater that operates in a very collegial fashion, the director still has some form of authority over certain decisions that must be made. It’s important that the desire and the sense of importance behind participating in an eco-responsible practice comes from the director. As the one in the role of communicator, it is essential. If at the start they make it clear that there will be an eco-design process, in a gentle and encouraging way, the whole team will follow. Moreover, from the contract, the producer must specify it and say it: “we are going to work in an eco-responsible way and that involves decisions and research to be done”.

The director is often at the heart of discussions with designers. They are in a way the guardian of eco-responsibility. They are the transmission belt between performers on stage, production management, technical management and design. We transmit a strong will to do things differently and the members of the team are infatuated by this desire. The role of the director is to say: “yes, and we have to give life to our ideas and our conceptions while always having in mind this desire for eco-responsibility”.

Isabelle Gingras – Production manager

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ML : Did moving towards second-hand building choices and materials impact the budget?

Isabelle Gingras (IG) : In ecodesign, we use materials that have labels specifying where they come from and how they are designed, such as FSC certified wood. These materials are often more expensive.

Before choosing these certified materials, there is the option of going for second-hand materials which are much cheaper, and sometimes even free. For this production, we mainly opted for this solution. Using equipment that is not new and sometimes needs to be changed before it can be used requires more work time.

In eco-design, we also want the set elements to be able to be reused for other projects. To ensure this reuse, we don’t assemble the materials in the same way and, again, this often takes more time. Thus, the workshop invoice has less material expenses and many more hours of work.

The work this approach takes from the production team should also not be underestimated. Even with the support of Écoscéno, this way of doing things requires a lot more research, time and resources.

However, the financial investment is devoted to craftsmen and their expertise rather than the purchase of materials, which corresponds to our values and our vision of eco-responsibility. In the end, the overall bill is not higher.

Essentially, working in eco-design didn’t change the overall budget envelope, but instead changed the way that money was spent.

ML : What advice would you give to a project manager / production manager who is exploring ecodesign for the first time?

IG : Eco-responsibility prompts us to renew our habits and challenges our creativity. Although this is a very rewarding process, the fact remains that it is a constraint in addition to those of meeting the needs of the text and the staging, the budget, the schedule, etc.

Thus, it is possible that by wishing to do too well, the team will tire and become demobilized. It is therefore important to assess the project globally, then to target elements that seem to us to be more decisive in terms of their ecological impact.

Also, since this process takes longer, it is recommended to start production earlier than usual in order to put less strain on the team. This advance also makes it possible to find certified or second-hand materials which are not always available at short notice.

Catherine Moisan – Technical director

ML : Can you tell us about one of the eco-design initiatives that you carried out on the project?

Catherine Moisan (CM) : The walls are the elements on which we have been able to group together the most eco-design approaches. First, we had all of the panels they’re composed from offered to us by Atelier Ovation where we did the decor. This allowed us to save on transportation since they were already there, in addition to using second-hand materials. Finally, in order to keep the potential for reuse, I made sure to avoid damaging the panels as much as possible, in addition to having the slats installed mechanically (nails, no glue). Half of the panels can be returned.

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The walls are mounted on recovered panels, with slats from Écoscéno and finished with chalk paint.

ML : How has integrating eco-responsibility and eco-design criteria changed your way of doing things?

CM : Ecodesign criteria now force me to think beyond the immediate needs of production. When I analyze the preliminary model, I try to find solutions from the equipment in the theater. If I have to build something new, I try to create the elements in a standard way so that I can keep them in the theater inventory. As a last resort, if it is a custom item, I think about the possibility of recovering materials and I use certified wood.

ML : What were the biggest obstacles you encountered in implementing ecodesign?

CM : The biggest obstacles I encountered during the eco-design of Les morts were the unforeseen events related to the chalk-based paint and tinted oil. As these were products that we did not know, we had difficulty finding the right application technique in addition to having had supply difficulties linked to the fact that these products are not in high demand.


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Slatted floor recovered from Écoscéno. Black natural oil finish.

Karine Galarneau – Set Designer

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ML : What did you think of your first experience in eco-design? Will it change the way you work?

Karine Galarneau (KG) : I loved my experience in eco-design; in addition to being a way of working that is coherent with the world in which we live, I found that it added to the creative process, and that it allowed the scenography to be more anchored in the environment in which it is deploys. Ecodesign is to be put at the heart of my next designs, although I am aware that it takes a whole team mobilized as much in creation as in production to get there.

ML : What are you most proud of?

KG : All the recovery of furniture and objects that goes with the theme of the piece: bringing the dead to life on stage. The books are from Jean-Pierre Ronfard’s library of which the NTE is guardian, I brought a lot of objects that I inherited from my grandparents, the central carpet comes from Daniel’s, the raincoat comes from Alexis’s home, etc. I like that this set is inhabited by the real experience of objects.

ML : Can you tell us about one of the eco-design initiatives that you carried out on the project?

KG : When we were looking at the options for the floor, a large quantity of wood slats were available at Écoscéno. We decided to not only use them for the floor, but also for the walls. We found a finish and a way to put them together that made it look like two different materials; large oiled planks for the floor and mat black wall paneling for the walls. I am very happy with the result (and in addition, the floor cracks for real!)


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© Marlène Gélineau-Payette

Circularization of resources

The great strength of this eco-design lies in its circularity. Almost all of the material used for the scenography will have at least two lives. That is to say that most of the elements are made from second-hand materials (floor, walls, etc.), or will be reused after the play (accessories, floorboards, etc.). In fact, only a tiny fraction of the props and sets are new purchases that will end up in landfill. The only new decor elements that cannot be salvaged are made from less toxic resources, such as VOC-free paint, or produced in an environmentally responsible manner such as FSC wood.

For example, the oiled finish chosen for the ecodesign enhanced the material and inspired future uses. The panels recovered from Atelier Ovation and saved from landfill still have a high potential for reuse and will undoubtedly be transformed for a new creation in the coming months. Ecodesign took flexibility, time and creativity. The result is a production almost entirely free of direct waste and a scenography that’s a real feast for the eyes!