Oli Savage is the artistic director of BoxedIn Theatre, a company formed by a group of friends at University, who have always tried to do things a little differently.  No more so that at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, where they will build and run the Fringe’s first ever zero waste venue, The Greenhouse.

The Edinburgh Fringe is the biggest arts festival in the world, providing opportunities to everyone from student theatre companies to solo performers, and more established theatre makers from all over the world.  But while it’s widely recognised as a vitally important event for the arts, in recent years Fringe goers have become ever more concerned about the festival’s impact on the environment; take short walk down the Royal Mile in August and you’ll find your hands stuffed full of flyers, many of which you’ll put straight in the bin.

“If every show just prints the minimum recommended number of flyers, that’s three and half tonnes of paper waste,” says Oli, “and I don’t know many shows that only print the minimum.” That was one of the reasons BoxedIn desperately wanted to make a difference, Oli has spent the last four years studying at St. Andrews, “Scotland is known for it’s cultural and natural heritage, but we’ve reached a bit of dichotomy where the Fringe is so wasteful it could be damaging the environment, and we don’t think that needs to be the case.”

BoxedIn itself was set up to explore issues of accessibility to theatre using innovation in space and place, utilising site-specific work in unusual locations.  Their first production, Romeo & Juliet was a fully immersive experience staged in a nightclub with a retractable wall, while Wood, which Oli co-wrote and directed, toured Fringe’s across the UK.  They’ve also staged works in medical labs, and toured a production to rural locations in the UK and Ireland, which they performed out of the back of a van.

we knew we wanted to focus on sustainability, but for us making a show about the environment just wasn’t enough

“I don’t think anyone is surprised by what we do anymore,” laughs Oli, “we knew we wanted to focus on sustainability, but for us making a show about the environment just wasn’t enough, we wanted to really put our money where our mouth is and say these shows are about the environment, but that means nothing without the whole.”

That whole is The Greenhouse, Edinburgh Fringe’s first and only zero waste venue.  Oli explains, “everything used to build the venue is found, recycled or upclycled, basically it all had a life before and would have ended up in the bin otherwise.”

An artists impression of The Greenhouse
An artists impression of The Greenhouse

The main skeleton of the greenhouse will be built from lighting truss, and inside will be kitted out with reclaimed construction timber and pallet wood, Oli says they had a nearby timber yard that was closing down, which was a god-send.  The roof is completely clear, meaning the whole venue will be naturally lit, and there will be no need for electricity.

“Once you start saying its zero waste, you just need to stick to it,” says Oli “because we went in with that mindset, it was just always on our mind, and it was hard, but not quite as hard as you might think. Yes, we had to jump through hoops getting all the proper permits and certificates, but we just kept redesigning until we had a space that worked for everyone, the truth is necessity breads creativity.”

most student productions are used to having to find costumes from the backs of their own wardrobes

The eight productions that will perform at The Greenhouse, now all associate artists of BoxedIn, also had to think about how they would make their shows without waste, “that wasn’t so difficult either” admits Oli, “most student productions are used to having to find costumes from the backs of their own wardrobes, or props from a loft or garage, so it hasn’t been a big step change for them to do it at The Greenhouse.”

The Greenhouse, or it’s shows, won’t be printing any flyers to hand out on the streets of Edinburgh either, instead they will rely entirely on social media, online marketing and good old-fashioned word of mouth.

The challenge for The Greenhouse, which will take a week and half to build, was finding funding and a location.  Initially they had hoped to work with Edinburgh University, but when that fell through due to cost, they found a new venue at Dynamic Earth.  The team reached out to corporate sponsors and have also partnered with Clean Water Waves, “we’re excited to be showcasing the work they do, and the way they create clean water in a sustainable way” says Oli.

every ticket at The Greenhouse will be capped at £5, making the productions as affordable as possible

BoxedIn theatre say they want to create discussion and debate about sustainability, rather than try to force it upon anyone, as well as the venue they’ll also run workshops and outreach projects to help everyone, not just theatre makers, think about how they can live their lives more sustainability.  They haven’t forgotten about their aims of accessibility either says Oli, “every ticket at The Greenhouse will be capped at £5, making the productions as affordable as possible.”

The eight shows which run at The Greenhouse throughout the Fringe will be comprised of everything from a solo dance piece, to comedy and a musical, and every one of them, along with the venue that houses them, will be completely zero waste.  Oli says, “We’ll produce a report at the end saying how we did, but I think the key thing will be, if a bunch of students can build a venue and stage eight shows in a completely sustainable way, why can’t the big theatre companies do the same?”

The Greenhouse is open from 2nd – 26th August and details of all the productions can be found here.

Greg is an award-winning writer with a huge passion for theatre. He has appeared on stage, as well as having directed several plays in his native Scotland. Greg is the founder and editor of Theatre Weekly

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