After Miss Julie at the Young Vic
In March – April 2012 the Young Vic staged a re-imagining of Strindberg's cruelest love story, After Miss Julie.
Set in England, July 1945, After Miss Julie takes place during the celebrations of the Labour Party's landslide election victory and follows events which, over the course of a single night, turn Miss Julie's world head over heels.
Adapted from the original by Patrick Marber and directed by Natalie Abrahami, After Miss Julie was the first of the Young Vic's "Classics for a New Climate" productions - a series designed to investigate approaches to making more ecologically sustainable theatre. In partnership with Julie's Bicycle, the Young Vic set out to reduce the energy used to produce After Miss Julie by 60% compared to previous shows staged in their Maria studio, within the boundaries of an average Maria studio production budget. The 60% target was prompted by the Mayor of London's target to reduce London's emissions by 60% before 2050, as set out in the 2008 Green Theatre Guide.
Post-production analysis showed that After Miss Julie achieved a 34% reduction in relative energy emissions per audience member, and a reduction of 68% in transport emissions, producing in an overall reduction of 38% towards their target 60%. The marketing department also achieved an overall 99% reduction in absolute emissions from paper use compared to previous Maria shows. This case study outlines the best practice developed by the Young Vic during the production process.
The Creative Team
The After Miss Julie creative team were all contracted on the basis that the show would be a pilot for low carbon practice, and as a result the director, Natalie Abrahami, and designer, Patrick Burnier were on board from the outset. Patrick adjusted his design brief to be more flexible, which made it possible for materials and props to be sourced locally and from second-hand sources, thus reducing transport and “embodied" carbon emissions (the carbon emissions resulting from the entire life cycle of the product or service).
In order to aid the process of sourcing suitable props and materials, the Young Vic hired the show's stage manager for an extra three weeks before the run began. The cast was also engaged in adopting environmentally sustainable actions, from cycling to rehearsals and starting an hour early to make use of daylight hours, to energy-saving measures like switching off lights and equipment when out of use.
Sustainability was discussed at every production meeting and every member of the creative, administrative, marketing and production departments had the opportunity to ask questions and discuss their role in the project with a sustainability expert from Julie's Bicycle, who was treated as a member of the creative team.
Maria Studio Building Services
The bulk of the production's energy emissions come from the Maria's share of the Young Vic's building services, of which the heating, cooling and ventilation of the auditorium is the most energy-intensive. The Young Vic's Theatre Manager consulted the original architects and the building management system engineers to better understand how the Maria studio was ventilated in relation to the seating layout, and they decided to avoid heating and cooling the space and ventilate with fresh air as much as possible. This was done by keeping the ventilation fans on at a low speed and relaxing the boundaries for the theatre's optimum environment settings, for example, setting them at 18 – 24 degrees, rather than a fixed optimum temperature of 22 degrees. These settings are being kept in the Maria studio on an ongoing basis.
Audiences were advised to bring extra layers “just in case" and, despite a warmer March and April than average, temperature checks at the control desk at the end of each performance proved the auditorium remained comfortable. Compared to the average previous show, building services energy in the Maria fell by 35% per audience member compared to the average.
Show lighting is the other major cause of production energy emissions. As a first step towards lower energy lighting practices, After Miss Julie's lighting designer focused on using the lighting stock that the Young Vic already had available in-house, to reduce transport emissions from external hires. This didn't include any specifically energy efficient bulbs or LEDs, but the Maria studio was fitted with new low energy house lights. The light fixtures are flexible, allowing for them to be reconfigured for future shows in the Maria and even the Young Vic's main space. Behaviour was also altered during the technical rehearsals and previews, switching to working lights from the show lights whenever there was a break.
Audience Electricity Impacts
Using Government figures about average annual domestic electricity consumption in London per person, energy consumption in the Maria was compared with what the audience would have used if they had stayed at home instead. This revealed that people use up to five times more energy at home than by coming to the theatre – a fascinating statistic that Julie's Bicycle is researching on an ongoing basis with other venues and regions.
After Miss Julie's rehearsals were held at Jerwood Space. The building managers at Jerwood measured and the use of heating and lighting was logged on the daily notes. Rehearsal hours were shifted from 10-6 to 9-5 to make best use of daylight.
Auditions and meetings held at the Young Vic also sought to reduce energy use by conscious switching off of lights and making the most of daylight hours.
Set Design and Construction
Productions in the Maria sometimes build back walls or other set elements, but After Miss Julie's designer avoided that and simply painted the studio's wall. The set was completed by the kitchen furniture props which were sourced second hand, while the floor and stairs were reused from a previous production. The only set element made from scratch was a large table and bench made from reclaimed scaffolding timbers. Production materials were estimated to be 5% of the carbon footprint of a theatre in the Green Theatre Guide (2008) and in After Miss Julie's case they were minimised to almost nothing through designing out and reusing set elements.
Props and Costumes
Estimating the embodied emissions of props and costumes is complex as it involves tracing the carbon emissions produced by every stage of manufacture and distribution of the objects, but reusing props and costumes brings substantial carbon emissions benefits, and anything that is hired or found could be said to have zero impact apart from transporting it. Prop types were specified as broadly as possible by Patrick Burnier, the designer, and extra stage management time was provided to allow props to be sourced more locally than usual.
Most of the costumes were vintage items sourced within London or the South of England and some items were hired. The only new costume was Julie's dress, which was created from a rare vintage bolt of 1940s fabric. The costume department works to avoid dry-cleaning and washes at 30C whenever possible.
No set, prop or costume elements went to landfill after the show. The table and bench were moved to another part of the building to provide furniture for the Young Vic's staff terrace. Props and costumes were mostly put away in storage for future shows, and any remaining materials were recycled and taken to a reclamation centre by Scenery Salvage.
Plug-in meters were used for the first time in the run-up to After Miss Julie to check the actual energy consumption of different appliances and settings within the costume department. The data collected during the After Miss Julie project will be used as a baseline against which to set improvement targets for future shows.
The combined impact of sourcing light and sound equipment from stock items, ordering items well in advance, reducing set construction and sourcing props and costumes locally was to reduce After Miss Julie's total transport emissions by 60% compared to the average.
Marketing paper use is responsible for less than 1% of the carbon emissions of a production. The marketing department took the step of sending press releases electronically and not printing flyers. Posters for display outside the theatre were still printed.
Paper use was further reduced by piloting a paperless ticketing system where reusable tokens were given to audience members to gain entry to the Maria. Drawbacks of this innovative approach were that the system took more time to manage before the show, but it was a very tangible expression of the production's efforts to reduce its environmental impacts.
The audience were also given the option of hiring their programme for a reduced price of 50p (compared to the full price of £3), handing it back after the performance to be reused. Programmes were printed on recycled paper with vegetable inks.
Finally, a concerted effort was made to use less paper in rehearsals. Various actions were taken including printing off as few scripts as possible, emailing calls and notes, using smaller fonts and reusing scrap paper.
Overall the carbon emissions from paper use were reduced by 99% from 124kg to 1.6kg.
The team wanted to avoid “preaching" to disinterested audience members, yet make information available and attractive to those who were willing to engage. The programme was peppered with information about the show's sustainability initiatives. The cast and staff biographies included information about their most interesting environmental challenge during the production, and graphical content from David McCandless (author of Information is Beautiful) was used to creatively depict the carbon footprint of various products and services.
At the end of the show audiences exited through a 'green walkway' painted with a mural of the production's actionsdesigned by a graphic artist. The design was painted onto the wall to minimise the environmental impact compared to vinyl stickers or boards.
Additional material was available on the Young Vic's website and in blogs.
Pre-performance communications with the audience highlighted the importance of audience travel and requested the audience find lower carbon modes of transport. One blogger commented on this and explained that they had been encouraged to walk from Covent Garden, something they would not usually do.
The carbon emissions of After Miss Julie were mostly calculated using the Julie's Bicycle IG Tools, available at: www.ig-tools.com. The exception was marketing paper use which was a bespoke calculation done by the Julie's Bicycle assessor who worked with the Young Vic on this sustainable production pilot.
The Theatre Manager coordinated the data collection from various departments, and gave members of staff responsibility for ongoing monitoring, and the results of the data collection for After Miss Julie will be used as a baseline against which future productions can set improvement targets.