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Eco Drama - inspiring young people and communities through nature

Eco Drama's Uprooted Project

Eco Drama's Artistic Director, Emily Reid, reveals how they are aiming to capture the imaginations of primary school children across Glasgow through their upcoming Uprooted tour.

Tell us a bit about the history of Eco Drama?

After graduating with a BA in Contemporary Theatre Practice at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, I founded Eco Drama in 2007 as a creative response to the local and global ecological challenges we find ourselves facing. It took a year and a half of setting up, preparation and finding collaborators before our first production The Isle of Egg was performed - quite fittingly, on the real island of Eigg in May 2009. An ecological fable inspired by the true story of Eigg, a beautiful, self-sustainable island off the west coast of Scotland, this production was an uplifting story about climate change, positive thinking and the power of community spirit.

Since then the company has grown and produced theatre productions, workshops and creative learning projects in schools, nurseries, theatres, community venues and festivals across Scotland.

Our aim is to devise meaningful creative learning projects and theatre productions that inspire children, young people and wider communities about our amazing natural world.

Past productions also include The Forgotten Orchard and The Worm-An Underground Adventure, performed in the 2015 Puppet Animation Festival and 2014 Edinburgh Fringe, receiving 5 star reviews.

Our current creative learning project Out to Play has seen drama artist Ben Mali Macfadyen collaborate with four partner primary schools in Glasgow to explore the role of drama and storytelling within outdoor learning. Our current production Uprooted, is a unique outdoor theatre experience for children and families, fusing live performance, music and living plants with innovative stage design. This show will be on tour in August 2015 across various Glasgow venues including the Merchant City Festival, Barrhead Water Works, Kilmardinny House and the Children’s Wood at North Kelvin Meadow.

We aim to be seen as positive green role models by the children and young people we work with, and have a sustainability ethos at the heart of all we do. For example, we tour to venues in a van run on recycled vegetable oil, and more recently have begun touring our workshop programme in an electric car.

We believe that joining forces with experts in the fields of outdoor learning, horticulture and science strengthens the quality and sustainability of our performances and projects, and we are always looking for ideas to connect the theatre experience with practical action. For example as part of The Forgotten Orchard theatre experience, we offer Orchard Training Workshops and Scottish apple trees to interested teachers, and The Worm and Worm Inspectors productions encourage schools to set up their own wormery.

Where did the idea for Uprooted come from?

The idea for Uprooted came back in 2013 whilst on tour with The Forgotten Orchard around inner city Glasgow schools. We saw that many schools had only concrete playgrounds or bare spaces outside their schools grounds, and we also found a common theme emerging when schools were offered the chance to grow their own school orchard - “we’d love to but we don’t have any green space”.

In The Forgotten Orchard, the idea of growing in creative containers is touched on, planting strawberries in an old pair of boots, and we consistently found this idea went down very well with children, really capturing their imaginations. We wanted to develop this idea further and inspire the idea that with a little imagination, it is possible to grow almost anywhere. And so an idea for a ‘travelling garden’ emerged, with a main aim to bring a unique touring garden theatre show to Glasgow school playgrounds.

It was on searching Google that we came across Tanja Beer, a Set Designer based in Australia, and we read with fascination about her work with The Living Stage, a recyclable, biodegradable and edible theatre set that had launched at the Castlemain Festival in Australia. We wrote her a letter in hope that she might be interested in a future collaboration, and couldn’t believe our luck to discover that Tanja would be based in the UK during 2014-15 whilst undertaking her Phd investigating ecological design for performance. A meeting in Manchester at the Sustainable Design Conference hosted by Julies Bicycle ensued, and the Uprooted/Living Stage collaboration began, developing quite organically from here.

The show’s title, Uprooted, was chosen soon after, a rich starting point from which to start devising the show.

What was the inspiration behind creating Scotland’s first Living Stage for the production?

Upon learning of Tanja’s work and on meeting her, there was an instant synergy between our values for theatre making and in embedding sustainability into the heart of our projects. Eco Drama had been keen to explore sustainable set design in much greater depth than what we had been doing previously, and Tanja’s background and expertise in this area felt like the ideal collaboration in order to make a truly sustainable production happen. We were really delighted to have discovered a set designer who was not only creating theatre shows working with living plants, but who was already making sustainable theatre designs and had developed a way of collaborating with communities to make this happen.

Since making its debut at the 2013 Castlemaine State Festival (Australia), The Living Stage has successfully travelled to Cardiff  as part of the Trans-Plantable Living Room by Green Stage, and continues to generate interest all over the world. Uprooted will be the first created in Scotland, the first designed specifically for children, and the first Living Stage to tour.

"It’s all about making ecological sustainability fun and inviting audiences to have a ‘nibble at the stage’. Moving beyond recycling and efficiencies, The Living Stage considers how scenographers can engage with communities to play a central role in environmental advocacy and education. The project explores the role of the stage designer as an activist and facilitator of change in a world of increasing global food security.” - ecoscenography.com

From March – June 2015 Eco Drama has been collaborating with four partner Glasgow Primary schools on our Out to Play project, and we wanted to ensure that the Living Stage felt like it was theirs from the very start. To make this happen the children took part in planting sessions with a local Permaculturist Katie Lambert of Urban Roots to grow the Living Stage, and also took part in design sessions to brainstorm what the set could look like and what the story could be. Their ideas have contributed to the creative process for Uprooted, and have found their way into the final set design, so that when the children watch the performances of Uprooted, they can recognise not only the plants that they helped to grow, but their own ideas brought to life in the story and set design.

Were there any unforeseen challenges involved in creating a set made entirely of locally sourced and reclaimed materials?

So far all is going to plan and every set piece has been locally sourced from charity shops, junk yards or found. The plants are also growing well, having now been collected from the four primary schools, and stored in a polytunnel over the summer holidays so we can look after them. We’ve started to see the plants in the show as ‘co-performers’ and they have really needed much care, attention and nurturing throughout the process. Working with plants has made us slow down, and also realise that you can’t hurry nature to fit your production schedule. The plants will be there on stage on the day, and we can only just hope that they will be in bloom.

At the time of writing we are in the midst of creating our theatre set, so perhaps come long to our seminar at the Edinburgh Fringe in August where we will be sharing our experiences of creating a sustainable theatre set and will have by that point completed the making process:

Fringe Seminar Event: Ecology & Theatre-Making: Sharing’s from the Team behind Uprooted and the Living Stage. Date: Friday 21 August 2.30-4pm (also a Green Tease Edinburgh Event)
Full details can be found on the Eco Drama website.

  • The Living Stage  
  • The early stages of planting the Living Stage  
  • Corpus Christi P5s planting the Living Stage  
  • Creating a willow doorway  
  • The Forgotten Orchard  
  • The Worm - what's that, a tiny hat  
  • Eco Drama's Magic Van on Islay  
  • Eco Drama's Uprooted Project  

    Where are you off to on your Uprooted summer tour and what’s going to happen to the Living Stage after the tour?

    Uprooted will tour throughout August 2015 to the following venues:

    Uprooted Tour Dates: August 2015

    • Merchant City Festival, Greyfriars Garden, Shuttle Street, Glasgow, G1 1QA, Saturday 1 August, 12noon & 3pm
. Tickets: Free, donations welcomed. Limited capacity.
    • Water Works, Glasgow Road, Barrhead, G78 1DT, Wednesday 5th August, 11am & 2pm. 
Tickets: Free event
    • Kilmardinny House, Kilmardinny Avenue, Bearsden, Glasgow, G61 3NN, Friday 7 August, 11am & 2pm
. Tickets: £3.00. Bookings: 0141 777 3143 edlct.bookings@eastdunbarton.gov.uk
    • The Children’s Wood, North Kelvin Meadow, located in between Clouston Street and Kelbourne Street, Glasgow’s West End, Sunday 23 August, 1pm. 
Tickets: Free, to book email: childrenswood@hotmail.com
    • Primary Schools Tour 17 – 27 August, Various schools across Glasgow.

    At the end of its tour, The Living Stage will return to the main Glasgow primary school where it was grown, with set pieces becoming their planters, its plants their food and its waste their compost, turning an inner-city playground into an enticing, unique garden. We will also leave something behind at each of the touring locations – a piece of the set to re-plant in the soil of that venue or area of land. In this respect we hope to have achieved our goal of creating a zero waste, sustainable theatre production.

    Do you have any other projects in the pipeline for 2015?

    We have two upcoming CPD events…

    The company will be exploring ways of embedding sustainability into the heart of the artistic process throughout the creation of Uprooted, and will be sharing best practice from the project as part of the Edinburgh Fringe 2015.

    Fringe Seminar Event: Ecology & Theatre-Making: Sharing’s from the Team behind Uprooted and the Living Stage

    Date: Friday 21 August 2.30-4pm (also a Green Tease Edinburgh Event)

    We are also hosting CPD Workshops for Primary Teachers across Glasgow in September, sharing best practice from our Out to Play project and also launching our Out to Play Resource Pack, full of tried and tested ideas on utilising drama and storytelling in outdoor learning contexts.

    More info

    Find Eco Drama's website at ecodrama.co.uk

    Eco Drama's Uprooted project received support through Creative Scotland's Open Project fund.

    Update October 2015

    See how they got on in this short documentary about the making of Uprooted and Out To Play:

    This article was published on 14 Jul 2015