Without Walls TALKS: Creating a Sustainable Production by Francesca Baglione
16 January 2023
Francesca Baglione aka Miss High Leg Kick is an award-winning artist whose work combines a love of spectacle with a celebration of the everyday
I’m a live artist who specialises in outdoor work. When Without Walls asked me to contribute to write about environmental responsibility in outdoor art, my first thought was – why me? I know nothing, it’s too big a topic, can I write about my favourite perfume instead? Or about how I source my wigs? Or the muscle bodysuit we use in the show?
As it happens, any of these would bring me round to environmental responsibility and outdoor performance. My recent experience has profoundly challenged how I approach new outdoor work and I now see those small choices – about props, travel, etc. – in terms of their collective environmental impact.
The only effort towards reusability was my large collection of 1980s unitards (which have featured in dozens of shows).
Things have changed radically since I started leg-kicking in clubs in Soho 30 years ago. Back then, I didn’t think twice about buying a cheap blow up pool with 100 litres of custard to dive into – or throwing hundreds of plastic tennis balls into a crowd.
Like many other performers and producers, I have learned to adapt towards a more sustainable practice, to try to show audiences best practice in action and to see that as a positive force. With my latest outdoor show, Eau de Memoire (commissioned by Without Walls, Brighton Festival and Stockton International Riverside Festival) that meant the whole project was conceived in terms of how we could put on a complex interactive outdoor show while embracing environmental responsibility.
It was not straightforward. Eau de Memoire explores the rich experiences and memories evoked by smells. Artists present live ‘perfumances’ with smell-along fragrances on perfume cards, bringing memories of places and times to life.
The challenge of balancing what we wanted to achieve against the need for sustainability was daunting – and I have to thank Without Walls for introducing me to the Theatre Green Book, the toolkit for sustainable productions.
I highly recommend this for anyone wanting to rethink their approach. It proposes dividing sustainable productions into three standards – baseline, intermediate, and advanced. It gave us a framework and an achievable result – and informed all the choices we made.
To achieve the Theatre Green Book’s baseline standard we would have to ensure at least 50% of all materials were derived from sustainable sources and methods, with a minimum of 65% going on to have future lives, and where possible ensuring we were running sustainable technical processes and avoiding extra car journeys.
I’ve learned sustainability in outdoor arts means learning to ask yourself questions about every aspect of production, until it becomes second nature. I downloaded and filled in Theatre Green Book’s materials template as I went along. Our baseline target was eventually met in all the categories, largely because 100% of props and costumes will be re-used in future tours.
It took a surprising amount of effort to find a local print company who wanted to work with me on making the packs as environmentally friendly as possible.
The biggest challenge was how to distribute the perfume – a key part of the show – in an environmentally responsible but effective way. I worked with Bloom Perfumery who advised on sustainable packaging, storing of perfume etc and with Shadric Toop (designer) on cards.
It was worth the search – not only for the obvious (recycled paper) but also the packaging (glassine paper), paper stickers with biodegradable glue, delivery and more.
I used a range of websites to help me think about our carbon footprint. I did offset my miles (via carbonfootprint.com) however the most important realisation was that one single (hybrid) car journey to Stockton used the same amount of Co2 as the rest of the team travelling by train from all over the UK. It’s difficult to think of a way around this as the car transports all the props and costumes – but if there is one thing I have learned, there’s always a creative workaround.
Of course, some compromises are inevitable. It was unfortunate that the only way we could source a latex muscle bodysuit for Steve Nice was from China. However, we can at least ensure that we extract maximum value from it, and it certainly got the biggest audience reaction! This is hard to quantify on a spreadsheet, but you know it when you see it.
Performers and producers face multiple challenges. Outdoor work isn’t easy, you need to be ready for anything (including foul weather) and to do it all on a tight budget and timescale. It’s easy to see sustainability as another restriction, but when it works, it is thrilling for both us and for audiences. The satisfaction that comes from knowing you did everything you could to reduce its impact, and to demonstrate to audiences what is possible, is unbeatable.
What I’ve learned is that every action, however small, is worth it.
Eau de Memoire, Miss High Leg Kick at Stockton International Riverside Festival 2022 © Stockton Borough Council
Eau de Memoire, Miss High Leg Kick at Stockton International Riverside Festival 2022 © Lorna Rees
Eau de Memoire, Miss High Leg Kick at Brighton Festival 2022 © Richard De Dominici
Eau de Memoire Perfume Cards, Miss High Leg Kick courtesy the artist
Eau de Memoire, Miss High Leg Kick at Stockton International Riverside Festival 2022 courtest the artist