What do you dream of, out there on the other side of crisis?
Green Programming is important to HOME’s sustainability efforts and we’re actively seeking out and producing events and activities that raise awareness of issues of sustainability, social responsibility and the environment.
As part of our Homemakers programme commissioned during COVID-19 lockdown, METIS created Love Letters to a Liveable Future. We spoke to Director Zoë Svendsen to find out more about the work and the company’s approach to environmentally sustainable theatre making.
Hi Zoë, could you tell us a little bit about METIS and Love Letters to a Liveable Future?
METIS is a small company, more like a network of artists, focused on making projects that explore what it means to be alive now – and that’s meant thinking about climate crisis and capitalism.
The show is about imagining alternative futures to one in which we irreversibly destroy the planet! There are so many brilliant and ingenious ideas out there about how to do things differently, but it can be hard to imagine how it would really work – so we have set out to explore what it would be like.
Two previous works – one a participatory performance installation at the Barbican in 2018, and a video installation for the Oslo Architecture Triennale 2019 – started us on this journey of imagining alternative futures. We are now taking everything we’ve learnt from the extraordinary researchers, artists and wider public and recombining the ingredients for Love Letters. The format of the future show is going to be live improvisation, building on all these stories. The Love Letters postcard pack [sent to Homemakers audiences] is part of that collaborative process – imagining and sharing what a liveable future might be like. The audience inspirations will become part of the show.
The brilliant thing is that the more time we spend imagining together, the more we like the idea of the world we are exploring. What can feel like giving stuff up, and feel a bit joyless, actually, when you change the whole system, starts to open up loads of potential.
Is sustainability something you’ve always considered in your practice?
Ten years ago we did a show that explored climate crisis through creating a kind of emergency planning exercise. That got us started on making interactive work about the systems that we live in, and how we feel about them. METIS’s shows in some ways have always been about how hard it is to live, in this culture, by what you believe. The work has been about trying to work out how to do things differently, and what the obstacles are. Also, no one can do much on their own.
What’s really exciting is that more and more theatres care about these kinds of questions, which makes it easier to make the work in a more sustainable way. Often, it is about how much time you have to think through more ingenious ways of achieving what you want, and time is often in short supply when funding isn’t there for it. So it isn’t about judging, but trying to pay attention and develop a conversation.
How have you had to adapt your working to create a show during lockdown and will you be continuing with any of these new practices moving forwards?
Yes! It has been strange to try to ‘meet’ without meeting. Suddenly in lockdown many of us found ourselves part of a low-car, low-pollution neighbourhood, networked together through mutual aid initiatives, living on a kind of universal basic income from the government, more in tune with our local environments. It has been very temporary, and in the context of very difficult – and different – experiences financially, socially, healthwise and in terms of time. But crucially it sets a precedent.
For the show itself, it has made us aware of how we could reach audiences with mobility issues or who find being in a theatre stressful – so although we really want it to be a live experience, in post-lockdown times, we are exploring how we might also be able to invite an audience to tune from home.
At HOME we’re part of Manchester Arts Sustainability Team (MAST), a consortium of arts venues and organisations from across Greater Manchester working together to reduce our carbon impact and now we’re collectively thinking about green recovery. How can venues and programmers collaborate with artists and creatives like you to green theatre-making and performance?
There’s so much we can do together. I think the first step is opening up the conversation, making sustainability a normal part of the making and creating process. I also think it is about asking questions about what kinds of stories are being told, who the audience is, how the making process works. I think opening up a conversation that enables people to see how green recovery could enable us to live better lives – healthier, more connected, more enjoyable – is really important. Sometimes I think people see green issues as a kind of ‘luxury’ that ordinary people can’t afford, or as a worthy cause that’s going to take away peoples’ fun – or people want it, but it just feels impossible. But when we start working together – it both feels more pleasurable, and more possible – and about creating a world that benefits everyone.
— Metis Projects (@MetisProjects) October 1, 2019
What does a liveable future look like to you and how do we get there?
Ultimately, the only thing that will make the future liveable is to end all carbon emissions and environmentally destructive practices, so that people and animals and plants can flourish. But it needs an interconnected international, national, regional, local and individual re-alignment of fundamental priorities. And that means changing how we relate to one another. The Black Lives Matter movement leads the way – racial justice is environmental justice. There is a lot of work to be done, and a lot of resistance from many of those who have benefited from the fossil-fuel dependent white supremacist system that has ruled for centuries.
Each of us in the project has our own particular dreams of a liveable future. They overlap, but we aren’t imagining just one utopia. A future that’s liveable isn’t perfect – it is full of different ways of approaching life, some of which contradict each other. But I guess what makes it liveable is that this is possible, that we listen to one another and the world around us, and keep going with that work of playing together, even when the going gets tough. And this is also where we can start – not with a fix-all solution, but with a process – the process and pleasure of imagining otherwise.
Love Letters to a Liveable Future had a limited number of postcards which sold out, you can find out about the experience here.
Love Letters to a Liveable Future is A Cambridge Junction & Artsadmin Homemakers commission with support from Season for Change.
Collaborators: Zoë Svendsen with Anna-Maria Nabirye, Charlie Folorunsho, Jess Mabel Jones, Lucy Wray, Nicky Childs, Shôn Dale-Jones, Stefanie Müller and Tom Ross-Williams.
Find out more about Season for Change here
To learn more about HOME’s commitment to environmental sustainability visit homemcr.org/green