A Coffee Cup on a Far Away Shore

Whisper #171

Heledd Gwynn is an actor working at the RSC for the first time, playing Ariel in The Tempest. Originally from Pembrokeshire, Heledd loves gardening, art, working with her hands and most of all - the sea.

The first week of any rehearsal process is key: it’s when you meet your fellow crew, get to know the theatre company, and deepdive into the the world of the play in which you’ll live for the next pocket of time.

It wasn’t long into the first week of The Tempest rehearsals before I felt this world where we’d be living was a special one. A major part of this was the thought and space given to our environmental impact and our relationship with the (real) world outside of the play. We realised this production had sustainability at its core, and the care was sincere.

This may not be surprising, considering the captain at the helm of our show. Elizabeth our director has a Masters in Environmental Humanities, has co-written a book about plays dealing with the climate crisis, and has an inspiring outlook on how theatre can ask the questions needed to drive the global conversation around the climate emergency.

A first for me is that we are a Theatre Green Book production. For those of us new to this, it means that we are adhering to set standards of sustainability, from set design to rehearsal practices.

Heledd Gwynn and the company of The Tempest in the rehearsal room

We started with the important basics. We were encouraged to do our bit by using reusable water bottles and coffee cups (thankfully a widely used practice nowadays in theatre, considering the tea/coffee consumption...). We also have green representatives within the company which gives the environmental conversation a weight in the rehearsal room that feels long overdue.

We have been rehearsing in Stratford, so most of our company have jumped ship from our usual homes and moved here for the winter. There have been many positives to this; waking up to a picture postcard snow scene this December being one of my highlights. However, the main advantage is that our commutes are – well - manageable to say the least. Most of our company have a one-minute walk to work, and the few who are further out are on their bikes. Not a car in sight. Environmentally, as well as mentally, it’s a positive.

This isn’t the only sustainable upside to Stratford: the Zero Waste shop has been a regular stop for essentials; and the rubbish from our production has been donated by Stratford’s ‘Rubbish Friends’ (yes, this is their name) - local volunteers that clean up the town as well as run campaigns to help protect the environment.

You see, when we first saw our rehearsal space, it was full of ‘rubbish’. Our play is set on an island: and in a world where two truckloads of rubbish enter our oceans every minute, our island realistically has rubbish on it. This concept has allowed for recycling to be at the core of our design.

As a cast, we were encouraged to bring in waste from our own homes that we thought may be useful. The other day we were rehearsing a scene where a character throws a broken watch away. One of our cast said ‘I have a broken one at home which we can use’. Simple. It’s a shift in mentality which can save more than just money.

Our costume fittings for The Tempest have been especially creative. An array of clothes gathered from the RSC Costume Store (which as you can imagine is quite spectacular) were set out on rails to try on. From these our Tempest costumes have been curated, and adapted as needed. Similarly, the amazing wigs team here have washed, styled, and transformed old wigs from the store to give them a new lease of life. Circular economy at its best.

Plastic bottles, a snorkel mask, a torch and other items on a white table
Some of the items of rubbish in the rehearsal room
Photo by Heledd Gwynn © The artist Browse and license our images

Now, my part to play in this has been minimal, but I’m glad to be on board. I am under no pretence that reusable coffee cups are the sole answer to the dilemma of the climate crisis. But, we can all do our bit - if we are lucky enough to have the agency to make those decisions. With each disposable coffee cup we use we encourage the thought patterns in our brains that believe we can’t make a difference. That we are such small fry, the coffee cup becomes just as insignificant as us the moment we throw it away. In reality however it washes up on some far away shore, an unwanted letter in a bottle, destined to be someone else’s problem. Even in writing this I feel how easy it is to sink into hopelessness, which is neither useful nor actionable. Or my point.

My point is that for the first time in my career I have felt that at work I am striving towards the same goal as I try to reach in my personal life; to not leave this planet in a worse state than when I landed here. This experience will, I imagine, change my outlook on how theatre can be made from now on. I feel such pride to be in a show which through its actions, is living up to the message of the production itself.

So hop aboard The Tempest and come visit our island - rest-assured the carbon-footprint of this trip won’t cost you the earth.

Propero and Miranda on a tiny island amid a storm

Making a green tempest

Our 2023 production of Shakespeare's The Tempest is inspired by the climate emergency, asking us to examine the delicate balance in our personal relationships as well as with the fragile ecosystems that surround us. 

These blogs explain how everyone behind the show, from scenery builders and prop makers to the actors on stage is working together to create a sustainable Tempest that responds to and reflects the climate emergency.

Go to The Tempest

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