Reusing rubbish for sustainable props

Whisper #175

Lauren talks about combing beaches and the streets of Stratford-upon-Avon to source sustainable props for The Tempest.

Lauren Simmonds is the Props Supervisor for The Tempest. She finds out what props are needed for the show she works with the props team to source everything that’s needed – making, buying, adapting and reusing items. Lauren comes from a creative arts background and been a Props Supervisor at the RSC for eight years, working on a range of shows. She recently became the props team’s sustainability champion.

To make a sustainable Tempest we needed to avoid buying new items, keep our carbon footprint low by minimising deliveries, and adapt and reuse props as much as possible.

We're using the Theatre Green Book – a set of instructions for making theatre more green, and the first piece of advice in the Green Book is to design something out if we don’t need it, after that it’s about using items we already have

We started the props that we needed, looking first in our Prop Store and then around our own buildings. We found unwanted barrels and containers ready for the skip outside the workshop and plenty to use from past shows, including:

  • A prop piano, picture used top in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2016) and below in The Tempest
  • The tarpaulin used in 2022's All’s Well That Ends Well
  • Curtains from O, Island! at The Other Place last year

Reusing rubbish

The Tempest is set on an island, surrounded by sea, so collecting items that had been left on the beach or washed up seemed like a good way to source some more props.

Woman in a red dress (Titania) sitting in a grand piano while Bottom plays the piano
Woman sitting at a piano
The props team at the pier in Weston-super-Mare

We organised a prop litter pick on the beaches of Weston-super-Mare, along with contacting someone who organises beach litter picks, and collected many donated things, sourcing props and helping to clean up the beach at the same time.

We made contact with people who collect buoys and other discarded fishing items from the coast, and they helped to supply us with these and under sea-themed props.

We also worked with litter picking groups locally. The group Rubbish Friends found some interesting items on the streets of Stratford and brought them to the prop shop, where we washed and sanitised these items to be used.

We couldn't source every single prop that we needed through litter picks, but any bought items have been sourced secondhand. For example, we needed some food delivery bags and these weren't something we already had or could find, so I managed to source some secondhand from eBay. 

Lauren in the props workshop for a previous show

Using found items as props helps us create some really authentic props, without the increased carbon footprint of using new materials to make make or adapt new items. It means we've come up with some really creative and sustainable ways of sourcing props, which I'll be able to take forward to future shows. 

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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