The Greenhouse Series: Part 2
This year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival saw a slightly unusual edition courtesy of St. Andrews students and graduates - the festival’s first-ever zero-waste venue in the form of The Greenhouse. The project was quite literally built from the ground up, as the people behind the Greenhouse not only wrote, produced and performed all the shows but also built the venue themselves from recycled materials.
In the Greenhouse Series, three of the creatives behind the project share a piece of their Fringe experience. Annabel Steele shares her thoughts on the hectic month as Music Director for the Greenhouse.
By Annabel Steele
There should be a word for that feeling you get when you contribute to something important. When you know you’re making a difference. It’s an incredible thing, and it’s extremely hard to describe. I got to feel it for a whole month this summer. I spent August at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, working as Head of Music for ‘The Greenhouse’ by BoxedIn Theatre, an entirely zero-waste and sustainable theatre venue built from recycled materials.
The most important part of my job was collaboration, which I think was also the most important part of the project as a whole. Basically, I spent most days wandering up and down the Mile, talking to buskers about the project and inviting them to come and play at the theatre. Busking is a totally unique form of musical performance because it’s so site-specific: the musicians have to adapt to a space with no mains electricity, no exciting tech, no lighting, no fancy smoke machines or spotlights… in other words, it’s a little like putting on shows at the Greenhouse. We went all out with our project and didn’t compromise on the ethics, so there was no mains-supported technology. Of course, people don’t have to take such huge steps in order to make more sustainable theatre, but we wanted to prove that you can cut out absolutely everything which isn’t environmentally friendly and still put on some gorgeous art. So, when approaching buskers, that was my pitch: I was asking them to be involved in a project which isn’t just talking about the environment, or cutting down on plastics, or using second-hand costumes. We’re doing all of it. And we’re the first people in the Fringe’s history to do it, too. Needless to say, I didn’t get very many rejections; and the few who did contact me at the end of the project to express their regret.
So, most of my evening Music Hour slots were filled by external performers. But the other aspect of my job and the part I was most excited about was composition. I’ve been making my own music for a couple of years now, and I’ve also edited and composed for a couple of shows, but this was a whole new challenge. My work in music for theatre has relied on huge speakers and a massive impact; suddenly, I was being asked to compose music for a venue that would accommodate nothing in the way of electronic music, except for a tiny battery-powered guitar amp and an equally tiny battery-powered speaker. I didn’t really know where to start, but luckily I’d bought my first guitar – a beautifully eco-friendly instrument – about a month before I started the whole process. For ‘The Earth Untold’, a cosy and poetic storytelling cycle, I stuck entirely to the guitar and used it to turn Georgia Luckhurst’s gorgeous words into two songs which bookended the show, as well as creating a couple of melodies to be played during audience participation sequences and during the transitions between stories. The lack of electronic-based music had only a positive effect on the play’s finished soundtrack, maintaining its intimacy and intrinsic connection to the earth.
As for the second show, ‘Daphne, or Hellfire’, I was soundscaping the entire show so I knew I couldn’t rely solely on the guitar to achieve what I wanted to achieve. I relied on my little Aqua speaker and hoped it would be enough to fill the performance venue. The show’s soundtrack included sounds of a ‘crying forest’, news montages reporting forest fires across the globe, and a dance sequence accompaniment for which the director asked me to use my original track, ‘Green’. I didn’t write it for the show, but it couldn’t have fit better: the song explores our symbiotic relationship with the earth, and the play follows a modern Daphne on a journey which takes her deeper and deeper into the earth until she, in a tragic but stunning rewrite of the myth’s original narrative, becomes part of it. My favourite part of each day was getting to sing ‘Green’ live as I watched the dance sequence between Daphne and Apollo unfold, and the electronic soundtrack bled out as a guitar accompaniment took over, in a sort of metaphor for Daphne’s transition from human to “nymph”.
It was a life-changing month, and a Fringe-changing month, too: thanks to word-of-mouth and extensive coverage of the project, we got everyone talking. Activism isn’t just going vegan and refusing to buy plastic: activism is starting conversations. This is a collective endeavour, not an individual one, and the community we created through the Greenhouse was a testament to the power of collective activism.
Image taken from https://www.edfringe.com/