5 things I learnt from my collaborative project
12th April 2020
Hiya! My name’s Emma and I’m a Performing Arts student. Like a lot of young people, is incredibly conscious of climate change and for the past year I’ve been on a personal journey to try my best to become more sustainable and reduce my carbon footprint wherever I can, including cutting out meat from my diet and avoiding single-use plastics where possible. I’ve also been trying to be ethical in my decisions and consider the impact they have on those around me, as well as individuals and communities around the world.
While this might seem like it’s all sweetness and light, I’m nowhere near perfect and I have slipped up a lot. It’s also tricky when most people around you aren’t on the same journey and don’t seem to understand your motives or why you would bother.
So when I took up the Collaborative Project module at the beginning of this academic year, I saw it as the perfect opportunity to educate my peers on an issue that means a lot to me. The brief was simple – put on an event/performance of your choosing and in some way collaborate with at least one individual and/or group that isn’t on the Performing Arts degree course.
After some brainstorming I knew I wanted to organise an event that informed people about the state of our planet through the mediums of acting performance, dance and art. I knew that I could create my own acting piece and could try and give choreographing a dance a strong go, but that the collaboration on my project would come from the artists.
Here’s what I learned from my experience of putting on my event, Sustain(ability):
1. ‘Outsourcing’ is completely okay – sustainability needs collaboration
Coming from a rather stubborn and head-strong perfectionist, I had planned to do every single element of my event apart from the art by myself with no intervention from anybody else. Inevitably, other responsibilities got in the way and my perfect vision of solo event planning quite quickly diminished. My lecturer suggested that I collaborate with a student on the dance course who was also taking the same module. In the end it worked out perfectly for the both of us as she had an event that she could not only write about for the module but also use as choreographer experience post-graduation, and it meant I had a very talented choreographer to create a beautiful contemporary dance (which turned out 100x better than anything I could ever choreograph!). After I swallowed my pride and accepted the help it enriched my event tenfold and made it even better – so don’t be reluctant to accept help in any project, big or small.
2. Inspiration is everywhere – you don’t need to spend loads of money
It is a given that being a student means that money is not always plentiful, but I still wanted to decorate the event space without breaking the bank AND not creating a shedload of waste, so therefore had to draw inspiration from unconventional sources. In the end I used two cardboard boxes I had in my house (thanks to my humiliating addiction to late-night online shopping) and got the performers to help me write slogans such as “Our House is On Fire” and draw pictures on the scraps of cardboard to make budget-friendly, recyclable decorative signs. I also pinned up little notecards with quotes about kindness up on the window, which I already had in my bedroom and I could easily put them back in the box and re-read them once the evening was done. In taking this thrifty approach I not only saved myself money but also saved resources and waste.
3. Research, research, research – don’t be a hypocrite
If I had one big takeaway from Sustain(ability) it would be that research is imperative.
Every single bit of the event required some form of investigation, enquiry or planning. I had to enquire about display equipment for the art, had to contact people in order to book the space, check back with my lecturer to ensure I was on the right track etc.
I also did research into the topic of climate change itself to ensure that the information I was providing the performers (and in turn the audience) was accurate. I also wanted to ensure that the drinks I served were ethically produced and with recyclable packaging, thus research was required there too. This might sound like an awful lot of forward planning and work, but as the event (and in a way my personal morals) centred around being sustainable, ethical and conscious, I wanted to ensure every detail reflected that. It was also to make sure that I wasn’t being a total hypocrite and going against what I believed in.
It wouldn’t look cute if I was showing people images of plastic-polluted oceans whilst pouring Diet Coke (one of the world’s worst companies for plastic pollution I might add) out of a big plastic bottle into plastic cups!
4. Passion is infectious
As I had to explain the narrative of the piece I devised to the performers, in turn I had to explain my intent behind the work I had created and why it was so important to me. Potentially as a result of all the reaffirming research I did, the performers saw my passion for the cause and were motivated to do it justice. Even though we may have differing lifestyle choices, such as choosing to eat meat or buying into fast fashion, we all banded together over this common cause because I had conveyed how strongly I felt about it. Even if people are divided over many topics, just one small common cause can unite everyone.
5. The Media has Power
In the process of creating the slideshow that accompanied the acting performance, I discovered just how much control the media has, particularly over the younger generation. News headlines are not just confined to the papers anymore – they’re on the radio, on advertisements and on social media.
The media we consume can have a huge impact on our opinions and views of individuals, organisations, groups of people and even parts of the world. Therefore if we are misinformed by these hugely powerful news outlets it can have a detrimental affect on our ability to be tolerant, respectful, empathetic and level-headed. It could cause generations to make questionable decisions on vital aspects of their lives including how they vote in an election and how they choose to spend their money.
This event allowed me to dig deep into how many people feel about the current climate crisis, but it also allowed me to delve into how media moguls are reporting the crisis (as well as many other topics) to the public. It reminded me to think carefully about what news outlets and social media platforms I subscribe to and consider the accuracy of the information I was consuming, as it can have a massive impact.
Overall I was very happy with how Sustain(ability) turned out, not only from an academic point of view but also personally. I wanted to make sure that both the participants and audience members had an enjoyable experience and that everybody could take something away from the event.
It not only reaffirmed my belief that as a society we need to strive to become more sustainable, but it connected me to a whole new group of people with whom I could share my passion.