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Stage lefties!

The Spark talks to cutting-edge performers Kilter Theatre.

Kilter is a sustainable theatre group based in Bath. Their venues often don’t have a stage, there’s no plush seating and there are no house lights. Performances take place on allotments lit by sunshine, with upturned pots for seating, or at various locations along the Bristol-Bath railway path.

Kilter’s members are introducing a new style of activism to the residents of Bath: site-specific theatre productions that focus very clearly on sustainability issues. The company use hands-on, loosely improvisational performances to raise awareness about environmental issues such as local food production and cycling.

Oliver Langdon, one of the three founding members, explains their goals: “We want to entertain, to tell a story and to ignite people’s imaginations.”

Oliver and his colleagues, Caroline Garland and Claire Wyatt, are seeking fresh ways of approaching the public about sustainability issues. They believe that people are growing tired of seeing traditional images of polar bears and low-energy light bulbs in the media toillustrate the dangers of global warming. Oliver says: “As a tool for raising awareness, theatre is underused. A real-life person telling you something has a different effect.”

Kilter began in 2006, when the three friends decided to combine their experience in site-specific and outdoor theatre with their keen interest in environmental issues. Funding initially came from the Debut Project, a group that supported emerging theatre groups. Kilter’s first production, which focused on the idea of a post-oil world, took place in Bath’s Widcombe Abbey cemetery.

Commissions followed, for radio play-style podcasts and educational characters at conferences and festivals, from organisations such as Forum for the Future. Earlier this year, the Egg Theatre in Bath hired the team to create and stage a theatrical treasure hunt for families. Roots, this summer’s performance about food production, received funding from the Institute of Contemporary Interdisciplinary Arts at Bath University and Arts Council England.

While the founding members of Kilter consider themselves activists, their style of activism is far from traditional. The whole process of creating one of Kilter’s productions is an activist venture, Oliver explains. From the moment a location is chosen, he, Caroline and Claire are exploring the site, discovering objects to reuse and recycle in the show, talking with people in the area, experimenting with ideas, and planning aninteractive, engaging theatre experience.

Oliver said: “If a person sees one of us on a roof and asks ‘What’s that person doing?’ that begins the process of engagement. We have a high profile while doing the work.” In this way, a local resident need not even attend the final performance to learn from the message Kilter is trying to share.

Research, the next stage of the process, draws more attention to the upcoming production. One key method of research is talking with people. For Roots, the group’s most recent performance, Kilter asked the public for their thoughts about food production using an online research forum. Kilter posed a series of questions, such as: “What is your earliest food memory?” and “Who is responsible for securing our food supply?” The response to such questions helped the group shape their production, which includes quotes from the research.

The project seems to be working. Shows are selling out. But more importantly, the message is sinking in. Some people who attended Back on Track, last year’s bicycle performance, had not taken their bicycles out of the shed for years. Since they had to cycle to see the show, they’ve taken up cycling again. Oliver says: “People have noticed a change in their lifestyles and have thanked us for it.”

Written by Ashley Kuehl

Published in The Spark issue 58 - autumn 2009

Details correct at time of going to press but may now have changed - please make your own checks

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