Sustainability is the catchphrase of the modern age but does reduce, recycle, reuse translate to the theatre – Robert Smith, Set Designer and Constructor, believes it does!  


“Coming from an Architecture background, where sustainability and design are intrinsically linked from the onset, I felt that environmental sustainability within the theatre was a step behind,” says Smith. “Over the last two years I have been endeavouring to bring sustainable design through the performances I have been involved with, beginning with the initial design phase to bump out.”

Smith underpins his philosophy with action and, during Mudfest 2011, (the largest student arts festival in Australia) he developed and implemented a festival wide sustainability program which was particularly notable as being the first paperless festival. His architectural training served him well and nurtured the understanding that sustainability shouldn’t be an afterthought, it should be integrated in design from the onset. “As architects we are asked to consider the entire creation process,” explains Smith. “ From the origin of each material to the lifetime of the building and running costs, it is this mindset that I have carried into my work as a set designer.”

“My sustainability program initially came about through an observation I made while doing my first show at Melbourne Uni. I noticed whole sets in the hard waste collection, literally ripped from the theatre and thrown away, So I started going through these collection points after each show and salvaging as much as I could.

The one core principle that I work on, is that design does not need to be compromised by sustainability. It’s a common misconception that ‘green’ is a style, or that you need to prove your sustainability through design.

One of the hardest challenges I have faced so far, is convincing others that achieving environmental sustainability within the theatre is a valid cause. The simple fact is, many simply don’t believe that the little changes made matter. Often attempts are met with cynicism or exasperation. I have been extremely lucky in the companies I have worked with so far, particularly with Four Letter Word Theatre and Sara Tabitha Catchpole in allowing and encouraging me to push the sustainability aspects of the shows we have done together as far as I can.

One on the most effective methods of selling sustainability to production companies is the massive reduction is cost of materials. The savings made can be funnelled into other costs associated in sustainable theatre, such as hire costs of LED lighting.”

Smith is working within his role on the committee of Four Letter Word Theatre, to implement a statement of sustainable practice, for all future shows within the company – a blueprint, if you well, for after he moves on. “We are currently looking into sponsorship deals with companies to offset our carbon costs. Offsetting is not and should not be the first point of call, first we endeavour to reduce as much as possible, however the reality is, we do consume, and emit carbon. It is this gap we intend to close through offsetting options.

I will continue to work towards my ultimate goal of zero emissions, zero waste production. Four Letter Word Theatres next production of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange is set to be my first complete zero emissions, zero waste production.”

Four Letter Word’s current production, Inside Out directed by Sara Tabitha Catchpole, is playing at La Mamas Courthouse till March 11 and contains many sustainability efforts. The set is constructed form 100% recycled timber, and 90% other recycled materials, from fabric down to the screws. All timber was originally sourced from sustainably managed forests and all materials will be either reused or recycled through accredited recycling operators.

For further information on Smith’s ideologies visit:
Bookings for Inside Out :