Dave the Shouting Mute asks ‘If the Earth could speak, what would it say?’


Artist, Dave the Shouting Mute reflects on his immersive poetic installation ‘Partnering with Earth,’ and what the process has taught him about making the arts, in general, both more sustainable and accessible. 

A man in a wheelchair looks out over a green outdoor scene

Inside Out Dorset, Dave, The Shouting Mute, on recce at Symondsbury Estate, photo by Ciaran Parsons

I was sitting watching the world go by on a Dorset beach browsing through videos about performances being powered by bikes. ‘Power to the Pedal! SF Bicycle Music Festival’ was the exact video. Bikes were being pedalled by audience members and performers to generate the energy needed for the performances. It looked amazing, I was fascinated and inspired by the interactivity and responsibility it initiated.

This is such an innovative way of creating green energy for performance. I started to ask myself, what other ways can inclusive practices be more sustainable? Obviously pedalling a bike is brilliant, but not all people have the physical function or fitness to be able to participate in that. I know that some disabled people are incredibly fit and can cycle, but for the majority of disabled people who aren’t competing in the Paralympics, it would be like training to go to space. It made me curious about what other ways inclusive practices can be sustainable when you’re not a Paralympian?

Recently, I’ve been working with Inside Out Dorset to create an installation about climate change. If the Earth could speak, what would it say? I’ve been collecting thoughts from conservationists, scientists and activists, capturing their views on climate change in a poetic exploration.

The installation will be created from natural and upcycled materials and you’ll hear a soundscape of the poems and verbatim recordings from the interviews as we explore our relationship with the Earth.

It’s been an important discovery for my team and me to look at ways in which our practices can be more sustainable, as well as inclusive, and this is the aim of ‘Partnering with Earth’.

On this project, I’ve been lucky enough to work with an excellent emerging designer, Sophie Fretwell. Sophie has initiated a collaboration that showcases some of the innovative costume designs created by the Arts University Bournemouth’s project ‘Costumes for Change‘. The costumes are designed and created with sustainability at the centre, exploring the environmental impact of the textile industry. Using natural materials and dyes and biodegradable fabrics, it’s been an inspiration to be able to work with them and hear some of their ideas.

Installation of a large illuminated globe in a wooded area at night

Inside Out Dorset 2021, Luke Jerram’s Gaia, photo Jim Huntsman

Often in theatre we make elaborate sets and buy everything new for the design. Buying last-minute plastic props, only for them to sit in storage for the lifetime of Yoda from Star Wars, then be tossed away after the show like Homer Simpson chucking out an empty DUFF beer can. We spend thousands of pounds which gives the environment a big punch at the same time. So how can we turn that big punch into a big hug instead?

I know some people do consider waste and reuse. However, I’d like to see more consideration of the life cycle of the materials we use. What can our installations or stages become after the event? Is it okay for props and sets to sit in a long-term storage unit until the artistic director takes them to the tip?

Could the costumes and props go to children’s homes or charity shops? Can the sets have cultural legacies to them? I’d love to see us consider our environmental impact in the arts the same way that we consider our cultural impact.

The current digital accessibility to live performances, catalysed by the pandemic, has been a huge win for many of us. Live performances can reach and connect with new audiences without the same environmental barriers that physical performances sometimes encounter. As we move back to live arts and touring, I’d like to know how we can tour more sustainably.

My question is ‘how comfortable are we with the old model of a five-venue tour with two or three vans full of people (and take-away food) and sets?’. Maybe there are alternative options that we can embrace like using local actors, designers and production companies. Communicating with each other, like a network of artists, think of the opportunities! How can we do things differently, and in what ways can live streaming have a role to play in reaching broader audiences?

Whilst thinking about the arts’ environmental impact, another question came into my mind. What is the role of disabled people in finding solutions to this environmental crisis? Disabled people can be more vulnerable to climate emergencies than the average person. Floods, forest fires, droughts and storms are dangerous events that disproportionately affect disabled people. It’s in our own interest to actively campaign for action.

However, we have a moral conflict, in that we can often contribute to waste more than the average person. This is often due to the PPE and single-use equipment that helps to keep us and our support staff safe from infection or harm.

How can we maintain these health-centred practices, whilst thinking about the climate emergency?

I have tried to introduce washable PPE for my carers. Fabric aprons instead of single-use plastic. I’m thinking that washing (at a lower temperature) and reusing PPE has a lower impact than generating huge amounts of plastic waste each year. Well, that is my thinking, please call me out if I am wrong. I am probably only as knowledgeable as Jeremy Clarkson on a farm!

The plus side of providing reusable uniforms is that I can have some input into what my carers wear.  I’ve had carers wearing all-white gear, just waiting for me to cough and splutter all over them. A tip for carers: don’t turn up to work all in white! It gets messy.  Reusable uniforms have been fantastic for me and my team, all-white uniforms might look fabulous on polar bears and gangster rappers; but not carers.

If you like white it is fine but lasagna and chocolate becomes a massive problem if you wear it.

I’ve really valued the opportunity to evaluate the ways in which my work as a poet and theatre-maker can be more environmentally conscious. Also, looking into my personal impact as a disabled person, how we can be responsible for and participate in the innovative thinking that’s needed in our industry. If anyone has their own ideas around this, I want to hear from you!

Dave The Shouting Mute’s Partnering with Earth is part of Inside Out Dorset at the Symondsbury Estate, Manor Yard, Mill Lane, Symondsbury, Bridport DT6 6HG from Friday 24 September to Sunday 26 September with four free performances daily at 10.30am, 12.30pm, 2.30pm & 4.30pm