Monday, January 3, 2011

AEG Ogden's creepy green orthodoxy pervades Perth theatres

A lot of workplaces are going green with a vengeance these days, so it's hardly surprising that many theatre venues have strict "environmentally friendly" codes of practice firmly in place.

These seem particularly silly. Arty types in general and luvvies in particular are fond of seeing themselves as rebellious and creative people who don't like to be told what to do. (The reality is very different, of course. They are among the most obedient and conformist people you could ever meet.)

Actors, dancers, singers, directors, stage hands, arts management people and the like are almost invariably bolshie. They love to complain about media monopolies, for example, on the grounds that centralization of ownership makes for a boring monoculture. But their "industry" - which is hardly an industry at all, since it's perpetually hooked up to the life support provided by long suffering Aussie taxpayers (the very same people they spend much of their time sneering at) - is itself tightly controlled by only a few major players.

Take venue management, for example. Many of the biggest theatres in Perth are managed by AEG Ogden Pty Ltd, a huge organization with interests in several countries. These include His Majesty's Theatre, Playhouse Theatre and the State Theatre Centre of Western Australia (due to open late this month).

AEG Ogden is a proudly green organization, and has a list of "environmental strategies and initiatives". This particular page is replicated on the websites of the Perth theatres it manages.

So, anyone who works in any of these venues must obey these very strict and sometimes bizarre requirements. Take this one:

Staff are encouraged to print to scrap paper and print and photocopy double sided. All administration staff have a recycling bin under the desk or close by.

Imagine the fear of the poor little poppets as they try to make a one sided photocopy on - heaven forfend! - a fresh piece of paper without getting sprung by a keen-eyed co-worker. Funny - but also a little bit scary and sad.

There's one section that is particularly creepy, Orwellian even:

Culture. All staff are advised of new initiatives and are encouraged to contribute their ideas. All staff are encouraged to incorporate green methodology into the workplace so that it becomes common practice.

But if employees are being "advised of new initiatives" (that is, politely ordered to obey them ... or else!) why ask for their input? What would be the point - particularly if you disagreed. It would result in you being labeled an eeevil person who wants to hurt the planet, after all!

An what's this stuff about "green methodology" becoming "common practice"? Where's all this diversity we keep hearing about?

Sure, the deep green directives listed here apply only to those involved in the day to day workings of Perth theatre venues and aren't related to, say, the thematic content of submitted scripts (although I'm sure the same ideology dominates in that area too - just not so overtly). However, this organization employs many people in various capacities - and other local venues are almost certain to have similar policies in place. (Frankly, I just haven't looked. But it's a lay down misere they'll be much the same, even if not explicitly and in writing.)

So it's pretty easy to see how Perth's theatre professionals are left in absolutely no doubt whatsoever about what they are expected to think (and feel) about environmental issues. Which is all a bit sinister, in my humble opinion.

Then there's a larger, contextual issue: the nature of live theatre itself. It uses huge amounts of energy (think of all those lights!) that guarantee an immense carbon footprint, regardless of mitigating measures. It's also a form of entertainment that caters overwhelmingly to privileged middle class people, many of whom live a long way from the CBD. Even if they're all arriving in Priuses every night, their cumulative effect on the atmosphere must be bordering on the criminal! (Ironically, all those appalling suburbanite couch potatoes in their McMansions watching plasma televisions would have a far less deleterious effect on the environment.)

Clearly, if you wanted to save the planet as desperately as AEG Ogden Pty Ltd wants to, you wouldn't even be in the theatre business in the first place, now would you?

Hmmm ... Or maybe you would. Theatre - just like so much of this green madness - is all about show, after all. And as they say on Broadway (and in Perth, for that matter), the show must go on!

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