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Sustaining the arts and our environment

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I like to travel light. I’m happiest when I can cram everything into one bag and sling it on my shoulder. I’ve never had to squeeze a whole theatre production into one suitcase though, but this exactly what the organisers of Ipswich’s Pulse are asking artists to do as part of the Suitcase Prize, a brand new initiative aimed at encouraging theatre makers to think in an environmentally and economically sustainable way.

As Paul Warwick, one half of China Plate – who along with Ed Collier has been appointed as guest directors of this year’s Pulse Fringe – explains, “the only stipulations are that the work must be new and it must be able to travel on public transport in luggage carried by the people taking part in the piece. Travel limitations shouldn’t limit ambition – we’re looking for inspiring, bold and adventurous ideas – just ones that you can take on the bus!”

The shortlisted artists will present their pieces in work in progress form during the festival. The judging panel includes Improbable’s Nick Sweeting and Sholeh Johnstone, of Julie’s Bicycle, a company which works with the creative industries to incorporate environmental sustainability into their work. The winning piece will receive £1,000.

Shortlisted artists include Seiriol Davies – who, alongside Caroline Horton and company, won The Stage’s award for Best Ensemble at last year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe for their exquisite Mess

– who will be presenting How to Win Against History, Ira Brand with a Cure for Aging and Hannah Nicklin with A Conversation with My Father.

The 2013 Pulse Fringe runs from 30th May – 9th June at the New Wolsey and various venues around Ipswich. In 2009 Andrew Haydon wrote glowingly in the Guardian of its intimacy and richness as a festival [ and it continues to grow and evolve in interesting ways, of which this initiative is just the latest. It’s a festival that both serves its local audience well and presents work that people will want to travel to see (though preferably by public transport in the context). The full festival line-up includes a community work by Lucy Ellinson, pieces by Action Hero, Bootworks Theatre and Victoria Melody and works in progress by Ross Sutherland and Made in China.

It’s refreshing to see an initiative that focuses on sustainability in the arts in a way that inspires creativity, imagination and playfulness, rather than imposing restrictions and limitations. (Simple8 – the company behind the incredibly atmospheric Moby-Dick currently at the Arcola are brilliant examples of this approach, their attempts to minimise their impact on the environment feeding their company’s simple yet evocative aesthetic). And in terms of economic sustainability this approach, theatre stripped down to its essentials, makes a lot of sense at the moment too. It won’t work for everyone, sometimes theatre is and should be spectacular, epic and messy, but for many artists could thinking smaller, simpler and lighter, be a way forward?

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