Bea Udale-Smith, Artistic Director of Pigfoot Theatre
Updated: Nov 9
‘The take-home message of all our [Pigfoot Theatre’s] work is that through group action, there is hope. Through the power of community, we can make a change. All of our work is driving toward that message'.
Bea Udale-Smith (St Catherine's College, ’19) is the director of Pigfoot Theatre, a multi-award-winning environmental theatre company.
Udale-Smith founded the company in 2017 during her second year of undergrad. For the aspiring theatre director, for whom the decision to go to Oxford was shaped by the city's thriving theatre scene, it was an obvious decision.
However, Pigfoot did not become an environmental theatre company until its second year. The impetus came about when, while working on a show about climate change, Udale-Smith realised she did not want the show to be contributing to the phenomenon.
In 2018, the company reinvented itself. It committed to not only becoming an environmental theatre company, but the UK's first carbon neutral one. The company achieves this through a mix of cycle-powered lights, live music, and thrifting for costumes, among other ideas.
Udale-Smith’s background in the arts may not be traditionally associated with the climate field, but that hasn’t stopped her from getting involved.
'What I’ve tried to do (and this is completely something that many people will not be able to do) is try and embed climate-focused practices into my life. So in my instance, I knew I wanted to be a theatre maker, and then I was like ‘Oh crap, the climate crisis is a thing. So for me, it was this obvious solution of, 'Let’s just make climate theatre then'...You don't need to work in climate science or policy to have an impact.'
Udale-Smith's not alone in her interest in making the art industry more green. In the summer of 2020, Pigfoot launched Lockdown: Green Up, a digital environmental theatre festival.
'It was an incredible process of realising how extensive the history of climate theatre has been over the past few decades.' (One of the most credited creators of the concept of eco-theatre is Una Chaudhuri. Her 1994 work, 'There must be a lot of fish in that lake: Theorizing a Theatre Ecology', has played a pioneering role in popularising the eco-theatre term and its role within the larger eco-criticism framework).
'Within the theatre industry, theatre venues and professionals have been very supportive of the company. That comes from a place of people wanting to talk about climate change...So many artists are considering the impact of their work on the climate crisis.'
Despite the serious topics her work tackles, Udale-Smith always tries to aim for an uplifting message. 'The take-home message of all our work is that through group action, there is hope. Through the power of community, we can make a change. All of our work is driving toward that message…if we work together, if we unite and continue to developing connections, that can be such a powerful instrument for change.'
Like others in the art industry, the company has been hit hard by the pandemic. However, Udale-Smith acknowledges that the pandemic has helped put things into perspective.
'If anything, the pandemic has really helped us realise what’s really important to the company, which is community engagement. And so now, the tour is now really focused on going into communities and doing workshops with the communities, particularly for young kids between 7-16 years old and interacting with their families. The climate education side is really important to us because it is still very lacking within most schools across the world. But within the UK, it’s something like 84% of the age bracket of one of our workshop targets want to learn more about climate change or feel their school isn't teaching them about. So hopefully, we are one very small part of helping that change'.
Looking ahead, Udale-Smith hopes to provide more opportunities for active co-creation. ‘We have been commissioned by Camden Peoples’ Theatre to make a show in collaboration with young climate activists in Camden about their place in the global climate crisis. We’re hoping to link those activists with activists from around the world...we really want to start co-creating work in communities and hopefully make work which can then be replicated in other spaces.’
If you’re interested in supporting the work that Pigfoot Theatre does, you can follow them on social media and share the word about their work. More information can be found on their Facebook, Twitter (@PigfootTheatre) and website.