When we moved to Oulu in 2015, we did it with the confidence that technology was advancing sufficiently for geographical location to start becoming less important. We could use online conferencing technology to have meetings with people anywhere in the world. We can choose from an ever-expanding toolbox of NDI/VOIP/SoundJack/Facetime/Zoom/VDONinja/Jitsi/Skype/Cleanfeed/Discord/Telegram/etc… to collaborate in realtime with other performers. We had ambitions to create work specifically for online platforms and aims to build an international audience without leaving our home studio.

This wasn’t really happening though. We tended to conduct our board meetings online, and regularly have Zoom meetings with producers, but would still fly or drive long distances to perform or run workshops. We were still burning fuel to travel (It helps that we live close enough to Oulu Airport to be able to cycle there sometimes, but that wasn’t enough) 

As the planet approaches an ecological crisis point, we are trying to develop new ways of thinking and working that have a minimal carbon footprint.

The traditional touring theatre model goes something like this:

1, A company is based in a particular area. The well-funded companies are usually in the capital city.
2, They put out a call for auditions. Performers travel from far and wide to attend the auditions.
3, A performance team is selected. Some may be local, but others will have to travel to the company and be accommodated for the duration of the project.
4, The entire team – performers, technicians, directors – plus set and equipment goes on the road to visit venues and perform. The large scale shows tend to only go to major cities, so audiences need to be local, or to travel further to see the work.
5, After a performance, the team disappears – heading to a new city – maybe driving around or flying country to country.

This is all very expensive, in terms of logistical costs and in ecological terms. And it doesn’t support performers, venues or audiences living on the edges of the countries. If a young person is passionate about dance or theatre, there is very little to keep them living in a small provincial town, and they are drawn to the bigger cities.

We aim to try to invert this hierarchy by developing more sustainable methods of touring that actively support artists, venues and audiences in smaller towns and rural areas, whilst reducing the environmental impact of touring.

Please Switch On is one iteration of our Anti-Touring Model. Only the core of the performance team actually travels to the place where the venue is. The performers are locally-sourced, creating opportunities for dancers, musicians, poets and other local performers to get together and create a show in a few days. The show is based on improvisation. TaikaBox supplies the tools and structure for the performance – based on audience interaction.

Born Old has a slightly different approach. The show can be performed in Finnish, using one performer touring with director and technician, but to make the show accessible to children who don’t speak Finnish, we create a translation of the script and then incorporate a local performer who spends a week with us adapting the show into a duet. The touring still has the same environmental impact, but it supports the local performer and sets up a relationship with the venue and audiences that can be beneficial after TaikaBox has left the building.

Our Connected Studio System enables us to connect spaces together virtually to create a collaborative research and performance space, and has been used regularly in Oulu Dance Hack and other international projects.

TaikaBox is on a journey to become more sustainable

Since the global pandemic lockdown we have accelerated our development of sustainable models and have set the ball rolling to become a more sustainable organisation. In 2022, with support from the Northern AiR Network we worked with Sanna Taskila, a carbon-neutrality specialist from Macon, to map out our carbon footprint. We made a stand against air travel and embraced slow travel, making journeys to international projects by train and ferry, and all of the funding applications that we write for new projects take this into consideration.

Here’s the deal. 

In 2021 TaikaBox produced 4748kg CO2. In 2022, that figure was 9425kg. There are many factors which influenced this increase in carbon produced. 2021 was a lockdown year, so there was less travelling. In 2022, TaikaBox started using a new online accounting method, and also introduced healthcare for its employees – and, though neither of these is a physical product, they both contribute to the amount of goods purchased.

In 2021, we had 7761 clients in total, which means that we created 0.612kg CO2 per person. In 2022, we accounted for 2092 clients, so the figure for that year is much higher, at 4.5kg per person. Again, many factors affect this figure, but mainly because 2021 was focused on livestreaming events, whereas 2022 returned to more physical performances. The carbon figures for 2023 were a little higher, but our audience numbers were boosted by a livestream to Finnish schools on Kalevala Day, so the average drops back down under 1kg CO2e per person.

One tree in its life cycle of 100 years can absorb 600kg of CO2. This means that TaikaBox would need to plant something like 8 trees in 2021 and 17 trees in 2022 to sink the carbon it created. In reality, we offset our carbon footprint by annually investing in the fertilisation of Finnish forests through Green Carbon, contributing to Finland’s goal to become carbon neutral by 2035.

An average Finnish person produces 10300kg CO2 a year. This means that we would need to plant just over 17 trees a year and they would need to live for 100 years to sink one year’s carbon footprint. 33% of the annual 10300kg CO2 comes from housing, 20% from food, 22% from transport and tourism and 25% from other consumption. 

If a person lives up to 80 years old in Finland, their carbon footprint would be around 824000kg CO2 in total, which means over 1373 trees to grow for 100 years to sink it. 

It’s an entire forest per person we should be fostering during our lifetimes!

We seem to have got used to living in an ‘instant world’. Growing a forest to sink the carbon footprint is the opposite, the ‘slow world’. There is no instant fix for the waste we produce, although a lot of companies try to sell the idea of instant fix to compensate for things like air travel. The fact that there is no instant fix for the climate crisis and, because the slow pace of restoring the climate doesn’t fit into our current lifestyles, it means that most people are not acting on it.

(Figures of average Finn provided by Istutapuita – a company based in Southern Finland that reforests old peatlands). 

Slow travel for work is not just about traveling from A to B. It has a deeper psychology to it. It is mentally and physically tough. It takes time and effort. That is why it is becoming a valuable asset in developing our international partnerships. It is like giving our partners a gift that tells them we are committed to them and the project – treat it with respect! If we are in any doubt of the partnership, we don’t travel. It is not worth it.

The CO2 equivalent emissions during air travel will vary depending on the length of the flight, the cruising altitude and weight
(Credit: BEIS/Defra/BBC)
Tanja & John & bike. Photo by Lölä

In 2023 Tanja wrote a rough guide to carbon footprints – targeted to cultural organisations – particularly the residency providers of the Northern AiR network.

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