Arcadia’s famous spider stage tour: Sustainability at Bristol festivals

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On the 1st of September Arcadia opened their doors to Go Green members for a one off sneak peek at their fabled spider stage. The tour was accompanied by talks from the co-creator of the spider as well as Sarah Keates from Brisfest, all centred around the topic of sustainability in the colourful Bristol festival scene.

Ahead of the Arcadia Spectacular event in Queen’s Square, some of our members were treated to an exclusive, behind the scenes tour of Arcadia’s 360 degree futuristic spider stage. The 50 ton giant, made almost entirely from recycled military hardware and which took several years to evolve into the impressive and immersive ‘stage show’ that it is today, is promising an amazing spectacle.

The stage is part sculpture and part platform for collaboration from altogether different disciplines such as, sculptors, engineers, painters, performers and pyrotechnicians. It’s a place for them to all work together to produce something truly memorable. “We embrace young people who have ambition and who want to do alternative things, but don’t necessarily have a place to go and do that”, says Bert Cole, Technical Director.

"We are thankful to Bristol and Green Capital 2015 for having us, because other cities wouldn't give us the time of day"

Tom Paine, Arcadia

Led by Tom Paine and Katy Martial from Arcadia, the tour took us all around the sculpture, highlighting some of the spiders original mechanics and the inspirations behind the show. We were also treated to a seek peek of a brand new routine from the acrobatics show ‘Metamorphosis’, that was being rehearsed right above.

The project founded in 2007, eventually found its natural home in Bristol after Pip Rush and Bertie Cole decided to challenge the old, unchanged concept of what a stage should be and merge it with Pips amazing sculptures. The result was something completely new, immersive and with sustainability at heart. Apart from the nuts and bolts which had to be bought, the structure is made from 97% recycled materials. In fact if you look hard enough, some of the spiders anatomy may start to look a little familiar.

Fashioning something like this out of odds and ends is a very organic process. The materials they came across would often steer creative ideas down different and sometimes surprising roots, which is why having the basic building blocks of the jet engines for the eyes and Customs and Excise scanning units for legs, directed the project towards coming together as a big scary spider.

"Art and engineering have to do a dance together, where we think, well we would like some muscles up there, we sift around in the scrap and find some helicopters and then work out a way of fixing those in a certain way so that they bolt onto the structure"

Bert Cole, Technical Director, Arcadia

Especially impressive is the fact that this year Arcadia have converted their pyrotechnics system to run on biodiesel which is made locally by Bristol Bio Fuel, who use old chip fat which they collect from local restaurants. This upgrade was financed with a £50,000 grant from Bristol 2015 for the european green capital year and even stretched as far as converting one of their trucks to run on the same renewable fuel.

"This whole square will smell like a chip shop come the weekend"

Bert Cole, Technical Director, Arcadia

Bert Cole, Arcadia (pictured above): 

As one of the minds behind the project, Bertie was able to give us an amazing insight into how running shows and festivals, independently from powerhouses such as Live Nation, gives them the freedom to innovate and adopt best green practices.

One of the best ways of reducing your carbon footprint, especially for a traveling show that is constantly on the road, is to distill everything into its key components and learn to manage the skills and resources that are available to you. Arcadia have done this by operating more like a circus, with many staff members taking on several duties. “When on the road each staff member can mean an extra festival ticket or a flight so people have to double up quite a lot”. By doing this and sourcing volunteers locally when needed, they have significantly reduced the environmental of the show. 

Despite being made out of slightly sinister materials, the spider stage is something that looks organic and truly alive. The rebirth of these pieces into something that brings people together was the main inspiration behind the show being dubbed ‘Metamorphosis’. The idea of new life and change is also the theme of the acrobatics performance, embedding the idea of reuse and sustainability into the very heart of what they do.

Working in partnership with Bristol 2015 for European Green Capital has helped Arcadia to improve the most wasteful part of their show, the pyrotechnics. Now having upgraded the flame breathing spider to the cleaner burning and renewable biodiesel, the team has further plans to convert their entire fleet of truck to run on the same fuel.

In keeping with the spirit of Bristol’s green title this year, Arcadia also chose to do most of its promotional work digitally over social media and only using recycled paper to produce leaflets and flyers.

"We do have a great media format where we can push this message out as the norm and show how all the little decisions count"

Bert Cole, Technical Director, Arcadia

Sarah Keates, Brisfest (pictured above):

As a part of the Bristol Festival Community Group (BFCG), Brisfest have taken the lead in the collaborative project that aims to create an information platform for local festivals and smaller events. The platform will allow them to track their own suppliers and waste, as well as seeing what others are doing. Sarah hopes that giving them more choice will promote best practices, making local events greener and ensure that Bristol is a place that live music continues to thrive.

The forum, also funded as part of Bristol 2015’s European Green Capital Award hopes to achieve their goals with the help of a £50,000 Strategic Grant, which will also be used in the development of an organiser’s toolkit. The kit will include tips and ideas that can be used in the planning stages and will introduce suggestions such as offering reusable cups.

Despite being quite a simple measure, Tom added that at Arcadia’s last event where the reusable cups scheme was used, an estimated 150,000 single use cardboard cups were saved from the landfill.

Thank you to all our wonderful members for attending the tour. We hope you had a great time and learned a lot about sustainability in the festival scene, as well as what it takes to stand as an independent organisation in a sector dominated by giants.

We would especially like to thank Bert Cole for sharing his creation with us, Tom Paine for giving us the awe-inspiring tour, Sarah Keates taught us about the power of sharing information, and of course Arcadia for hosting us and providing this fantastic opportunity for our members.

Don’t miss out and check out our other events HERE.