Pump House Theatre: A theatre of rainforest dreams

The Pump House Community Theatre has been active in Watford for 45 years and these days engages 18,000 people every year producing performance events in a heady mix of music, dance, drama, comedy, improv and art.

The group of young teenagers were running for their lives after taking some photographs of the forest. All around them trees were burning and in the distance was the sound of heavy machinery.  The Rainforest was being destroyed and all they could do was run, run away as fast as they could… Was this all a dream?

This is a scene from Rainforest Dreams, a new play that brings to life the plight of the indigenous Indians in the middle of the Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest and how they cope with pollution, deforestation from the oil industry and illegal loggers, seen from the eyes of young people.

It was written for and performed by the Youth Theatre Group (CYT) from the Pump House Arts Theatre in Watford. Originally inspired by Sharon Gaffney, at the time one CYT’s volunteers, who then, in turn, involved a colleague Phil Williams who helped develop the script. Phil has met with Sir David Attenborough and is an internationally renowned green campaigner. The play also included direct involvement of the indigenous Indian people from the Ecuadorean Rainforest, Sani Lodge, with one of the Indigenous Indians coming straight from the Amazon Rainforest to perform in the play. It delivers important environmental messages that are relevant to us all. CYT has won prestigious awards and the play was even chosen to be performed at the Edinburgh Fringe.

But the story doesn’t stop here. 

During the writing of the play, the environmental message was so important to Sharon Gaffney, a business manager for the Pump House Theatre, she actually took her family and visited the rainforest, meeting and staying with the indigenous people for two weeks.

She listened to their stories first hand of how we are destroying the forest, their homes and this fragile ecosystem. Sharon brought this experience back home, with interviews and film footage that was integrated into the play, spreading the message about living more sustainably. 

This message was equally important for the theatre itself. The Pump House Community Theatre has been active in Watford for 45 years and these days engages 18,000 people every year producing performance events in a heady mix of music, dance, drama, comedy, improv and art.

The historic Victorian building which houses this hive of activity is Watford’s old water pumping station, and the Pump House Theatre and Arts Trust took it out of disuse during the 1970’s. As you can imagine it wasn’t built with the environmental standards that we have today and one of their biggest uses of power is their old Tungsten stage lighting.

In their quest to reduce their impact on the environment the theatre changed their lighting. With the help of a £5000 grant from Low Carbon Workspaces they have invested £15,000 to replace the old lights with new LED lights. In less than a year they have saved more than 13 tonnes of CO2. On average, one acre of new forest can sequester about 2.5 tons of carbon annually, therefore their carbon saving is equivalent to planting just over 5 acres of new forest.

Sharon said, "we would never have been able to do this without the grant".  She went on "the next time Rainforest Dreams is performed at The Pump House Theatre, it will be under new, low wattage lighting and spread the message of environmental sustainability with merely a fraction of the impact on the environment that it did first time round".

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