Walking the talk

Back in October, as I was going through chemo, I took a chance and accepted a job here in Madison as production manager for a small children’s theater called Children’s Theater of Madison (CTM). When my wife and I moved to Madison last summer, I had no illusions of pursuing work in the theater, since the city is relatively small and has a very small local theater community, consisting of mostly community-type theater organizations. I planned to focus more on my theater writing here, taking on ecoTheater as my primary task, and even flirted with the idea of going back to school to earn a graduate degree in Theater Education so that I could bring sustainable theater into the academic arena, where I believe it must get a foothold if we are to make any sort of dent in the professional world.

But then, this job opportunity fell into my email box one day. The company has been around since the sixties, but has spent the last decade or so floundering, and financially bled itself to near death just a few years ago. In the Fall, the board made the inspired decision to hire Roseann Sheridan as the Producing Artistic Director to get the place back into shape–both artistically and financially. And Roseann was kind enough to give me the opportunity to join her staff to help make that happen (knowing that I would spend at least the first two months of my time with CTM undergoing cancer treatment). I was excited by the prospect for many reasons, and not just because it gave me the option to continue my work as a theater practitioner, rather than merely as an observer and critic–it also was a chance to dive into the Madison theater community and be a part of the kind of theater I can really believe in, one that is deeply involved in the city, and in education.

There was a small problem, of course. Was I ready to take on a position that I knew could put me in an awkward position with regards to my desire to create a more sustainable theater? CTM is a small operation, and has a limited budget and resources. Plus, no matter how forward thinking its leaders or board may be, I knew it was going to be an uphill battle to try to institute greener practices. I found myself up against the wall I had always believed presented the worst obstacle to greening up theater production: money. I recalled nervously the statement that Michael Casselli of New York Theatre Workshop (NYTW) made to me when I pressed him on this issue last year: “That argument is cynical and very counterproductive for the long term ideal,” he told me. “Not only for the industry, but for the planet itself.” Casselli also enjoys the full support of the NYTW administration on his attempts at sustainability. He is, in essence, preaching to the choir. But not everyone–including me–has that luxury. So, what are we to do? Try anyway.

And so I have. I must continually remind myself that I have only been with the company for a handful of months, and am currently at work on only the second production I’ve done with them. Helping CTM become more sustainable will take time. Lots of time. But, I am in the position to make it happen–or, at least, get it close.


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