The first greenList was posted in June 2007, as I was discovering theater companies that were making an effort to green up. The list was short, containing only five theaters, but highlighted the organizations that had demonstrated a true commitment to the idea of sustainability. Most of them were on the list because they created LEED certified buildings. It seemed at the time the clearest indicator of true dedication to environmental stewardship among performing arts organizations.
The current list has been expanded to include companies that have made efforts consistent with the size and limits of their organizations–in other words, we can’t all expect to build or renovate a new facility, let alone up to LEED standards. But, we can contribute. And this greenList reflects that.
A couple of the organizations listed are not strictly theater companies either. But they are included here because they are performing arts venues that face many of the same challenges that producing theaters must deal with.
Geography also seems to play a role in the list I’ve compiled. It calls to mind Scott Walters non-too-long-ago diatribe on the centralized nature of regional/professional theater in the U.S. That is, most of the theaters on the list (11) are either on the west coast or in NYC–which means, I think, little more than most of the theaters in this country seem to be either on the east or west coast, with smatterings of dominance in the midwest via Minneapolis and Chicago. Anyway, just something (more) to think about.
greenList – Spring 2008
(in alphabetical order)
1. 52nd Street Project – New York City
A non-profit with an extraordinary mission: The 52nd Street Project (The Project) is dedicated to the creation and production of new plays for, and often by, kids between the ages of nine and eighteen that reside in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood in New York City. The Project does this through a series of unique mentoring programs that match kids with professional (and volunteer!) theater artists.
The Project has plans to move into a new facility that aims to earn a silver LEED rating through the use of “efficient mechanical and lighting systems” and the use of nontoxic buiding materials. Also, “the core and shell incorporates green systems and materials and includes turbine- generated power produced on-site.”
2. Electric Lodge – Venice, CA
You know you’ve found a green company when a line in their mission statement reads “to be a home for world ecological change.” The “lodge” is a community driven multi-use arts facility and has been spoken of in connection with the recently proposed Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts (CSPA).
3. Furious Theater – Pasadena, CA
With the help of Green, Of Course the Furious Theater began making small changes to their small operations last year to make themselves more eco-friendly. Just watch the video below to see the steps they took (in the right direction).
4. Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company – San Diego, CA
Perhaps the most publicly devoted (to sustainability) small theater troupe in the nation. Headed by Seema Sueko, Mo’olelo has devised what it calls GREEN Theater Categories & Sustainable Guidelines to help the company find its way through the often confusing issues that need to be addressed if an organization hopes to stay as green as possible. Sueko has also planted herself in the middle of the green theater movement and will be holding a “webinar” on the subject via Drama Biz online with scene designer David F. Weiner (700 Sundays) in April.
5. The New Victory Theatre – New York City
According to Kellie Gutman, writing on the Ashden Directory, NVT has “done a major switch in lighting, inside and out reducing the annual bill for their exterior kinetic light sculpture by 80% a year, saving $50,000.”
6. New York Theatre Workshop – New York City
Unlike the others on the list, NYTW is in the planning stages of building new green shop facilities–costume and scenery–the only such project of which I am aware. This is significant because scene shops in particular contribute in a very big way to the sustainability problems of theatrical production. They will focus their efforts in sustainability on reducing waste, reusing or donating materials, and switching from working with wood-based scenery to using recycled (and recyclable) steel construction.
In addition, NYTW is blessed with a production manager committed to promoting and advancing sustainability within the organization: Michael Casselli. “I think people need to take a more long-term look at what’s going on,” he says. “We just have to start thinking differently.” And Casselli has certainly been on the leading edge of theatrical managers thinking inside the eco-box. He tries to consider all aspects of production in greener terms–an approach that can make a much bigger impact than recycling programs and other small gestures theaters sometimes make. For instance, Casselli is known to encourage designers to consider greener building materials, and actively seeks to donate materials from shows that are coming down, estimating that he donated about 80% of the materials from last year’s production of All That I Will Ever Be.
Casselli and NYTW have also been looking into securing alternative forms of energy, including participating in Con Edison’s Green Power Program.
NYTW plans to break ground on the project this year and have the facility in operation some time in 2009.
7. Portland Center Stage – Portland, OR
In 2006, PCS opened the doors of the Gerding Theater, arguably the greenest, most sustainable performing arts facility in the country. But, in the eyes of PCS artistic director, Chris Coleman, the decision to build green was made with initial relunctance.
“I was resistant because I didnt’ get how it would fit with what we were trying to do in the building,” he told me last year. “I had to figure out how making it a showcase for sustainability [would help] PCS accomplish its overall mission.” He struggled to find the link between producing interesting theater and building green. “For a while,” he said, “I couldn’t see it.” But with a city tax incentive urging him toward LEED certification, Coleman took a tour of an existing green building in Portland. “I liked that the building felt like it was doing more than just housing the organization,” he said of the trip that changed his outlook on the idea of building sustainably. “That field trip was a turning point for me.”
Even then, he had still not found the real link, the justification for dedicating PCS to such a unique undertaking. “Finally,” he said, “I realized that one of our goals was to reinvent our relationship with community.” He was also hoping to connect with a more diverse, younger audience. What better way to do this, Coleman thought, than to embrace Portland’s well-known love of all things green? He had hit upon the link he sought–the link that would lead to stronger community relations, and hopefully stronger performance at the box office.
And when I last spoke to Coleman, the numbers were certainly proving that the link he hoped for had come to fruition: attendance had shot up 35%, ticket sales to both students and the under 30 set had doubled, and 43% of all ticket buyers were between the ages of 25 and 40. What regional theater wouldn’t love box office numbers like that?
8. Shotgun Players – Berkeley, CA
At the end of 2007, Shotgun became (as far as I can tell) the first theater troupe to take their productions off the grid by installing solar panels for their performance space. With a price tag of $120,000 this small company stepped fully up to the plate and committed itself to sustainability.
9. Solar One – New York City
It’s this kind of thing that sometimes leads me to wish I lived in NYC. Solar One, a Green Energy Arts and Education Center is located in Stuyvesant Cove Park (NYC’s only native plant park), and utilizes solar panels to fuel performance of all kinds, including dance, theater, and live music. Solar One also plans to break ground this year on Solar 2, “an 8,000 square foot 100% green-powered education and arts center that is slated to be New York’s first Platinum LEED educational facility.”
10. Stagecrafters Theater – Philadelphia, PA
With their Green Campaign or Green Initiative (depending on where you look on their site), Stagecrafters has embarked on the uphill climb toward sustainability. They have so far only officially announced their Green Subscriptions campaign, which offers a “green option” to ticket subscribers. By paying an extra $2 for their tickets, subscribers will help the theater buy into renewable energy (in this case wind) and contribute to “other energy-saving projects, including insulation, high-efficiency lighting and appliances, and setback thermostats.”
11. Theatre For A New Audience – New York City
With a building designed by the superstar team of Frank Gehry and Hugh Hardy, TFANA will have as its first permanent home a green building of the first rank. But, much like Coleman and PCS, TFANA’s leadership was initially reluctant to pursue green building for their new space. With the passage of NYC’s Local Law 86 (stipulating that buildings that accept 50% or more of their funding from the city be required to earn at least a LEED silver rating), however, they were encouraged to take another look.
“We came to this party because we had to,” Dorothy Ryan, TFANA’s managing director admits. “But the really good part of the story [is that] this is something that our team has really embraced in a very genuine way.”
Says Hardy: “Theaters, by nature, consume large amounts of energy. Working with TFANA has challenged us to create an environmentally responsible design that incorporates sustainable design methods and utilizes the latest in energy efficient systems. Our aim is to reduce the overall use of energy, making TFANA one of the first LEED certified theaters in the country.”
TFANA’s new space is set to open some time in 2009.
12. Theatrical Outfit – Atlanta, GA
A small theater company, Theatrical Outfit acquired an historical building and renovated it in 2006 to earn them a LEED Silver rating. I have previously (and I still believe correctly) annointed them as the first performing arts organization in the United States to become LEED certified.
Tom Key, TO’s artistic director, may have been the first green theater leader who knew from the start that building green was “the right thing to do.”
13. Wild Project – New York City
The Wild Project recently renovated a 99-seat house that includes recycled glass tiles, bamboo plywood, low flush toilets, rooftop solar panels and energy-efficient glass windows. The green idea extends to the lobby too, where concessions use recycled paper products and sell organic beer and wine.
14. Wolf Trap – Vienna, VA
In oder that they might “create a culture of environmental responsibility” Wolf Trap has created both a Staff Environmental Task Force as well as its own National Advisory Council on the Arts and Environment. The performing arts organization has also taken up plenty of practical measures in order to green up, including reducing waste and conserving energy use.
Says Terrence (Terre) Jones, Wolf Trap’s President and CEO: “Music, dance, theater and the visual arts cannot magically reverse the environmental degradation or enact policy change. But what the arts can do is inspire… our collective creativity serves as a gateway to understanding the essence of the natural world, and in turn our understanding of one another.”
If you know of an organization that you feel should be on ecoTheater’s greenList, please contact me. The list will expand as I learn about more green and greening organizations, so don’t hesitate to help me keep it up to date. And thanks for reading!