Archive for May, 2008


Has NYTW changed its mind?

Here we go again…

Just when I thought it was safe to focus on the matter at hand here on ecoTheater, NYTW rears its not-so-pretty head again.

I don’t subscribe to ARTSearch — and I don’t hang around anywhere that does. But, I did receive word from someone in the industry who asked not to be named (and no, it wasn’t Michael Casselli) that NYTW has placed the following ad in the job search rag:

PRODUCTION AND FACILITIES MANAGER – New York, NY Job posted on May 16, 2008 NEW YORK THEATRE WORKSHOP seeks a full-time Production and Facilities Manager whose responsibilities include coordinating all production elements and staffing for season in 199-seat theatre, 65-seat theatre space, and rehearsal studio; maintaining all production budgets; hiring technical staff; overseeing building maintenance; and collaborating with other staff on capital project for new shop space. Must be able to communicate effectively with theatre artists. Strong background in stagecraft, sound, lighting (and all relevant computer software) preferable. Salary commensurate with experience.

What gives? Has New York Theatre Workshop (NYTW) seen the error of their ways? What a shame to think that they had to can their entire production staff only to realize that they need one after all — even if they only hire back a full-time PM.

The whole affair makes ecoTheater all teary eyed, frankly, because when they booted Casselli they booted someone dedicated to sustainability (who also happens from all accounts I’ve had to be a kickass theater artist and tech).


Sueko interviewed by DramaBiz online

Just got word of the online video interview of Seema Sueko, artistic director of Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company (an old friend of ecoTheater). The video was compiled by DramaBiz in order to address the flood of interest their April issue’s cover story on sustainable theater has generated. Check it out.

I’m also pleased to report, of course, that Sueko was kind enough to mention ecoTheater. Her comment about the demise of my story for American Theatre, while true, has a happy ending: I recently completed an opinion essay for the magazine that will run in this year’s September issue.


The Theatres Trust Conference 08

Next month, London’s The Theatres Trust (TTT) will hold their annual conference — and guess what they’re calling it? BUILDING SUSTAINABLE THEATRES. Nice.

According the press release, “theatre owners and managers, manufacturers, suppliers and consultants, architects and engineers, will be invited to debate the impact of climate change on theatre buildings and what influence the reduction of our carbon footprint will have on theatre use in the 21st Century.”

The TTT conference will be held on June 10 at Cottesloe Theatre.

Man, I’ve got to get to London.


Green Theater: How To: The Office

What follows are ten tips for small companies, based on how a handful of theaters — from Mo’olelo in San Diego to Stagecrafters in Philadelphia — have made efforts to go green, as well as some of my own thoughts.

1. Make Zero Waste your goal. What, you say, how can that be? Well, strictly speaking, it isn’t wholly possible. But you can make it a goal, and get closer and closer, until, perhaps one day you arrive.

2. The three R’s go along way in the office, as they do elsewhere in the small company: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. And there is a reason that recycle is last on the list: it should be the last resort, and not assumed to be the best you can do to green up. While recycling is better (in most cases) than the landfill, it’s better yet to avoid either. So, the best bet in the front office is to stop using so much paper, stop printing so many forms and unneccessary items. If you find yourself printing unwanted pages, try using GreenPrint, free software that will help you reduce the number of unwanted pages being printed.

3. For those areas where you must use paper and other resources, find greener ways to do it: use 100% post-consumer paper for all your paper needs, including scripts, programs, flyers, post cards, et cetera. Another option is using non-tree based paper, such as hemp, for some or all of these items. Will this increase cost? Not much. And the added cost can be offset by reducing and reusing. An easy step taken by Furious Theatre Company in Pasadena is simply placing a basket by the door where patrons can deposit their used programs so that they can be reused (if people know that they can return programs for future use, most of them will). By encouraging such action, you can reduce the number of programs you need to print for each production. Warehouses could be filled with unused production programs across the globe.

Also, try to print on two sides of paper whenever possible — the math is easy there.

Another consideration in the use of paper is using Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-Certified products, so that you know that paper you are using is coming from responsibly managed forests throughout the world.

Better yet, go paperless wherever possible. The Internet age has allowed us to go electronic in so many ways: sharing calendars online, sending memos and other official paperwork via email, and do all kinds of tedious paperwork (from tracking budgets to creating lighting paperwork) on our computers, printing only when absolutely necessary.

4. Reducing and reusing goes beyond paper, too. Where I work, we are gradually taking on green ideas. One that has come up recently is the toner for our copier. I suggested a company called Think! which is centered on remanufacturing used toner and ink jet cartridges — it’s cheaper than buying new, and reduces the number of new petroleum-based thingamajigs that need to be created and thrown away.

Another area of non-paper reduction and reuse is the ubiquitous to-go coffee cup. I am a coffee addict (though it’s pretty mild at one cup a day), and I have an old ceramic mug on my desk. So, when I get to work, the first thing I do is grab my mug and walk down the street to the closest coffee shop and get it filled up — they charge me less too!

5. Turn off the lights. I was really pleased recently when I realized that Pat, our office manager at Children’s Theater of Madison simply does not turn the lights on in the office on sunny days. Of course, our office is small, and blessed with an entire wall of northish-facing windows that face the street on the second floor. This means that our light is not obstructed by any close-by neighbors, and it doesn’t heat up too much in the summer. Because of the number of windows the fact that it faces mostly north doesn’t matter either. It’s still plenty of light to work in.

If this isn’t possible in your work space, then install sensor or timer switches for your lights so that you’ll be sure NO ONE leaves them on inadvertently.

6. (When you DO turn the lights on) Use Compact Flourescent Light bulbs. My mother-in-law is one of the few people I know who simply refuses to get on the CFL bandwagon. Why? People are concerned about the mercury in the bulbs, and the effect it will have on the environment as well as the potential threat to human health when and if the bulbs break, releasing their mercury content.

With all due respect to my mother-in-law (I love her dearly, and she’s been great to me), the fear over mercury is not only nonsense, it’s horribly misguided. Two things to consider: the amount of mercury found in CFLs is tiny — one hundred times less than is found in a single amalgam filling, which most of us have (I know I do, and I’m sure my mother-in-law does!)– which means that the threat to human health is essentially nonexistent; second, we can consider the following statistic if we’re concerned about mercury in the environment: the Earth Policy Institute (EPI) has conducted a study on CFLs and concluded that more than 270 coal-fired power plants could be eliminated worldwide by switching from standard incandescent bulbs to CFLs — how’s that for keeping mercury out of the environment?

So make the switch. And when the bulbs die (when does that happen? my wife and I have CFLs that we’ve been using for over three years in our house) be sure to seek out how to recycle and properly dispose of them — up to 95% of the mercury they contain can be eliminated if disposed of properly.

7. Don’t drive to work. There are so many better ways to get there — both for the environment and for your body! If you don’t live close enough to your primary place of work (be it the office, the theater, or a shop) to bike, walk, or ride public transit to get there, then you should seriously consider relocating. Really, there is nothing better than biking or walking home from work and watching all the schlubs backed up in traffic to get to the suburbs or (gawd forbid) the exurbs.

As a side note, encouraging your staff to carpool if they must drive (winter, for instance), and giving them incentives to ride or walk can go a long way in giving folks the nudge they need to make an important lifestyle change. Driving is stressful, after all, and having stress-free time to walk or ride the bus can add a much needed shot of peacefulness into your life.

Such incentives are also a great idea to pass along to your audience (witness Mo’olelo’s ticket discounts), which will help the overall sustainability of your operations.

8. Switch to laptops for your staff. Even the big ones use less energy than desktops.

9. Dispose Responsibly. When you do have to get rid of something, do everything you can to recycle or otherwise save the item from the landfill. At my office, our copier/fax machine died and we had to get rid of it. We found a local guy who has made a business of picking up such large appliances from homes and businesses and either recycling them bit by bit, or fixing them and donating them to folks in need.

10. Check out The Green Office, or another eco-friendly office supply vendor (Green Earth Office Supply, Green Light Office, Green Office Store, and Dolphin Blue are just a few out there) and start using them as your primary supplier. Better yet, find local office supply vendors that provide the same kind of products and services.


Sustainable Theater Facilities Get Attention at NATEAC

According to the current issue of the ESTA’s Protocol magazine, the North American Theatre Engineering and Architecture Conference (NATEAC) will hold a panel discussion this year entitled “The Greener Theatre.”

[insert nod to Gideon Banner of the Green Theater Initiative for this tip]

“Architecture for the arts, with very few exceptions, has been woefully behind the curve when it comes to approachinig the design, construction, and operation of buildings for sustainable cultural operations,” writes David Taylor in the magazine.

“The impact of cultural buildings on the ecology of the planet is many-fold,” Taylor continues, pointing out the often simplistic view of green building that many of us hold, urging builders, designers, and artists alike to look at the bigger picture: “The necessity for carbon accountability needs to extend to the manufacturing and marketing processes of our theatre suppliers, as well as the process of transporting both the raw materials and finished product.”

Taylor’s article is worth a full read for sure, and includes a valuable sidebar on some considerations when thinking about green theater facilities. It is enormously encouraging to read since the author and at least a portion of his colleagues seem both tremendously knowledgeable on how to approach the problems with pragmatic solutions, and eager to share their ideas. I know Banner is working on getting into the conference to attend the panel on green theater, and if any of you ecoTheater readers plan on being there, please let me know. I’d love to hear about it.

The conference will run July 20 & 21 at Pace University in NYC.


9Thirty Theatre Company Set to Launch in NYC

Received an enthusiastic email from Jeff Burroughs, one of the co-founders of the new 9Thirty Theatre Company (9TTC), announcing their New Wordsmiths Forge a Series at The Bridge Theatre @ Shetler Studios May 23 through May 25.

9TTC bills itself as “a unique new theatre company dedicated to being eco-friendly.” And: “a company that cultivates creativity and showcases artists working toward viable solutions for a sustainable future.” Well, they know how to get my attention. But how do they plan on accomplishing this eco-friendliness? Well, I’m glad you asked — because I did too.

As it stands, 9TTC is a nomadic company for now, but has big plans for the future. “I have been meeting with green architects and designers to find what components can be implemented into our building as we continue our search for a home, Burroughs told ecoTheater via email today. “Things we’ve come up with and are working on developing are: theater seats made from soy, having Parans Solar Lighting, [the] use [of] infrared and ultrasonic sensors to keep lights off when no one is present, [and] incorporating the use of vertical gardens.”

“We are also about sustaining artists and new works as well,” Burroughs said, adding that 9TTC also hope to develop “programs for city kids that combine agricultural experiences with artistic classes.”

Well, what can I say? Best of luck 9TTC — and I encourage all of my NYC readers to go out and support this new company with such lofty and worthy goals.


A New Model part III: Community

Without getting embroiled in the recent raucous debate going on in the so-called theatrosphere (or something like that–I’ve never been much of a hipster in the blogging world) about this delicate word, community, and the bastard-like idea that it has spawned, I would like to introduce the next part of my notion of a new model of sustainable theater in America.

To get down to it, when finding the words “community” and “theater” right next to each other, theater artists (myself included at times) tend to cringe a bit. The term community theater has become synonymous with amateur, often wholly self-indulgent (one might even say masturbatory), uninspired theater. Now, that may be the elite tendencies of the theater artist shining through, but more often than not, I think the reaction is justified in many ways. That isn’t to say that community theater doesn’t have its place, because it certainly does, and there are things about it that I think we could all learn from tremendously. Which is what I want to talk about: the word community as it applies to the future of theater; and how we might transcend the very idea of community theater–and what it has come to connote–in our times.

Before you read any further, however, I’d like to recommend Jonathan Hicks’ post on “arts and community.” It’s quite nice, really, and is more eloquent (and abstract) than what I have to offer…

To me (and this is an important distinction, I know, because we all bring our own histories and — dare I say — baggage to this perennial debate on the future of theater), the idea of community is essential to theater. There are different levels of community we must consider as well. First, there is the community we might call the company; that is, the folks that make up the core members of a theater, keeping it alive artistically, financially, and physically. Next is the first level of the theater community, including other theater companies that exist within one’s area, be it the same city, region, or state. The second level of the theater community extends outwards globally, and includes America’s regional theaters, community theaters, SPT’s, et cetera, as well as those across the world — because they are each attempting to engage in the art of theater we therefore have much in common with them. The final, and perhaps most significant, community constitutes those people in your city, town, rural area, who make up the people directly involved, affected by, and simply within reasonable geographic distance of the physical space that you consider your theater. In this group, I include not only those that attend your performances or events, donate or invest money in your company, or actively become involved in your work, but also those that drive or bike or walk by your theater, reading the posters or flyers or marquee, those that read about your work in the local rag, those that want to buy up your building to make way for a Wal-Mart, those that hate your very existence, and those that peek in during off hours saying things like “oh, you guys do shows in here?”

All of them — lovers, haters, and hangers on — are part of a theater’s community.

And it’s easy to stop there. Okay, so we’re part of a community. Some kind of community. But what does that mean at the local level — the level I am most concerned with for a theater model that is promoting and exercising sustainability? It means, simply, that if localization is a key element of sustainability it must inform every aspect of a theater’s work, from production techniques to the types of stories being told on its stage. A sustainable theater, concerned as it should be with the local, cannot disassociate itself from its community. It is, for all intents and purposes, a community theater.

In the perfect sense, this idea would translate into staging works that a theater’s immediate community (the ones walking by, and poking their heads in) would be able to relate to in a very real way — in my new neighborhood here in Madison that might mean a work that addresses the communities concern about the lakes and how no one feels safe swimming in them anymore, but it might also mean staging a play about two recent murders that have the city bound up in a conflict that involves the police department, the 911 call center, the homeless and their advocates, and the families of the deceased.

The idea of community also means that as an organization, a theater following a model of sustainability would seek to involve its community in its operations in some way — whether that be welcoming volunteers to help with the box office, or staging work that includes them as performers on a semi-regular basis is up to the members of the theater company. It should also extend to other businesses in the area, utilizing local vendors, and encouraging collaboration whenever possible.

So where does that leave us? With a company that cares enough about its locals to include them on every level. It seems like a no-brainer to me: what better way to keep the work vibrant, thriving, timely, and interesting to the people you want in the seats?


a word on the new look

This is the third “look” I’ve chosen for ecoTheater. What can I say? I like change.

One reason I decided to go this route is because I read not long ago that using a dark background (especially black) uses less power on your computer than the usual light background. So here it is, a small step towards energy conservation brought to you by ecoTheater.

Coming up…some thoughts on “community.”



Robert Butler over at ashdenizen has a great post on how a theater might better commune with nature (and presumably even the manmade world around it), including staging works outdoors and considering the season when selecting plays. This is a wonderful area of thought. Check it out — he says it best.

what’s in a color?

"It should be about different kinds of symbols than the color green—wind farms, solar, renewable-energy laboratories, those things that are symbolic of the new energy economy. People think that we overuse the concept of green, and it could become trite in its expression.”
“This idea about green in a lot of people’s minds still conjures up this notion of a fringe or something that’s out-there. It doesn’t inspire this notion of a new America. It just seems more substantive than a color.” - Colorado governor Bill Ritter, Jr. in The New Yorker
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