My writing on ecoTheater has enabled me to work out my ideas about creating a more sustainable way to produce theater as I go along — and it’s been a rather bumpy path. My bread and butter at the moment happens to be my work for a rather conventionally run, small, but productive and largely fulfilling children’s theater. So, my writing here has also helped me formulate the steps I can take within that organization to help it inch its way toward a greener model.
Along the way, I’ve been spending a small amount of my “company time” drafting an extensive environmental policy to be introduced and fully implemented (best case scenario) at a later date. I’m fortunate enough here to be surrounded by a small, open-minded staff that (to varying degrees) supports the overall notion of sustainability. It ranges from an office manager who takes every small green step with enthusiasm and interest to a development director who has encouraged me to keep her abreast of all my writing on green theater, and would like to have me tag along on meetings with donors who have a great interest in eco-responsible action.
My position with CTM has been a blessing in many ways (even putting aside that the PAD hired me just before I was to begin chemotherapy, and accepted my frequent absence during the first production I was to manage due to the harsh realities of cancer treatment), and one of them has certainly been the way it has exposed me to the idea of breaking new ground with a group of people (in this case the six members of the theater’s year-round staff) with whom you have never worked. It is the kind of theater in which folks of varying backgrounds, interests, and talents are put together in a small room and asked to not only produce high quality theater, but also run a youth-oriented training program, and do it all on a rather small budget. What you get is a lot of ideas, and a lot of baggage (both positive and negative) inadvertently brought to the table.
What this comes down to is the need to craft policy — policy that works for everyone at the table, because forcing things down throats is not only detrimental to the collaborative nature of producing theater, but also leads to resentment. Not a good way to move forward.
So, how do we do it? Well, Larry Fried and Theresa May, in their book Greening Up Our Houses, suggest the formation of something they call a “Habitat Committee,” which can develop the areas that need to be addressed, and how to address them. The benefit of such a committee, regardless of its name, is simple: policy crafted through consensus by those closest to the areas being affected.
But to reap this benefit, the committee must be made up of the people who will most be needed to implement it’s recommendations. Otherwise, (as I’ve said already) resentment will inevitably stew in the areas of the company that most need improvement — since folks will feel forced to change the way they work by people in other departments.
According to Fried and May in Greening Up Our Houses, the Habitat Committee should be authorized to:
1. assess the environmental problems of various departments
2. produce a plan that identifies certain short, mid, and long-range goals for each department
3. provide staff training or briefings to implement and coordinate new policies and practices
4. monitor the ongoing application of new policies and procedures, incorporating feedback from other staff and assessing the success of particular efforts
5. make adjustments to the plan as needed
The trick is having the good fortune to work in an environment where the idea of sustainability in theater production goes beyond the seemingly common head nodding that goes along with most of the necessary steps toward a more eco-responsible model of production. What I mean is that most of us in the theater are met with agreement when we bring up the idea of sustainability — it’s when we start taking the actual steps that we meet resistance (“it’s too expensive,” “it sounds nice, but it’s too esoteric,” “worrying about our environmental footprint is outside our mission,” etc.).
Fried and May also provide the above flow chart (which they call a metabolic chart displaying the “theatre organism) in order to help a Habitat Committee better asses the areas for improvement within a company. By reducing the inflow, and the toxicty of the inflow, theaters are better able to reduce the amount of raw materials and energy used in operations; and by subsequently reducing the outflow, materials are kept out of the waste stream and reduce the theater’s contribution to air and waterborne pollution.
Such a chart can be enormously helpful when sitting down to assess the areas that need to be addressed within an organization.
Policy is essential to initiating any sustainable program — it is essential to accomplish any of the ideas for greening up theater that I’ve discussed in this blog previously (costumes, lighting, the front office, etc.). Of course, individual staff members and department heads can take the bull by the horns and initiate impressive change within their department; but for such action to have a real effect on the overall operation of a company, and comprise significant change, there must be cooperation, and a cohesive plan for moving forward. It seems that in larger organizations, a committee such as Fried and May’s “Habitat Committee” would do the trick nicely. For smaller organizations, it may take just one strong individual that is willing to introduce policy to colleagues and be responsible for helping it to be implemented.