Archive for the 'Drama' Category


‘Connecting the Frontal Cortext to the Solar Plexus’: The Ashden Directory’s Contribution to EMOS

The folks over at The Ashden Directory participated in this year’s Earth Matters on Stage at the University of Oregon from afar — an act borne of the desire to contribute to the conference/symposium without flying across the globe to do so.

Here is a DVD they produced in order to introduce their session. It’s a stand-alone piece of work, with fantastic insight. I think my favorite moment is when Mojisola Adebayo says that many theater artists believe that theater is “inherently good for you, therefore theater makers inherently do good.” She goes on: “I don’t think any of us think our work could be harmful in anyway.” When will we, as theater artists, admit that our work can be, and often is, harmful?

Vodpod videos no longer available.


Theater Matters – Notes from EMOS 2009 Part II

It’s 11am where I’m from (9am here on the west coast), and I just woke up. The schedule so far this weekend for EMOS coupled with my determination to get everywhere on a bike while I’m here has added up to the biggest physical challenge I’ve undertaken since my chemo and surgery. At about six o’clock this morning I woke up with a painful cramp in my right calf. I was determined to sleep as long as my body needed. So I did.

I wanted to write more yesterday about EMOS, but my day was so full with the goings-on here, I never got a chance. I arrived at the University of Oregon yesterday morning and began a solid, nearly twelve hour marathon of stuff.

Outside the Miller Theatre Complex at the University of Oregon on my first day at EMOS 2009

Outside the Miller Theatre Complex at the University of Oregon on my first day at EMOS 2009

It began by sitting in a classroom, listening to theater scholars describe their work. “Theater scholars,” I thought when I heard the term spoken from behind the lectern for the first time yesterday. “Not theater artists?”

Within the several scholarly talks I listened to yesterday there were a few that stood out, and rose above the scholarly drone.

Downing Cless of Tufts University spoke interestingly of how he has directed classic works to draw out their Ecological themes. What I found most interesting about Cless was his final thought: that even if we are able to draw out the environmental themes in this (very old) work, we are still “dependent on the mechanics of the stage.” As an example he mentioned that Aristophanes relied on a crane for his work The Birds (a work Cless has directed) when first produced. With this thought he ended his talk, and it seemed to be either an open ended challenge for folks like me or a rebuke of the idea that it is equally important to produce in an eco-responsible manner as it is to draw attention to our relationship with nature on the stage.

Heather Barfield Cole (who told me this morning that she’s dropping the Cole from her name soon) of UT Austin described a handful of examples of successful activist theater, including the street theater of Bread & Puppet and even the work of ACT UP — her presentation was refreshingly free of the seemingly typical readerly drone of such things. She spoke of the criteria of activist theater, and I feverishly tried to jot down her list, but fear I missed too much of it to reproduce here; however, in quotes I did write this: “not as luxury, but out of need.” Enough said?

The highlight of my day, however, was unexpected: Anne Justine D’Zmura gave a presentation to an entirely too small audience on her experience of producing a work called Green Piece at Cal State Long Beach, where she is a professor. Her work was one of the best examples I’ve yet seen/heard of in this genre of so-called EcoDrama that I have encountered. Why? It was a completely holistic approach to the problem that we (I think) hope to address when producing work on the environment, sustainability, et cetera. She not only created an original work that thematically addressed the issue of nature, ecological destruction, and social injustice (to name a few), but also took the idea of the thing to heart and made sure to use the work to educate her students (and herself) on the core issues, as well as — and here is where you know I get excited — making a concerted effort to create a piece that tread as lightly as possible on the environment by considering its use of resources carefully. Thank you, Anne. (here is a link to Anne’s study guide for Green Piece.) As a side note: not even the work presented here at EMOS could attain the level of “solving for pattern” that D’Zmura so creatively reached in her work on Green Piece.

Next came Rachel Rosenthal. The now 83-year old performance artist and activist was in good form, and showed excerpts from her works Gaia, Mon Amour (1983), Rachel’s Brain (1986), and L.O.W. in Gaia (1986) — all overpowering examples of her presence on the stage. She struck me as one of the most quotable speakers I’ve ever listened to. Some examples:

“Artaud saved my life.”

“I do love some people, but I love all animals.”

“I hate being old, because I want to see what happens.”

The evening ended with a staging of C. Denby Swanson’s Atomic Farmgirl, a retelling of Teri Hein’s memoir of the same name which details her experience growing up on a farm in Washington state that was repeatedly contaminated with radiation leaking from the nearby Hanford Nuclear site. It was a play in three acts, with two (did I say two?) intermissions. And I have to say this too: as someone who has dealt with cancer directly over the past two years, I was a bit unnerved that the 1st and 2nd place winners of the EMOS play festival both dealt with cancer in a very real way.

Oh, and I almost forgot: I met Theresa May yesterday too, and she was incredibly kind. For all of the nit picking I am capable of, I cannot forget (and won’t let you) that she has undertaken this festival and is obviously a friggin’ force of nature herself. She is to be congratulated for her fortitude and drive — she is asking us to think about these things as theater artists (and scholars), and that in itself is crucial to our future.

Of course, folks never fail to disappoint:

Garrett points at the strange use of the garbage can outside UO's Miller Theatre Complex

Garrett points at the strange use of the garbage can outside UO's Miller Theatre Complex

It may be difficult to tell in the photo above, but it was surprising to see how so many people at a festival concerned with the environment and our behavior towards it could be so clueless about what to NOT throw in the trash. Behind Ian are a string of recycling options, as well as a yellow bin for compostables — all items used for eating at the festival are designed to be compostable except (I’m not clear on why this is) the forks. But, nearly everyone threw their stuff right in the trash — even the paper plates and seemingly clean napkins. As we walked away from this, Ian and I had a discussion about the need to eliminate sorting at the consumer end of recycling. It confuses, is inefficient, and generally redundant, as most municipalities sort the recycling anyway.


coming back at life

It’s been three months since I had major surgery to remove half of the lymph nodes in my abdomen (about twenty) to clear out the final vestiges of my cancer — a thing that no longer lurks within me, but has forever changed me physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Some for the better, some for the worse.

I’m back in my life now, and I’ve been thinking a lot about ecoTheater and how it might come back, how it might fit itself into the new life I’m trying to forge for myself. Many times over the last several months I’ve thought about writing a post about this or that, and aside from a couple that I couldn’t let lie (such as the passing of Rosemary Ingham), I just couldn’t figure out what to write. Then the stories, the news, the ideas kept piling up, and I couldn’t figure out how to get myself back into the room of green theater — the door to which I like to think I helped pry open a bit. And then, the other day I read this:

White Way Gets ‘Green’ Theater

Henry Miller’s Theater, the first newly built Broadway house in more than 20 years — and the first so-called green theater on the Great White Way — has completed major construction and is set to open in September with Roundabout Theater Company’s revival of the musical “Bye Bye Birdie.”

Now, this was not exactly news to me. I’d heard about this project last year, and probably wrote about it on ecoTheater at the time. But it answered the question of ecoTheater for me. This green theater movement has moved beyond me — it’s moved into a realm of theater business that I think is fundamentally flawed, for I do not believe there can be such a thing as a “green” theater on Broadway. Not the Broadway that exists now. No way. You can use all the recycled materials and nifty LED lobby lighting you want, but it won’t change the underlying mode of production (I mean, seriously, Bye Bye Birdie?? As a friend noted on Facebook, reviving a fifty year old musical does not count as recycling). That is what needs to be fixed. Not just because it’s environmentally unsustainable, but rather because it is also financially unsound, utterly lacking in community interaction, culturally numb, and creatively depraved.

Whoa, Mike — them’s fightin’ words, you say? Well, maybe so. And believe me, I recognize that we live in an imperfect world, and the steps that Roundabout has taken are good ones. It’s better than doing nothing, that’s for sure. But I don’t think I can continue to expand my greenList by adding Roundabout’s name, or other similar organizations that meet one very narrow definition of eco-responsible theater. You simply cannot put Mo’olelo and Roundabout in the same basket. It doesn’t work, because one company is operating on a much smaller but infinitely broader scale, while the other is a borderline case of greenwashing.

The scope of ecoTheater was always meant to be wide and inclusive. But now, I must focus my energy more directly on what I think matters — what I think works. I believe my time will be better spent on my own efforts here in the little old Midwest, and leaving the up to the minute reportage of the major happenings in the “movement” to others. As I let ecoTheater continue to rust, I will instead be working on these projects…


Wisconsin Story Project

As some of you may recall, I started on the path to putting my creativity where my mouth is with the Cancer Stories Project — a connection between my life with cancer and my passion for creating a better model of theater production. Eventually CSP morphed into something much bigger that my co-founders and I have dubbed Wisconsin Story Project. It is a company that aims to follow the path of “solving for pattern,” a Wendell Berry idea that I first wrote about here on ecoTheater many moons ago when describing Mo’olelo in California. WSP hopes to solve for pattern because it is about more than just creating green theater, it’s about creating theater in a way that addresses all of the pressing issues and concerns of our community. It’s about connecting on a local level. And I’d like to think it is a company that will someday be worthy of someone’s greenList somewhere.

Madison Arts Production Cooperative

Recently, a very sad but telling thing happened here in Madison, Wisconsin: the forty year old LORT theater, Madison Repertory Theatre, closed it’s doors for good, laying off it’s entire staff and leaving truckloads of equipment and theatrical inventory in a handful of locations throughout town. When the company I work for, Children’s Theater of Madison, got wind of the impending auction and the apparent failure of the hired auctioneer to understand the value of the Rep’s stock, we set to work on a proposal to raise funds to keep the equipment and inventory in Madison in a way that would continue to make it available to arts organizations in the area.

One day my boss, Producing Artistic Director Roseann Sheridan, called me and said, “Remember when we were talking about what might happen to the Rep’s shop and you said you thought a co-op facility would be great? Can you write that idea up in a proposal and have it for me tomorrow morning?”

I took a deep breath, and started writing. I called my idea the Madison Arts Production Cooperative. The proposal sounded good to both the sellers (Madison Rep) and the people who could make it happen financially. Thanks to a generous (anonymous) donation, we were able to purchase the entire production inventory of the decades-old company, keeping it together, and giving us the opportunity to make it all available to the Madison arts community in a way that it has never been before.

The (Book) Project

Writing a book is not easy. Selling a book is even more difficult. I know this from experience. But that has not yet deterred me from my plans to write (or co-write) the next book about green theater. I have spoken to several people about this project, and soon I hope to have a more complete understanding of how this project may take shape. It is certainly a topic that will bring me back to ecoTheater to share news.


I’ll also continue to write on the subject of green theater for print publications whenever I can. I recently published articles on the subject in Theatre Bay Area and DramaBiz. And I will probably poke my head back in the ecoTheater door from time to time to rant or point out something I find particularly interesting to the topic.

Later this month, I will be attending the University of Oregon’s Ecodrama Festival and Symposium (at least the first weekend), and will write about the event for Dramatics. Ecodrama is hosted by Theresa May, a hero of green theater that I have had the privelige of interviewing for ecoTheater before, and co-author of Greening Up Our Houses.

And staying up to date on the green theater movement won’t be hard, as I’m sure most of you know by now. Since ecoTheater first showed up on the world wide web nearly three years ago, a lot has happened — and I was fortunate to have a hand in some of it. The best resources for staying up to date, and learning more about greening the theater are:

The Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts

The Green Theater Initiative

The Ashden Directory

And check out the ecoLinks over on the right hand side of this page too.


Oh, and one last thing…

Thanks to all of you who have supported me and ecoTheater over the last few years — especially in my most difficult times. Your kind words were always sincere, heartfelt, and more appreciated than you can ever know or understand.

Thank you to Ian Garrett, Gideon Banner, Robert Butler, Kellie Gutman, Seema Sueko, Scott Walters, Michael Casselli (who helped provide ecoTheater with its most popular day ever!) and so many more of you for continually encouraging the debate and information I tried to provide on ecoTheater. With folks like you out there, hope remains.


Q & A with Scott Georgeson

Recently, I thought it might be nice to have a sort of guest speaker here on ecoTheater who really knows what they’re talking about. I’ve asked a few people over the last several months if they’d be interested in answering ten specific questions about green theater, and the one person who has really come through and given us all a window into his informed perspective is Scott Georgeson, a theater architect with HGA Architects & Engineers in Milwaukee.

Georgeson first caught my eye a few months ago when I noticed his name cropping up repeatedly in regards to green theater buildings. He co-presented the session “To LEED or not to LEED” at this year’s USITT conference, presented a two part series entitled “On Greening Historic Theatres” for the League of Historic American Theatres Conference (LHAT), and was part of the panel at NATEAC’s entitled “The Greener Theatre.”

The interview below was conducted via email.


ecoTheater: what kind of work do you do?

Scott Georgeson: I have been fortunate. My first job out of school in the mid 1980’s, was with the architectural firm designing the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre (MRT). This was an unbelievable experience. We spent countless hours working with MRT’s management, technicians, designer and performers to get every theatrical detail right. They were also concerned with audience accessibility before ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) was a regulation and reducing energy use before LEED was standard practice. MRT also pushed us to think beyond the needs of the theatre company. This resulted in saving a landmark building, rejuvenating an area of downtown Milwaukee and building one of the first sections of the river walk. I bring the lessons learned from MRT to all my Arts projects. Since then I have completed programs and designs for over 100 facilities for the performing arts, including one of the first LEED rated theatres in the US. Since the mid 1990’s I have been giving “Green Theatre” presentations to theatre organizations. The theater community’s interest in the “Green Theatre” continues to grow. This year I presented at the League of Historic American Theatres Conference (LHAT), United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT), North American Theatre Engineers Architects Conference (NATEAC) and attended the Theatres Trust Conference on Building Sustainable Theatres in London.

eT: what role do you play in the greening of arts organizations?

Being a theater architect, planning and coordinating the engineering of theaters is the expected role. The unexpected role is to develop a green agenda. I open up the conversation to the bigger picture, bringing alternative views, and showing the connections between seemly unconnected issues. The first challenge is to make clear it is easier to be “green” than you think. For example, the Peninsula Players Theatre in Fish Creek, Wisconsin did not start out thinking they wanted to be green, but it seemed a natural fit for them. They are located on a beautiful wooded water front site. Their old theatre had a problem with rain noise and flooding and their ugly, white rubber roof was visible from everywhere. It also developed mold from the high humidity and shade from the surrounding forest. A vegetative roof was the perfect way to control the flooding, provide acoustical density, add life span to the roof material, and it looked great! The mixer of seedums and wild flowers blended perfectly in the surrounding cedar forest. This was a green solution that solved a lot of nagging problems.

Second, you need to think beyond the bricks and mortar and look at the big picture. One of my first presentations on green theatre was to LHAT. An audience member claimed “we can’t be green because we are a historic theatre.” I pointed out there is nothing greener than reusing a building. They are also located in the downtown and could jump start a renewal of the area, saving other buildings and using existing city infrastructure including public transit. The theatre was built before air conditioning, relying on natural ventilation through a floor plenum and roof exhaust vents. This would allow for a displacement air system, which is very efficient and a trend in the HVAC system designs in green theaters. We talked about reusing the theater seats, starting a recycling program, changing out building equipment, etc. He started to understand the bigger picture and concluded they were already on track to be green.

eT: how do you define sustainability?

Sustainability is about conserving resources, having a minimum impact on our surroundings and understanding the long term impact of our actions. Sustainability understands the difference between “needs” and “wants”. Sustainability requires you to look for new ways to become more efficient and save resources everyday.

eT: do you think sustainability is an appropriate term in the arts, or even an acheivable goal — or, should we simply call it “green,” or “eco-friendly,” or “eco-responsible?”

A couple of years ago a web search on “sustainable theatre” would bring up articles on the “financial sustainability” of theater organizations. Today there are more links to “green” articles. I believe both topics are related. Theatres are a business and need to survive in order to present their Art. Reducing and saving resources should be an integral part of every non-profit’s plan, especially when operation money is always short. I do like the term “eco-responsible” – it speaks to a broader thinking.

eT: what role do you think arts organizations can (or should) play in creating sustainable communities?

This is a great follow up to the previous question. My broad view is that arts groups are crucial to our quality of life and add to the livability of our cities. The arts reach across all income levels, education, race and political beliefs. I don’t think it is an accident that cities with great art institutions are the most desirable and rank high in livability. Holding together cities reinforces sustainability by preserving investment in existing infrastructure, reusing resources and creating community. At an organizational level, each arts group should take the lead in promoting sustainability. For example, historically movie theatres in the 1940’s and 50’s were used to sell the idea of air conditioning to the general public. A regular audience is a marketer’s dream and arts groups should continue to take advantage of this to promote sustainability and their own green programs.

eT: what are the major obstacles for arts organizations when they consider taking steps towards greening their operations?

Change is not easy for anyone. But, through simple and clear steps, greening an organization’s operations can save money and improve the working environment. These are the top four reasons I have heard from theatre groups for not being green and an alternative way to look at the issue.

1. We don’t have the time. The show comes first. Time is always critical and may not allow you to change your process. But this shouldn’t stop you from changing your thinking. Time may only permit putting the struck set in the dumpster. A green solution would have the dumpster picked up by a company that recycles wood and the set materials.

2. We don’t have the staff for extra tasks. I just want to focus on the show. There are many things you can do to make work easier and save you money – changing standard light switches to motion detection light switches, for example.

3. We don’t have the money for expensive building systems. Most energy saving devises are inexpensive and simple. Using LED lights in exit signs and fluorescent lamps in support areas will save energy and money over the bulbs life span. (Some studies show savings of over $40 a bulb.)

4. We have always done it this way. Yes we have, and that is what has gotten us into this mess.

eT: How important are green buildings in reversing the adverse effects of global climate change?

Reducing a building’s energy use is VERY important and our best hope at having an immediate impact on reducing our energy consumption and green house gases.

Buildings use 40% of all US energy. Studies show that the energy use of our current building stock can be reduced by 30%. This improvement would reduce the USA’s total energy needs by 13%. That is more than all the energy provided by the renewable energy systems now in use; 7% with out hydro generation. A 30% reduction in your theatre’s energy is not as hard as it sounds.

The example of the Theatre Royal, in Plymouth, England was presented in June at the Theatres Trust Conference “Building Sustainable Theatres”. Simple steps were taken to reduce energy use and reduce CO2 output. These steps include switching incandescent lights to LED’s and fluorescents, adding motion sensors to switch room lights, reprogramming the energy management system and trusting it to work, taking advantage of outside air temperatures for preheating and precooling, installing more efficient fans and pumps and developing ongoing performance monitoring to ensure savings were realized. This program resulted in the Theatre Royal reducing CO2 output by 33% and great savings in fuel costs.

eT: Can theaters go green in a meaningful way without greening their buildings?

Yes. Making changes in an organization’s daily operation has a big impact. For example, my firm, HGA Architects, is always reviewing ways to reduce waste and green our operations. Some of our practices include:

a. Recycling programs for paper, glass, plastics, metals.

b. Setting copiers to print double sided. (Resulting in a reduction of our paper use by 1/3)

c. Direct deposits eliminating paper checks.

d. Promoting staff usage of mass transit and bicycles. (All offices have bike rooms and changing rooms with showers)

e. Eliminating bottled water in favor of filtered tap water.

f. Using biodegradable cups and utensils instead of plastic.

g. Using green cleaning products.

h. Buying energy star equipment

i. Supporting similar minded suppliers for goods and services.

Some interesting programs that non-profit groups have taken on to support sustainability include; becoming a central drop for battery recycling, setting up ongoing fund-raiser recycling programs with local scrap yards, displaying information on global warming and the environment in business lobbies and buying renewable energy from the local utility company. Every little step helps.

eT: what is the most important step the leadership of a theater company can take towards sustainability?

It is critical to set a clear “sustainability” agenda. Establish a committee to examine the theatre’s daily practices. Be willing to look at everything, establish your priorities, have clear bench marks, and keep the long term in mind. Take advantage of the theatre’s community profile and support sustainable activities and organizations. From a building stand point, have an energy audit done. This will provide benchmark information on your building’s mechanical and electrical systems and you can pin point were your energy dollars are going. The results can be surprising. We recently looked at energy use for a theatre and found little difference in the days they had shows and the days they didn’t, highlighting how important it is to reduce a theatre’s daily energy needs. If you are upgrading HVAC systems, zone the HVAC to the use schedule of the theatre, and look into natural ventilation and energy star equipment. Adding natural light in backstage support areas can have a big impact on energy use.It will take time, a change in thinking and some investment, but in the long run you will create a better work environment, saving both money and the planet.

eT: what hopes do you have for the future of theater?

I am hopeful for the theatre arts. We are rediscovering our need for community and human interaction. Studies are proving how important arts education is to the well rounded student.People are moving back into the city to rebuild neighborhoods. Even retailers like Starbucks have recognized the need for our “Third Place.” The new Guthrie is certainly a large scale example of an arts complex trying to become a community living room. On a more intimate scale is the Tricycle Theatre in London that blends into the retail street and reaches into neighborhood with “alley like” lobbies. My hope is that arts complexes of all sizes strive to knit themselves into their surroundings to become the cornerstone of the community.

With regards to the building, every one needs to get past the perception that theatres and buildings for the performing arts can not be “green”. The reality is the typical theatre can be “eco-responsible”. The key to designing, constructing and operating a sustainable theatre is a commitment of the theatre company to question every detail, material, design concept and construction method.The big moves are important to create an efficient arts complex.But if you don’t get the little details, systems and materials right, they will continue to cost you operations money for years to come.

Ultimately, the future of theatre really depends on the writers, designers, technicians, directors and performers creating great theatre and this I know will continue.


Lindsay Jones responds

Something that frequently gets lost on blogs is the nuance of life — the other side of the story.

When I recently posted a previously unpublished entry entitled Planes, Trains, and Automobiles on the trouble with the abundance of travel in American theater I asked my friend Lindsay Jones to help me understand the issue from the perspective of a theater artist who travels frequently to do his work as a sound designer. In some ways, I left off bits of what he said in the interest of brevity — or, rather, directness. But in the leaving out, I skipped over what Jones feels was an essential part of his point, and I’d like to give him an opportunity to explain it (in full) here.

He wrote the following to me in an email Friday night. I have not edited it, and have removed only the parts addressed personally to me.

It’s weird because I kinda feel like I’ve been placed in this role of the bad guy (which is not your fault), due to my line of work, and I kinda feel like there’s only been one side of the context that I provided, which was that I must travel to do what I do. That’s bad for the environment, and I understand that that was the point of your post, so I kinda let it go.

But, in seeing all these people picking up the discussion, I really feel like they’re missing the other side of what I wrote (and was not printed), which is that I think that a constant infusion of new artists collaborating together is actually very good for the future of theatre. Good art comes from new challenges and new ideas and, many times, that comes from new people and new situations. That happens by artists being in new environments, and, a lot of times, that happens through travel. I understand that your research shows that travel is now bad for the environment. And I totally see your point on cultivating a theatre that is based entirely in the surrounding community would be good for the community as a whole, but I thought that that kind of theatre already existed as “community theatre” (a term that has unfairly gotten a bad rap over the last couple of decades, but the principle and practice of it is still very strong, as far as I know). The type of theatre that I work in is different from that, and if you dislike the idea of outside professionals working in your community, that’s absolutely your prerogative. No one says you can’t make your own theatre your own way. But I do see some great theatre in the stuff that I do, and I believe that these theatres have a place in our cultural offerings. Not always, but quite a bit.

For the people who say that the future of theatre lies entirely in the hands of people who can do many different skills, I have to say that certainly sounds good, but only up to a certain level. I can guarantee that the person who thinks this policy applies to all situations across the board has never worked inside of a larger regional theatre or commercial theatre structure. The assumption that these theatres are just a bunch of dumbasses who never thought about combining people’s job skills in order to save money is simply ludicrous. Trust me, theatres are CONSTANTLY looking for ways to have less people do more work. They have the staffs they have because that is the bare minimum of what they need in order to get the work finished. I’ve seen what kind of hours those people put in, and I sure don’t see anyone in those situations sitting around, waiting for something to do. They all work very hard at the jobs they have. I honestly have no idea how they would consolidate their positions any further.

And, frankly, I’m no exception either. I have to justify my job to people all the time. Everyone has an Ipod now, everyone has a computer, and a whole lot of people think what I do is really a piece of cake or even completely unnecessary altogether. But my job is more than just technical skills, it’s a very specific craft that I have honed in over 500 professional productions now. And that’s the other point that I was trying to make, which is the one thing that I feel I was misrepresented in your comments to your original post. You say that “the implication that talented designers simply do not exist in certain parts of the country is nonsense”, but in fact, I only said that that was a possible reason why I might be hired. That situation has happened, the theatre told me that when they hired me. It hasn’t happened often, which I also mentioned in my email, but it has happened. But the larger point is that they may have talented people who do my job in their region and yet those theatres hire me anyway. Why? Because they hate locals? Because they love spending money? No. Because they believe what I have to offer them and their production is worth bringing me in for. They think that what I can do will make the overall product better. Am I the only one with this skill? No. But by this point in my career, I’m confident in what I have to offer. I feel like it’s worth it, and I work as hard as I possibly can to make it worth it. And while I’m happy to apologize that my air travel is ruining the environment, I won’t apologize for the work that I do. It’s good work, and I’m proud of it.

That being said, I’m not looking to engage in an argument with people who have an axe to grind. I feel extremely fortunate to have the career that I have, and I know that by even writing any of this to you, I run the risk of looking petty or egotistical or elitist. I know that you wanted to have an honest dialogue on this subject, and that’s honestly the reason that I’m sending this to you, because I really do respect your position and hope you’ll see my point of view as well.


On Localism

I had a suscpision that my quoted conversation with my friend Lindsay Jones might cause a bit of a ruckus among this strange online theater community that we have — Lindsay thought so too.

While Scott Walters and friends quibble about (the idea of the) generalist versus (the idea of the) specialist*, I’d like to make sure that the gist of my original post comes through loud and clear: maintaining the current paradigm of the nationally (or internationally) itinerate theater artist is NOT sustainable. And although I used one at the end of the sentence, I’ll spell it out too: Period.

I certainly don’t want to discount Scott’s point. It is, as I’ve noted before, a solid one that I think my own life in the theater bears out. But at the same time, I think it is fruitless to try to dissuade an artist of any kind from focusing on what they have found to be their core talent — for that matter, the thing, the act, that they believe sustains them as a creative person. Can we even attempt to rationalize an artist’s impulses? I don’t think so, but perhaps we can convince some of them — most? — to ply their trades locally, within the region that they want to live, rather than prolonging the notion that they must travel across the country (and the world) to make ends meet.

The thing is, I still believe that keeping things local is more important than dictating how a theater, or a gathering of artists, divides labor. Let them do so as they do now, with one crucial exception: use local talent.

* Original post on Theatre Ideas


LEDs Magazine on the promise of the Light Emitting Diode

In the April 2008 issue of LEDs Magazine (yes, I just discovered this article — when did you catch it?), Noah Davis writes that “there are few good alternatives to the beam control provided by conventional lighting fixtures in the theatre.” And then he proceeds to explain it all to us — why it is the way it is, how conventional lighting works and doesn’t work, and why LEDs will help save the world.

Davis notes that extending lamp life nearly indefinitely (conventional life: 300 – 1200 hours; LED life: 100,000+), eliminating the need for swapping gel in instruments, and lower lamp temperature are just a few of the “attractive” benefits of LED fixtures. However, Davis also notes that while there have been several LED instruments introduced for theatrical use, “none have the beam control that theatrical fixtures such as the Leko and Fresnel have.”

But wait. According to Davis, the only LED fixture on the market that comes close to providing what a theatrical lighting designer needs is the Selador X7. The instrument from Selador “uses a seven-color system to achieve a wide spectrum of colors that include the pastel range,” writes Davis. It is a strip light type instrument, and has seen competition since its introduction now that Altman is producing a similar unit called the Spectra Cyc.

But here is what I think is the key part of the article:

“The ideal LED-powered theatrical lighting fixture would not just save energy; it would save labor costs in several ways. Lamp life could be extended far beyond the hour rating of a standard theatre fixture, saving lamp replacement labor and the associated trouble shootinig time. If an LED fixture had a color-mixing method that could achieve the color range of gel, there would be no need for the labor expense of color changes. The heat generated by dozens of lighting fixtures would not compete strenuously with the air conditioning, therefore saving energy costs. Another cost-saving benefit of LED fixtures is the elimination of conventional dimmers. LED fixtures could have efficient on-board dimming that only requires line voltage and a control signal.”

The LED is on its way.


to reuse or invest greener?

In my shop (if you want to call it that — it still needs lot of improvement) I have a true bevy of stock paint from productions before my time with the company. While it’s a no-brainer what to do when I need lumber or hardware (I simply cannibalize old scenery, creating as much resusable stock in the process as I can), the use of toxins like paint is a trickier subject.

And so I pose the question: is it better to use the old (but still usable) paint, or ditch it and invest in less toxic paints? Keep in mind, I work for a children’s theater, and so much of the scenery and many of the props will be used and handled by kids. Some of them will even help work on the props as they are created, so exposure to toxins is not out of the question.

I’m still thinking about the pros and cons on this one, so if you have thoughts, post them.


Earth Matters On Stage

Thanks to a gentle Facebook reminder, I wanted to remind everyone about next year’s Earth Matters On Stage — especially now that they have a great site up and running online (which they didn’t when I first announced their call for proposals back in March).

The EMOS Ecodrama Playwrights Festival and Symposium will be held in May of 2009 at the University of Oregon in Eugene. They are still seeking both play submissions (deadline November 1, 2008) and symposium proposals (deadline January 1, 2009).


Green Theater: How-To: Policy

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.

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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