Archive for the 'ecology' 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 Earth Matters on Stage 2009 part I

Okay, so I can’t keep my nose out of it…

I’m here in beautiful Eugene, Oregon attending the 2009 Earth Matters on Stage: A Symposium on Theatre & Ecology at the University of Oregon. Last night was the official beginning of the event with keynote speaker Una Chaudhuri giving a talk on what she has dubbed Zooesis, or the discourse of animals (or, rather non-humans) in the media.

As I emerged from the talk I looked at Ian Garrett of the Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts and Moe Beitiks of the Green Museum Blog and said: “I’m not smart enough to be here.” Which is to say if the opening moment of EMOS 2009 is a reliable indicator, it will be a highly academic affair. Chaudhuri was followed by obligatory phases of mingling with strangers (not my forte) while smugly observing the corn-based disposable cups, paper plates and napkins, an engaging, often heart wrenching (though also quite academic) play by EM Lewis called Song of Extinction, and the most structured post show discussion (aka talkback) I’ve ever participated in, led by Cal State LA professor and playwright Jose Cruz Gonzalez. Part of me thought, “oh, I shouldn’t have stuck around for this.” It had the effect of stifling the power of the play, and its masterly intertwined themes. I jotted on my program during the talkback this tidbit: “Robbing the visceral through incessant deconstruction.” But that’s my own problem, right?

More later…


London’s “Green Theatre” Plan

As I read through London’s recently released plan of action for their theaters, I kept asking myself how the climate (and I don’t mean the weather kind) in London — or Europe in general — allows such things to happen. I know that NYC mayor Bloomberg has taken steps to encourage a greener Broadway, but to my knowledge nothing at the level of London mayor Johnson’s report would happen here in the States. At least not this quickly, this comprehensively…I just don’t see it.

In short, I’m amazed with the document they produced, and the related “Green Theatre Calculator 2008” (download your own excel copy here), which is a great tool for theaters everywhere. Thank you London.

I could go on and on about this report, but instead I’ll hit some highlights, and strongly encourage you to download a copy and study it — especially the “practical actions.”

  • 35% of London theater’s carbon emissions come from “front of house” operations, including heating and cooling
  • 9% of the emissions are the result of “stage electricals”
  • The entire London theater industry has a carbon footprint “roughly equivalent” to the energy use of nearly 9,000 homes
  • The report advocates factoring “equipment energy costs” into production budget
  • An appendix to the report lists the top actions that theaters can take, including:
  1. Switch off stage lights when not in use
  2. Reduce energy use in exterior lighting
  3. Implement energy management program
  4. Minimize travel emissions

Again, this post barely scratches the surface of the report. Read it yourself. If we all manage to implement a fraction of its suggestions, and are inspired by one of its case studies, we will push green theater in America nearer to true sustainability.


Community Partnerships

Something I’ve been thinking about lately — and it seems to keep coming up at staff meetings at CTM, especially when our fantastic development director Christina Martin-Wright brings it up — is how as a company we can extend our reach outward into the community in ways that don’t necessarily have anything to do with theater or art, or directly benefit us in any way. Simply extending ourselves out, offering whatever it is we have, be it space, skill, time, people, or whatever.

One way that I have managed to work this into the company is through our relationship with Working Bikes, a chicago-based non profit that works to divert old bikes from the waste stream by collecting them as donations. What they do with the bikes is incredible: some of them will be sold to raise funds, but most of them are sent to needy people across the globe in order to give working people everywhere a form of transportation other than their feet. The folks at Working Bikes also offer workshops for the recipients of their bikes, teaching them how to maintain and repair the bikes they receive (give a man a fish…).

So, where does CTM come in? Well, it isn’t much, but it has helped Working Bikes continue to expand its reach. I offered our scene shop/storage space as a Madison drop site for the organization, so that they can collect bikes here while minimizing the need to transport bikes to and from Madison (about a three hour drive from Chicago). When I have more bikes than I can handle, I contact Working Bikes, and they come and pick them up.

The relationship that we have developed with Working Bikes supports the idea of sustainability beyond community partnerships too that is very straightforward: helping keep material out of the landfills.


Lost Post: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

I recently came across a handful of posts I wrote for ecoTheater that never made it into cyberspace. For some of them it was clear why I had neglected to post them, but others stood out as better than some of the stuff I do post! What follows is something I wrote for ecoTheater last year, probably in the early Summer. I did some editing, and added some info to it (for instance the email interview with Lindsay Jones was conducted on August 22-23, 2008), but the general gist is from the original writing…


Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Aside from being the title of one of my favorite childhood movies (the scene on the highway when Steve Martin falls asleep and John Candy is driving still makes me laugh), it seemed an appropriate header for my thoughts today. In fact, it’s perfect.

Through my current work and research here on ecoTheater, sometimes I am approached about the possibility of conducting workshops on sustainable theater for organizations and communities. I couldn’t be more flattered — or thrilled. But the question of travel always comes up because I have been struggling in recent times with how I am to get around the country (or the world) if I follow through with my desire to live more sustainably, thus shunning the airline industry, and its polluting ways.

Years ago, when I still lived on the west coast, in the Pacific Northwest, I regularly used Amtrak to travel up and down the coast. I loved it. It was slow, but I enjoyed the slowness, and I think that we could all use a bit more slowness in our lives.

So, recently I decided to look into the difference between auto, air, and rail travel from the perspective of carbon footprints, and greenhouse offsetting via NativeEnergy, a carbon offset program that has received high marks from critics. I was not surprised to learn that rail travel was the least polluting mode of transport, but was surprised that there appeared to be such a slight difference.

For my trip, the numbers worked out like this:

Auto: 1.95 tons of CO2
Air: 1.387 tons of CO2
Rail: 1.144 tons of CO2

That means a difference between air and rail of only 0.243 metric tons. Doesn’t sound like much, right? The equivalent of a few barrels of oil, which in today’s numbers, where we regularly read about millions of tons of CO2 and billions of barrels of oil, it seems insignificant in the extreme. In fact, it seems impossible. It seems wrong. When I contacted NativeEnergy about the seemingly too slight difference, I received a very thoughtful response, which I quote in part:

“According to our calculator, which uses Google Maps to calculate distances, the miles traveled by car was 1,993.5 and since roads tend to be more windy than either train tracks or distance as the crow flies, the highest emissions for cars makes sense. The calculator estimates 1,733.48 miles for both train and flights, which can’t be exactly true.

“The factors other than distance that go into calculating emissions are type of fuel use – and jet fuel used by planes emits more CO2 than diesel fuel used inAmtrak trains – and speed. Needless to say the train is just traveling for a much longer time than a plane since it’s going slower.

“In the end, trains are still the least polluting of the three, and supporting rail transportation has the added benefit of showing support for railway improvement. Improvement of the rail infrastructure will allow there to be faster trains, which in turn will be more competitive with flights, and this will give people a viable alternative to flying.”

So, there you have it. It should be pointed out that the folks at NativeEnergy also emphasized that the best they can do is estimate. Which explains how the mileage for a flight is equivalent to the mileage for a trip on the rails in their system.

Of course, in the end, the train still wins. But unfortunately, what it comes down to for most folks is speed. How fast am I gonna get there? I need to be there tomorrow morning! Perhaps it’s just about logistics, or economics. That is, we can’t afford to take two days to travel on a train when we could take a four hour flight instead, because we have jobs to hold down, and families to attend to.

I think this is particularly relevant for what I’ll call the “regional theater circuit,” supporting as it does a bevy of designers, directors, and actors that routinely travel from afar (New York, L.A., etc.) to work in Houston, Portland, Seattle, Milwaukee, and all points between. In my book, Careers in Technical Theater, one such designer (a great guy, and great sound designer named Lindsay Jones) confesses that he designed about 30 productions in 2005 — many of them far away from his primary home in Los Angeles — meaning thousands and thousands of airline miles, and many metric tons of CO2.

For Jones, taking the train is not an option. “I fly constantly to gigs,” he told ecoTheater recently via email. “I usually fly about 150,000 – 200,000 miles a year.”

“I don’t think I’d be able to continue my career as a freelance theatrical designer if I just worked in Los Angeles,” Jones wrote.

But what about the unsustainable nature of air travel? What about focusing on localizing and supporting the theater in L.A. — or wherever theater artists may live?

“There are hundreds of theatre companies in Los Angeles, that’s not the problem,” Jones responded. “It’s that quite a few of them do not pay anything close to a living wage, and have very primitive working conditions from a technical standpoint.” he continued. “To a lot of people in L.A. theatre is just something you do until you get a job in TV.”

Listen, I think Lindsay is great — he’s a great designer, and a great guy that I’ve had the privelige of watching work a few times (I say watching because I was just a stagehand-type on those shows) — but our email over this traveling point has brought an important debate to the fore: I say, localize theater, thereby reducing the amount of unsustainable travel and resource transport that needs to take place, while increasing theater artist’s obligation to their community and creating a more truly regional theater for all. Lindsay says, no, No, NO: I cannot make a living as a theatrical sound designer by staying in one place.

Jones writes —

I suffer no illusions that if these communities did have someone locally who could contribute in the way that I do, they would hire those people every time and I would never work in those places again. There are a bunch of theatres in this country that actually have staff positions for my job for this exact reason. They save themselves money, and I’m sure it’s easier to know exactly what they’re gonna get from this person on their staff than some person who’s coming in from out of town.

So, if they don’t have those people on their staff, then they’re hiring me for one of two reasons:

1. They don’t have anyone locally who can do it. Which happens.

Or more likely, and what I hope is the reason is:

2. I have an unique artistic perspective, which, combined with my technical expertise and years of professional experience, can enhance the overall audience experience in ways that are unusual and exciting.

Now, before you think to yourself “Gee, that Lindsay Jones sure does think highly of himself”, let me just say that, to me, it’s really not about that. To me, your position is the same as saying “Why would I go see a concert by some band from England when I can watch my friend play guitar right here in my house?” The answer is sure, you could watch your friend, and you’d have a great time. But you instead might go to see the band from England, because they’re coming from a completely different perspective and, as a result, it’s a totally different experience.”

The man has a point, doesn’t he? Funny thing is, I have thought about that when I have paid good money to see a musical performance by someone who has traveled from some far off place. Is it possible to localize everything? Well, yes, it is in theory — but perhaps it’s not realistic. BUT, what I’m talking about is not a touring company — I’m talking about a local, supposedly regional company, based in a certain physical place, and thereby connected to a regional community of some sort. Jones’ analogy is therefore a bit weak, as it seems to apply more to Broadway tours, than a company grounded in locality — I mean, the staff is local, the audience is local, the performance space is local.

To give Jones the last word…

I have a great deal of respect for your position of only using local artists and think that you should definitely do it. You may find things in that experience that you would never find by working with someone from out of town. And you’ve really made me think about how my work lifestyle is not the most eco-friendly, and I probably should look at ways to address this. But, you know, I worked really really hard to get to this point in my career. I still work really hard. I’m married, I’ve got two kids, and I gotta make a living. Right now, traveling is how I do it. It’s this or knocking off liquor stores.”


LDI 2008

This October the LDI Conference in Las Vegas is slated to have a handful of green-oriented sessions, mostly dealing with lighting and LED’s. They will include Green Lights for TV Studios, taught by LD John Gates, examining a “range of television lighting sources that allow you to design your lighting in a more environmentally conscious manner”; The All LED ESPN NASCAR PIT Studio, led by LD’s Bruce Ferri and Ron Skinner; and The Evolution And Future of LED Lighting, taught by John Graff.

Also on the agenda is Going Green 101, moderated by Bob Usdin of Showman Fabricators that LDI promises will be a “lively panel discussion on the fundamentals of going green.” The blurb also contains this gem: “as energy prices continue to soar the economics make sustainability a real dollars and cents solution.” Hmmm…I guess that’s called doing what’s right (for your checkbook).


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.

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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