Archive for the 'lighting' Category


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.


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.


Odds and Ends

Man I’m swamped. I hate to start a post (again) with excuses, but seriously. How did this happen?

In honor of my hectic life, this post will be a hodgepodge of stuff I’d like to write about in more detail, but instead will mention in brief in hopes of writing more later…


In her August Editor’s Note Live Design editor Marian Sandberg asks “isn’t it about time we really make a concerted effort, both professionally and personally to ‘go green?'” The impetus for this green note is a short piece in the issue by Robert Usdin of Showman Fabricators unremarkably entitled “How Green is Green?”

(Sometimes I wonder how envious the other other colors must feel about our almost arbitrary use of “Green” to describe all of this — aren’t yellow, red, blue, brown equally natural colors? I mean, our planet is predominantly blue, right? But wait, I digress…)

I can’t tell you how broad my smile was as I read Sandberg’s “note.” It’s quite encouraging, knowing that other such entertainment magazines (like Stage Directions) also have editors that are concerned about this stuff. Of course, it’s one thing to have writers and editors spouting off about how crucial it all is, and quite another to have the folks out there doing the brunt of the work getting on board too. That’s where Usdin and Showman Fabricators comes in.

Although Usdin gets his short piece off to a jokey start, he moves on quickly to introduce the Environmental Management System (EMS) that Showman has in place. Unfortunately, he describes it only very briefly as a “detailed roadmap, structured in two parts, charting a course for personnel to act green.” He then explains (again too briefly) that the first part of the EMS “outlines best practices,” while the second part “provides clients with solid options to greatly lessen the environmental impact their projects have.”

While it’s a bit disappointing that Usdin goes into little detail about his company’s green program, the fact that he is in the pages of Live Design introducing the subject is fantastic. He spends the remainder of the piece introducing some steps the entertainment industry has taken in a green direction, including the town hall meeting sponsored by Wicked producers, and a few others that I haven’t noted here on ecoTheater, including:

•Broadway theaters converting marquees to LEDs, switching to CFLs, and upgrading HVAC systems

The Broadway League sponsoring a committee to recommend green changes

Usdin mentioned many more that dealt with television and film, and LDI panels as well.


In the world of LED fixtures, I also took notice of a new High End Systems product in the August issue of LIve Design. It’s called Showpix, and LD describes it as “a combination LED wash light and graphic image display fixture.” The automated fixture uses 127 3W LEDs and has an output of 24,000 RGB lumens.

Admittedly, I’ve never been much of a gearhead — an almost derogatory statement in the world of tech theater — but I am extrememly excited about the race toward LED domination. It’s coming…


The July/August issue of DramaBiz Magazine had something on page 27 that caught my eye too: In Ticketing.

For every ticket sold, In Ticketing claims to plant one tree to help offset the impact of its core business. They also offer an entire line of tickets made with alternative materials such as hemp, flax, and recycled stock. This line of environmentally friendly tickets uses soy-based inks, and chlorine-free paper.

Another way to keep your operations green.



Don’t forget to look for my essay on the green theater movement in the September issue of American Theatre

And (if I get it in on deadline) my first article in what I hope to be a series on green theater topics in the LDI issue of Stage Directions!


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.


Green Theater: How-To: Costumes

While speaking on the phone with the costume designer of our just-closed production she said, “all of the rented items have to be dry-cleaned.” This is, of course, an expected routine but still I winced a little when she said it outloud.

The cleaning of costumes for theatrical use seems like such an easy place to make better, ecologically friendly choices that can have a significant impact on a theater’s environmental footprint.

For my part here in Madison, I have begun to put feelers out to other area theaters from whom we regularly rent costumes, asking if they would be willing to have their costumes cleaned in a more eco-friendly manner when we rent from them.

The problems:

1. Dry Cleaning

So what’s wrong with the typical dry cleaning process? Chemicals. Toxic, nasty, dangerous chemicals.

Dry cleaning chemicals most commonly come in the form of tetrachloroethylene, also known as perchloroethylene, PCE, or tetrachloroethene. For the sake of brevity (and a conservation of finger energy) we’ll call it PERC, a common abbreviation, and the term used by the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR). Say what? Yeah, anything listed with them should probably be considered suspect, and not eco-friendly.

According to the ATSDR, “high concentrations of tetrachloroethylene (particularly in closed, poorly ventilated areas) can cause dizziness, headache, sleepiness, confusion, nausea, difficulty in speaking and walking, unconsciousness, and death.” PERC has also been linked to menstrual problems and spontaneous abortions in women working in the dry cleaning industry. And according to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) “tetrachloroethylene may reasonably be anticipated to be a carcinogen.” And: “Tetrachloroethylene has been shown to cause liver tumors in mice and kidney tumors in male rats.”

This last bit of information is enough to get me up on a soap box for sure. As many of you may remember, I battled cancer last year, and it is a fate I would wish on no living creature. The number of proven carginogens we accept in our daily lives is disturbing. The fact that PERC is a known carginogen is alone enough information to provoke us toward action, for through the simple act of taking our bevy of costumes to a conventional dry cleaner we are contributing to the exposure of underpaid (and obviously undervalued) workers to a toxic substance known to cause cancer in animals, and also believed to cause reproductive problems in women (including the induction of miscarriage).

It’s also probable that exposure to PERC goes beyond the dry cleaners, including residual PERC left on the clothes that continue to off-gas once they’re back in the costume shop (and even being worn onstage), as well as contamination of areas surrounding and connected to dry cleaning establishments.

And PERC is just one problem chemical. Because so much is now known about the detrimental health effects of this common dry cleaning substance, some state governments have moved to ban it. California, for instance, has officially banned PERC as of 2023, with other states expected to follow. Of course, this leaves the dry cleaning industry scrambling to find alternatives. What they’ve come up is in many ways no better than PERC.

What the industry has started to turn to are hydrocarbons and something called siloxane. According to National Geographic’s The Green Guide:

“These solvents are labeled as greener options because they are recognized as less toxic than perc, however, both the EPA and the Coalition for Clean Air have determined that these solvents can’t be labeled safe for health or the environment until considerably more testing is done. Hydrocarbon solvents, such as DF2000 and comexsol, may be toxic or contain VOCs, and the EPA has noted concern over the high flammability of these petroleum-based chemicals. Siloxane solvents such as GreenEarth, while not chlorinated themselves, are currently manufactured using chlorine, and may release dioxin emissions. Again, as with hydrocarbon solvents, siloxane is extremely flammable. Also, the EPA notes that siloxane may be a carcinogen.”

2. Distressing/Dyeing

The processes used by costumers to make costumes look the way they want them to often involves chemicals too. This is neither good for the costumer nor the environment.

3. Indoor Air Pollutants

In Greening Up Our Houses, Larry Fried and Theresa May open the costume section of “What Can My Department Do?” with a quote from Dr. Randall Davidson (aka Dr. Doom): “It is more dangerous to work in a theatre costume shop than in a nerve gas factory.” Say what?

Okay, maybe that is a bit, as even Fried and May admit, “alarmist.” But there’s truth there for sure. For starters, Davidson knows whereof he speaks. He was a founding member of USITT’s Health and Safety Commision back in the early 1970’s and author (his latest book appears to be a serious endeavor entitled Practical Health and Safety Guidelines for School Theater Operations).

Even so, as mentioned above, PERC itself can be an indoor air pollutant, and this is not restricted to the dry cleaning facility but the carcinogenic chemical may continue offgas from costumes once back in storage, or in use by performers.

Other problem pollutants in a costume shop (and its related areas including crafts, millinery, wigs, etc.) include various adhesives, dyes, solvents, plastics and foams, and many other toxic materials. If such materials cannot be dispensed with entirely (the safest course of action), extreme safety precautions must be undertaken. See either The Health & Safety Guide for Film, TV, and Theater or Stage Fright: Health and Safety in the Theatre — both by Monona Rossol. Rossol’s non-profit Arts, Crafts & Theater Safety (ACTS) is also a great resource — Rossol fields the phone calls herself and is a wealth of decisive information on health and safety in the arts.

4. Water & Energy Consumption

According to “Mr. Electricity,” by simply cleaning costumes in cold water instead of hot, about 1400 kWh/year in electricity (used to heat the water) can be saved. Even using the warm water setting rather than hot, you can save 700 kWh/year.

If you are in a position to do so, and your wardrobe department is looking for a new washer, consider purchasing a front loading machine. Keep in mind that front loading washing machines use 40-60% less water, and 30-50% less energy than top loaders. Top loaders might be a better pick for costume cleaning anyway, since they reduce wear on clothes by relying on tumbling rather than an agitator to clean the clothes.

The solutions:

1. Safer Alternatives to Traditional PERC Dry Cleaning

Probably the most popular and well-known eco-friendly dry cleaning alternative is something simply called “wet cleaning.” The process, developed by Miele in the early 1990’s, uses more sophisticated technology and customizes cleaning procedures for each individual garment — unlike dry cleaning, which treats each garment the same. The advantage of wet cleaning is that it eliminates the toxic chemicals used in conventional dry cleaning processes, and according to the EPA, the cost to the costumer is level with that of dry cleaning.

Another alternative, perhaps even better than wet cleaning, is CO2 cleaning. According to, CO2 cleaning is a process which “works by taking the gas form of carbon dioxide and pressurizing it into a clear liquid.” Soap and clothing are then added to this liquid and voila! Clean costumes. Apparently, Consumer Reports performed a comparison in 2003 and CO2 came out on top, besting PERC dry cleaning as well as “wet” cleaning and other alternatives. You can find a good (albeit probably biased) comparison chart on the various methods of cleaning here. One downside apparent on the chart is that there are so few CO2 cleaners around. is also a good resource for finding alternative cleaners in your area.

2. Construction Techniques

By purposefully selecting fabrics for costumes that are more easily cleaned, costumers can eliminate complicated (and toxic) cleaning procedures. It’s really that simple.

3. Selective Cleaning

Another solution is simply being more selective in what sort of costumes get dry cleaned, as well as how frequently the dry cleaning is done. If items absolutely must be dry cleaned and cannot be cleaned with an alternative method, try seeking out a cleaner that is ecologically sensitive in other ways.

The idea of selective cleaning should also be applied to normal laundry since we are also concerned with water consumption and waste (see problem no. 4 above). Just how frequently does the laundry need to be done? Are wardrobe personnel doing it too much just to be on the safe side — so that they needn’t worry about upsetting an actor or other performer? Wardrobe and costume crew members may want to reconsider the priorities here, and may be pleasantly surprised at a performer’s reaction when they let them know why they aren’t washing their costumes as frequently.

4. Eco-(and human)-Friendly products

It’s 2008 now. You can go down to the most conventional grocery store (or, heaven forbid, Wal-Mart or Target) and pick up eco-friendly laundry detergents and related products. Of course, as the sage Monona Rossol warned me a while back, we need to be careful about our choice of so-called “green” cleaning products, since they may sometimes be great for the environment but not very good for us. As Rossol advises, be sure to educate yourself on the types of chemicals being used in so-called earth-friendly cleaning products to be sure that they will not be toxic to you and your staff. The trade offs must be weighed carefully.


The Garrett Lighting Calculations Sheet

Last week, in the midst of hell week, I received an email from Ian Garrett presenting a very cool project he was working on. In his words, “What we have here is information that has been at times used by myself and others (looking at you Lawler) to talk about the ecological impact of theater.”

“What [the sheet] does is compute a number of factors in looking at theatrical lighting and figures out equivalents,” he said.Input the Average or Max load of a show (you can get the max load from Lightwright and extrapolate the other from your utility), the average hours your system is running and the number of times you have it running.” Then, the sheet computes the cost per hour from conventional power grids, as well as that of the solar array needed to offset the power use. It also calculates the number of pounds produced per hour by conventional power means, the BTUs (Thermal Gain) of the lights per hour, and translates this information into several equivalents, including:

– Metric Tons CO2 per hour and year

– Equivalent Passenger cars per hour and year

– Equivalent Barrels and Gallons of Gasoline per hour and year

– Equivalent Household electrical use per hour and year

– Equivalent Household total energy use (gas/electirc/etc) per hour and year

– Number of trees needed to sequester the CO2 per hour and year

– Acres of Pine and Fir that store CO2

– Acres of resultant deforestation

– Tons sitting in a landfill as opposed to being recycled

– Equivalent number of coal fire power plants

You can have a look at Garrett’s handiwork here. I have provided both a screenshot example of his form, as well as a download of the usable excel sheet with a separate file of Garrett’s explicit instructions. I’ll keep you posted on Garrett’s updates, and please, please, please, if you use this sheet in your research or other work please credit Ian Garrett. Bad karma if you don’t.

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