Posts Tagged ‘green theater


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…


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.


In the Audience

I’ve worked in theater in some form or another since high school. I have had a bad habit throughout my life in theater of being the type who says (or at least thinks) “I don’t want to go watch theater, I see so much of it from backstage, from the booth, I see it in rehearsals all day long…” So, I don’t sit in the audience much.

Now, because of the illness that blindsided me over a year ago, I really feel like a spectator sitting in the audience watching the future of green, eco-responsible theater rushing by in flashes. It’s difficult to do. So much has happened in the last few months, and ecoTheater has missed it. People close to me will roll their eyes when they find that as I write this lament I am sitting in a hospital room in Indianapolis waiting for my second and final round of high dose chemotherapy to commence. “Who cares about green theater?” they will ask.

I won’t lie — it isn’t that difficult to realize that I’ve missed out on reporting on the big Broadway initiative, supported as it is by the mayor of New York City, or the up and coming Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts (CSPA) (founded and driven by Ian Garrett, a regularly mentioned activist on ecoTheater), or the fast approaching Earth Matters on Stage (EMOC) at the University of Oregon, or, or, or…

I mean, it’s easy enough to see that there are bigger things to consider in my life right now. But, what can I say? For once, I hate being just a spectator. It’s like sitting through hours of rehearsal, not saying a word to anyone, and not participating in any way in the production.

For now, I have taken a leave of absence from my job with CTM and have done very little “work” of any kind in the last month or so. The only project I have spent time on is the Cancer Stories Project, hopefully the first stage work for the still-being-founded Wisconsin Story Project (WSP), which I hope to be a new model of theater that will take bits and pieces from many idea-makers, heading towards not just ecologically sound theater production, but also aiming to be a model of theater that solves for pattern (or here).

Who knows? Perhaps one day ecoTheater will simply morph into a blog tracking the progress of WSP, and how we’re doing our best to stay green, while tackling other issues that plague today’s so-called regional theater.

But no matter what I’ll be back here writing soon. So, don’t forget about me…


The Guardian asks, “is the Fringe bad for the environment?”

Writing in his blog, theater & performing arts, yesterday, the Guardian’s Chris Wilkinson writes “there is a new colour seeping into the politics of this year’s fringe — and it’s distinctly green.” But, aside from works with clever titles like Global Warming is Gay, Wilkinson admits that the subject was hardly touched at the Edinburgh Festival — and certainly not in a way that he thought adequate, considering how prevalent the idea of sustainability is today.

“Ultimately,” Wilkinson writes of playwright Ian Heggie’s work, “the comic form for the piece sits uncomfortably with its subject matter. For much of the time Heggie’s humour relies on some highly imaginative scatological references which, while funny in themselves, do not really illuminate the play’s politics.”

For a less direct, but decidedly more meaningful approach, Wilkinson notes that The Caravan, a “verbatim play” based on testimony from those affected by last year’s floods may be the clearest piece on the subject of the environment.

Check out Wilkinson’s blog — it’s worth a look.


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!


Wicked producer to hold town hall meeting on green theater

According to a recent industry invitation forwarded to ecoTheater, the producer of Wicked has organized a “town hall meeting on making Broadway green.”

The meeting will feature Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and hailed in the press release as an “environmental adviser to the Oscars, the Grammys, Major League Baseball and the NBA.”

The invitation goes on: “Over the past few years, many industries have made strides to improve work practices and make changes that better our environment. We hope you will join us, and other members of our community, for an interactive industry-wide town hall meeting to discuss how we can all come together as an industry to affect change and become a leader in this movement.”

Sounds good to me. The meeting will take place at The Gershwin Theatre on June 10 from 12-1:30pm.


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.

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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