Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Are you an Eco-theater Artist?

Photo by Sue Kessler
The Planktons' Escape: Sam West, Danny Gardner, Flakoo Jimenez.

Contributed by Jeremy Pickard

As a self-proclaimed eco-theater artist, I am overjoyed at the steady greening I see in the NYC theater community.  From Off-Off companies designing with entirely recycled materials to the Broadway Green Alliance replacing marquis bulbs with LEDs, there is immense progress.  Indeed, this very blog is proof that NYC theater is both innovative and principled.

But I wonder how much greener we could be if sustainable thought began earlier in our creative process...

I am privileged to work for The Bushwick Starr once a year, heading their annual Big Green Theater Festival.  The festival begins with a 3-month teaching artist program in which 5th graders write eco-plays (that is, plays inspired by environmental topics).  The program culminates around Earth Day, when the students’ plays are given a professional production at the Starr using only green theater techniques. 

Photo by by Sue Kessler
Spoiler Alert!: Monica Santana, Danny Gardner

5th graders are incredible eco-theater artists.  They simultaneously possess wild imaginations and sophisticated processing skills, making them innately excellent at absorbing environmental information and then turning their new-found knowledge into wonderful storytelling.  They write ambitious adventures without censorship, yet remain practical about how such plays might translate into green production.  Because on a playground they are accustomed to improvising their make-believe with whatever they have around them, their written stories are huge but their expectations are not; they assume an audience’s imagination will do most of the work.  

Can we adults take a tip from a 5th grader, and reduce our reliance on resources without sacrificing our big ideas?  Can this sort of green thinking start at the very beginning, when ideas are still germinating?  As we write or devise new work, can we begin by giving ourselves rules-- not only for story, theme and character but also for production?  This might mean considering, from the very first page of a script, what we’re asking production teams to build, what sort of space we’re demanding our plays be performed in, and how long we expect energy-intensive lights, heat and air conditioning to stay turned on. 

Photo by Sue Kessler
Expedition to the Gyre (clockwise from upper left):
Sam West, Danny Gardner, Katey Parker,
Flakoo Jimenez, Tina Mitchell
When I write adult eco-plays, I give myself limitations: I try to write for a nearly bare stage, I omit lighting cues and major scenic changes, and though my aesthetic is often epic, I strive to stay within an intermission-less 90-minute run time.  These limitations don’t make me feel limited; on the contrary, by prioritizing bodies, voices and imagination, I find I can challenge myself, my collaborators and the medium of theater in new ways.  Additionally, I have found that these types of early-considered limitations encourage actors to become more virtuosic, directors and designers more innovative, and audiences more engaged. 

As a director, I try to apply the same principles when I am considering how to bring a script to life.  Once the ten student plays of this year’s Big Green Theater were in my hand, I spent countless hours with our designers (Michael Minnahan and Preesa Bullington) developing a design that would allow all of the plays to exist within the same world, and a concept that would result in the whole becoming greater that the sum of its parts. 

So we came up with a set of rules-- literally a set of rules: using one of the students’ plays (aptly titled Clean Up The Park) as a frame, the set became a littered park, and the action of the evening was cleaning it up.  The nine (more fantastical) internal plays were stories the characters told each other as they picked up and organized garbage.  The actors created gestures inspired by the act of cleaning, and then recycled and reused those gestures throughout.  The plays became the reason for cleaning, and the cleaning the reason for the plays.  

Of course, the set, costumes, lights and rehearsal practices were as green as can be, the program paperless, and the performance space carbon-neutral.  When it was finished, the action-packed evening of plays was less than an hour long.  The Starr’s rooftop hydroponic garden was open, and the refreshments were local. 

I wonder what would happen if every theater space and company in NYC thought green from the very start.  How quickly green the status quo!  How brilliant the citywide problem solving!  With greener values embedded earlier in our processes, could the rigor of our sustainable practices rival the already enviable caliber of our creative innovation?


Jeremy Pickard captains Superhero Clubhouse, a sustainable collective of theater artists and environmental advocates, and has produced over a dozen eco-theater productions since 2008 including the first five (of eventually nine) Planet Plays.  Jeremy is the lead artist for The Bushwick Starr’s annual Big Green Theater Festival and a commissioned artist of PositiveFeedback, NYC’s first inter-institutional consortium uniting artists and scientists in climate change collaboration.  You can see Superhero Clubhouse’s production of SATURN (a play about food) Aug 30-Sept 9 at The Wild Project, and the third annual Big Green Theater Festival in April 2013 at The Bushwick Starrwww.superheroclubhouse.org

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Arts meet Sustainability

Contributed by By FABnyc

FABnyc (Fourth Arts Block) is the nonprofit leadership organization for the Lower East Side, headquartered in the East 4th Street Cultural District—a historic and vibrant arts cluster in Manhattan between Second Avenue and Bowery. As part of this leadership role, FABnyc is heading up an interconnected effort to match existing energy, waste and water reduction programs to arts groups, residents, and small businesses in the Cultural District. As an arts organization, we are trying to bring more creativity to connect our community to sustainable practices.

For example… In 2010, FABnyc noticed that local theaters were “loading out” sets and materials directly into dumpsters after productions ended their runs. Not only were the materials being disposed of inefficiently and unsustainably, but this “junk” was often of great value to other artists in need of materials. As a creative response, FABnyc initiated “Load OUT!,” a biannual event in which local arts and cultural groups, non-profits, and community members donate sets, costumes, props and office equipment they no longer need to a collection site. On the day of “Load OUT!” local artists and the general public are invited to take away any materials they find at the site for creative use in new projects! Hundreds of artists and residents have benefited, either through collecting the lightly used materials, or by donating items they no longer need or want. The program continues to grow, now including textile and e-waste collection for the entire community.

At the most recent Load OUT! event in March 2012, local arts groups such as La MaMa E.T.C., New York Theater Workshop, and Millennium Film Workshop donated incredible materials to the “Load OUT!” site. With the help of our sustainability partners, FABnyc was able to divert over 6 tons from the waste stream, including more than 1 ton of e-waste and almost 1 ton of textiles. This is the largest single diversion we have accomplished to date.

We have completed energy and lighting assessments for many of the theaters on our block, and we plan on developing a program to better inform local theaters about the benefits of efficient waste disposal and energy use practices. We have also worked with White Roof Project to cover 30,000 square feet of roof with white reflective coating to reduce the heat island effect; in June, La MaMa’s Ellen Stewart Theater building will be coated as well. Through these efforts, we are creating a tighter-knit community that is able to collaborate and collectively solve our environmental problems. For now, you can get involved now by saving all your “junk” for the next Load OUT! event, and be sure to stay tuned for more tips and tools from us that will help make our city more sustainable!

Click here to learn more about our Sustainability Program.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Cultivating a Green Audience

While we as theatre artists can make more environmentally friendly choices when creating our productions, we can also encourage our audiences to be more green as well.

Here are a few tips on how audience members can be more environmentally aware while at the theatre:
  • Consider your transportation options: Take public transportation to the theatre. Walk or bike when possible or look into car-pooling opportunities. Producers can help by providing information about these options on their website and other marketing materials.
  • Don’t litter!: Use appropriate recycling and trash bins. Be especially considerate of cigarette butts.
  • Recycle programs: If, after the performance, you will no longer need your program, return it to the company for use at future performances.
  • Recycle postcards & flyers: If you liked the show, pass your postcard or flyer on to friends. Not only is this an environmentally friendly way to recycle, you are helping the production as well. Trust us they’ll appreciate it.  (If you didn’t enjoy the show, you can discretely place your postcard or flyer into the nearest recycle bin.)
  • Help spread the word through green sources: Word of  Mouth, Facebook, Email, Twitter, etc. are fantastic marketing tools that can reach hundreds and sometimes thousands of people without using a single piece of paper. You can help your favorite Indie Theatre company by letting your network know about their amazing work.
  • Visit Neighborhood Restaurants and Bars: When planning your evening out, patronize neighborhood restaurants and bars that incorporate green practices or purchase local and seasonal snacks and drinks. Again producers can help by providing a list of these neighborhood eateries on their website.
  • Donate to Materials for the Arts: If you have unwanted items that could be useful to theatre companies and other artists, instead of throwing them out, consider donating them to Materials for the Arts.

Do you have other suggestions? Let us know.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Greening the Great White Way

Contributed by Sarah-Jane Stratford

Greening the Great White Way began in earnest in 2008, when a few dedicated theatre professionals saw ways in which Broadway could set the stage for more sustainable productions, without losing any razzle-dazzle. TheBroadway Green Alliance has created a wide array of eco-initiatives, motivating professionals and audience members alike to adopt a greener ethos.

The storied lights of Broadway are beautiful, but the environmental impact of incandescent bulbs was anything but. The BGA accomplished the Herculean feat of bringing theatre owners to the same page and making all marquee lights energy-efficient LED bulbs – all 100,000+ of them, saving over 700 tons of carbon a year. The shows are still hot, the planet a bit less so.

When it was observed that the binders used for scripts and light cues were thrown out after every show, the BGA created the Binder Initiative, offering a place where binders could be donated after use and recycled into another show. The initiative is an incredible success, saving mountains of binders from landfill. The BGA is working to bring Off-Broadway and other local theatres, for whom costs are an even bigger concern, into the program.  Soon, there will be binders that have been in more shows than some of the busiest actors in town.

Those busy actors often wear body mics, and the need for fully-charged batteries is mandatory. The BGA has convinced most of the productions to opt for rechargeable batteries, thus keeping thousands of tons of toxic waste out of the system and saving money for more important investments.

One of the BGA’s greatest successes has been in tapping individuals’ green passions, whether they are ardent environmentalists or just want to lessen waste. Many shows now have a “Green Captain” – one person, whether in cast or crew – who acts as advisor, point person, and liaison, helping to green the shows and the people who make them happen.

At that great green musical Wicked, the Green Captain is actress Nova Bergeron. On the road, Nova discovered many theatres had no recycling facilities, so she gathered cans & bottles and recycled them herself. Since she joined the Broadway company, just a few of her accomplishments include: switching everyone to recycled-paper tissues, swapping paper for fabric towels, gathering #5 plastics to recycle at Whole Foods, and collecting corks and makeup containers to recycle at TerraCycle (with her help, the BGA has kept over 18,000 corks out of landfills!). ‘Wicked’ also green-lit welcome tote bags with stainless steel water bottles for all new company members, which Nova presents. She is currently creating a labeling and storage system for reusable flatware so that the company can stop buying – and throwing out – plastic utensils.

Over at the new play Peter and the Starcatcher, currently up for 9 Tony Awards, co-star Adam Chanler-Berat assumes Green Captain duties. Busy as he is, he felt this was too important a responsibility to pass up and hopes to inspire others as well. Already, he’s got many cast and crew members to use reusable water bottles and they fill from the tap, as opposed to plastic jugs. Next, he plans to install recycling bins in every dressing room, put up signs reminding everyone to turn off lights, and join Nova in the cork collection.

It’s easy to be environmentally inspired at Peter, because innovative set designer Donyale Werle made much of the set from reused materials or items she found dumpster-diving. The Tony-nominated set is one of the most exciting in town, proving that you don’t need to make an impact on the earth when you are making one on stage.

The BGA is constantly developing new projects and greater outreach. Everyone is welcome to join and help Broadway scale higher, greener heights.


Sarah-Jane Stratford is a New York-based writer, activist, and green advocate. She is the author of two novels and her work has appeared in Guernica, The Guardian, and Women and Hollywood, as well as being performed with Liar's League, New York. She is currently working on novel about World War I espionage and a play about censorship and sedition. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Using Materials for the (Theater) Arts

Contributed by Kevin Stirnweis

Representatives from Third Rail Projects pose with their treasures during one trip to the warehouse.

When the Innovative Theatre Foundation asked Materials for the Arts to write a guest blog on how companies can green their production, I was delighted because there is one easy, fun, and actually self-serving way that companies can do this: use MFTA services! Founded in 1978, MFTA is a program of the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs that collects unneeded but useful supplies from businesses and individuals and distributes them free of charge to its recipients. These recipients are public schools, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations that provide significant arts programming for the five boroughs. This means that if your theater company is a registered nonprofit, or sponsored by a nonprofit, it is eligible to become an MFTA recipient. That's right: your production company just needs to apply to have access to the wonderful, free supplies at MFTA.
There are two primary methods through which MFTA distributes its supplies. The first is through our 25,000-square-foot warehouse in Long Island City. Recipients set up appointments online and visit our space to find the many wonders it holds. Our trucks go out every day to collect lightly used items from around the City, so the stock is always changing. We have had unique items such as police hats, five-foot-high Styrofoam seahorses, and a mechanical bull, as well as conventional items such as theater lights, curtains, rolls of fabric, mannequins, and chairs.
If you are unable to come to the warehouse, or if you are looking for larger items that we cannot hold in the warehouse, we offer an online donations system where recipients coordinate directly with donors around the five boroughs. Here you can find theater flats, pianos, large set pieces, and more. Through our services, we have supplies to stock your office as well your prop room.
After you are done with these items, the best option is to save them for a future production. MFTA is all about reuse, so the more use you get out of an item, the better. If there is no way you can store the six rolls of fabric, five couches, and thirty mannequins you took from us for a production, you can always donate them back so another organization can use these items.
If your organization is interested in donating to MFTA, you can list items on the online directory, mail items, drop them off, or request a free pickup. Greening a production does not happen just when gathering the needed supplies, but also when trying to find a home for the now unneeded items. If you are interested in making a donation, you can find more information here.
Whether a recipient or donor, you can find inspiration for reuse at our on-site exhibition space, as well as on our blog. Recipient theater companies like Immigrants' Theater Project have shared their past projects using MFTA supplies, as have theaters in New York City's public schools, such as at the High School of Art and Design with their production of Dracula. The work and dedication of MFTA recipients and donors alike is remarkable. I have never met people more committed to reuse in the arts than the folks surrounding MFTA. And we're always looking to expand our community.
Kevin Stirnweis is the Communications Specialist at Materials for the Arts. When he is not blogging about the wonders of MFTA, he can be found on the MFTA Twitter and Facebook. Come say hello.

Monday, May 7, 2012

What's the triple bottom line?

Contributed by Lory Henning

For me, environmental awareness cracked open and rushed into my consciousness on September 11th, 2001.  As I watched the towers burn and fall from my Greenpoint apartment windows, the whole messy, complicated world was held in stark contrast to the simple interactions I had been reading about between Jane Goodall and the chimpanzees she was trying to get to know in her book, In the Shadow of Man.  As many of us did, I felt helpless and yet, I had a deep desire to help Everyone.  The best way I could think of to act was to draft a manifesto to the entire company of Blue Man Group (where I have been working since April of 1996) and try to create a grass-roots effort to green the company from within.

Since that time, we have made some tremendous strides in the right direction.  And while there is still more work to be done throughout the Blue Man enterprise, I can tell you that I am very proud of the awareness we’ve raised and the projects we’ve done.

In terms of greening your production or company, gather together a team of the most environmentally motivated people you have and create a democratic, collaborative system for feedback and experimentation with every new program you institute.  You want to ensure that things are as easy to follow through with as possible - otherwise your program might be ignored and only stand as a reminder of failure rather than creating an atmosphere of care, pride, and conservation.

Try to focus on the triple bottom line.  What's the "triple bottom line", you ask?  Simply put, it's your community, your environment, and your finances.  There is no doubt that every theatre organization can find and develop projects that will strengthen your community, save you money, and help reduce your negative impact on the environment.  Take our composting program, for example.   Members of the community worked together to set up the system for dealing with the collection bins every day.  We stopped sending an enormous amount of compostable waste into the landfill.  And we were able to reduce the amount of money we paid for garbage pick-up by more than it costs us to pay for compost pick-up.  Community.  Environment.  Finance.

But not every theatre will generate as much compost as we do.  So here are some additional ideas for you to consider:

Energy savings:
  • Is your theatre using the most energy efficient fixtures and lamps available?  Can you consider adding motion-sensor switches to lights in hallways and offices?  Can you use LED fixtures as part of your lighting package?
  • Are you balancing efficiency with comfort when setting your thermostats?  There’s no reason to freeze your patrons in the summer; cool is cool enough.

Reduce, Re-use, Recycle:
In addition to the usual paper, cardboard, metal, cartons and plastic bottles that get recycled through the city, we also recycle the following stuff:
  • Food scraps (even chicken bones and gross stuff like that) go in the compost bin.
  • For yogurt containers and other plastics labeled #5, Whole Foods has a collection bin.  I collect that stuff and drop it off on my way to the subway.
  • Unless there’s something sensitive on it, re-use the backs of your printer paper.  Once you figure out which way the paper goes in the feed tray, you’re golden.
  • Dead batteries?  Yup.  Try using a service from http://www.batteryrecycling.com.  You’ll have to pay for it, but it’s for a worthy cause: you.
  •  If you've got rechargeable batteries that don't charge anymore, Radio Shack and Best Buy collect and recycle those for free!
  • Have you got some burnt-out fluorescent tubes?  Find a recycling company here: http://www.lamprecycle.org.  If you’ve got burnt out compact fluorescent bulbs, The Green Depot on Bowery near Prince St collects those for recycling.
  • What about your old costumes?  If they aren't good enough to give to charity, you can recycle them too!  There’s a textile recycling collection tent at the farmer’s market in Union Square (among other places), and they also do pick-ups!  Here’s where you go for more information: http://www.grownyc.org/clothing
  •  If you’ve got some old electronic equipment (computers, cassette players, boxy TV’s, etc) that is just taking up space, you can recycle it!  Check out the wonderful folks at http://www.lesecologycenter.org.  They hold regular e-waste collection events around the city.
  •  If you've got CD's, VHS tapes, DVD's, or computer diskettes that aren't good for donating to charity, you can have them erased and recycled through Green Disk (http://www.greendisk.com).  I've done it myself.  It's easy, it doesn’t break the bank, and it makes you more attractive.
  • Stop throwing out your grocery bags and cling wrap.  They’ve got collection bins for that stuff at Wallgreens, Staples, and, like, every intelligently run grocery store there is.
  • And, one of the biggest impacts a small theatre can have is by re-using materials to make your scenery, and then donating it to charity (or using it AGAIN) after your show closes.
And how about some advanced eco-friendly moves?  Install some bike racks and encourage everyone to cycle commute. Get rid of plastic water bottles – install filters on your tap (if you must) and encourage everyone to bring re-usable bottles.  In your green room, replace paper plates and plastic utensils with real plates and metal flatware (you can even get used ones from a charity shop or community donations).  Make sure your theatre has water-saving fixtures.  Use hand-towels rather than paper towels where appropriate.

Want super-duper advanced stuff?  Use bio-diesel if you have any trucking to do.  Sell eco-friendly merchandise and organic, locally produced concessions for your show.  Purchase carbon offsets for the energy you use.  Check out companies like Con Ed Solutions (http://www.conedsolutions.com/Home.aspx) or Green Mountain Energy (http://www.greenmountain.com) for sustainably generated electricity.

And, perhaps most importantly, tell your audiences what you’re doing to save the world.  After all, they’re the biggest part of our community.  And, who knows? Maybe they’ll be inspired to help Everyone too.


Lory Henning has recently begun her 16th year working with Blue Man Group, and after having held many jobs within the company over the years, she has currently got her favorite: Production Stage Manager at the Astor Place Theatre.  Lory is also a director, producer, and a crazy uber-nerd for all things related to woodworking and the environment and is a contributor to the Green Theatre Iniative.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Keep Costumes out of Landfills

Contributed by Joanne Haas is the Associate Director at the TDF Costume Collection

According to Grownyc.org, “The average New Yorker tosses 46 pounds of clothing and textiles in the trash each year, totaling 6% of our entire residential waste stream.” Imagine how much waste we create as costume designers?  Our art only lives for a very finite period of time; A show opens, and then all too soon after comes strike.  What happens to the clothing after the show closes? 

The U.S. EPA estimates that textile waste is 5% of all landfill space.  Did you know that synthetic fibers do not decompose?  Natural fiber garments decompose but create methane, which contributes to global warming. 

What to do?  Try to reduce, recycle, and reuse as much as possible.  How do we do this? 
  • Rent and donate costumes from the TDF Costume Collection.  If you don’t know, the TDF Costume Collection is service organization of the Theatre Development Fund.  The Collection is a self-service warehouse in Astoria, Queens of approximately 75,000 pieces that have all been donated from places such as Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, The Metropolitan Opera, Papermill Playhouse, Universities/Colleges, and individuals.  These costumes are available for rental priced at a sliding scale for non-profit organizations (rates start at $45.00 for non-profit organizations).  By using rented costumes, you are saving on raw resources such as fabric and electricity.  With a creative eye, you can put together and transform the pieces available to create the looks needed for your show.
For more information on the TDF Costume Collection, visit their website at www.tdf.org/costumes 
A plain brown 18th Century Frock transformed by sewing on new trims.  

  • Buy and/or donate to thrift stores like Goodwill Industries, Salvation Army, Planet Aid and Housing Works just to name a few.  Not only are you saving landfill space, money, but you are also helping these organizations with fundraising for their programs.
  • Grownyc.org sponsors textile recycling at several greenmarkets throughout the NYC area.   For a complete listing, visit their website.
  • While the Materials for the Arts will not accept clothing, they do accept large pieces of raw materials such as fabric.  So, instead of throwing out your extra bolts we all have lying around, donate them so they can be used by other arts organizations.  
  • For other ideas, visit: http://www.nyc.gov/html/nycwasteless/html/resources/prod_serv_office_home_clothing.shtml#recyclers
Every small effort helps!  Some of the resources above will not only help our planet, but will help you by saving time and money, something every small innovative theatre artist can believe in. 


Joanne Haas is the Associate Director at the TDF Costume Collection, a service organization of the Theatre Development Fund.  Before joining the TDF staff, Joanne was a freelance costume designer for theatre and film.  A member of USA Local 829, Joanne has served as costume designer for over 200 productions, working both in New York City and throughout the Northeast.  www.joannehaas.com

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Greening Your Production

We are dedicating the May blog to “Greening Your Production.”

Environmental concerns hit every aspect of our society. President Obama includes the environment among his top 5 issues; focusing on conservation and the development of clean energy. Earlier this week Governor Cuomo released a statement saying that he is committed to reducing energy consumption in New York State by 20% over the next 4 years. His initiatives include energy efficient upgrades, solar energydevelopment, and the use and development of other emerging energy technologies. Even some funders have started to require that grantees engage in green practices.

Now, OOBers are no stranger to the mantra “Reduce, Recycle and Reuse.” We’ve been practicing conservation since the indie theatre movement was founded more than 50 years ago. However there are lots of new resources and initiatives that make it even easier for our community to more effectively employ environmentally friendly practices.

We are very excited to have some amazing guest bloggers this month. They represent theatrical organizations that have implemented green practices into their productions and organizations that provide resources and are aiding our community in its green efforts. They will share their experiences with executing their initiatives and some of the resources that are available to our community right now.

Guest bloggers this month include:

Joanne Haas from the TDF Costume Collective
Lory Henning from the Blue Man Group, Green Program
Kevin Stirnweis from Materials for the Arts
Jeremy Karafin from The Wild Project
Special Guest Blogger from The Broadway Green Alliance
And others...

Have you implemented green practices into your production? What was your experience? What are your favorite resources?