Green Corner: Giving sustainability its much needed curtain call

Have you ever been to a musical and marveled at the magnificent set pieces? Theater sets in New York City, Philadelphia, around the globe and even right here at Rider are impressive backdrops to the stage performance. It takes a lot of material to build elaborate sets like that. Luckily, many theaters reuse their scenery by painting  over the same wood pieces. There are now programs that are looking further into running sustainable theaters.

Initiatives like The Broadway Green Alliance educates, motivates and inspires the entire theater community and its patrons to adopt environmentally friendlier practices. They have multiple committees that deal with different aspects of production. Their newest committee, focused on education, deals with “greening theater” in educational institutions. Their mission is to disseminate greener practices in theaters throughout the education community from high schools to colleges and universities. This committee is chaired by Lisa Mitchell at Disney Theatrical.

The Broadway Green Alliance’s pre- and post-production committee has made great strides to increase the amount of recycling within New York theaters. For example, 88 percent of scenery from shows closing in January 2009 was recycled or reused, instead of going to landfill. This committee also promotes greener resources for shops, designers and technical directors. Since many shows are set in the past, with all of the thrift stores available in our area, it is a cinch to find the perfect costumes.

Rider’s technical director in the theater department, Buck Linton, said, “The decks that you see on stage are almost entirely comprised of stock modules that we keep in our inventory.  Some of the modules have already seen a couple of dozen uses since their construction. Our show decks are about 95 percent reuse, or built for reuse. It’s actually funny. When we’re building new scenery, we pull from salvage before using new material, and our game is to name the number of shows a piece of lumber has been in based on the various paint treatments. Incidentally, I recently saw a piece of lumber salvaged from a Westminster Choir College opera about 9 years ago. I recognized the labeling and paint treatment. Part of this practice is environmental sustainability, the other part is simply trying to get the most out of our budgets. Our average scenic budget is about 10 percent of what the show would cost if built new outright each time, labor costs excluded. So, I suppose you could say we’re operating around 90 percent sustainability.”

I asked members of the Westminster community their thoughts about recycling in the many venues our choirs travel to.

Micaela Bottari, a junior vocal performance major, made a great discovery during her experiences. “You should have seen me at my last runout with Williamson Voices. We were at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, performing Arvo Pärt’s ‘Kanon Pokajanen’ and we were all given cardboard boxed lunches with a plastic bottle of water. Besides the fact that it’s already wasteful to use that much plastic, there wasn’t a recycling bin in sight. Everyone was throwing their plastic water bottles in the trash can. I ran over, picked through the trash can, and carried an armful of empty water bottles to the front of the venue. If there were more recycling bins accessible in performance spaces, we would save a lot more plastic from ending up in landfills.”

One initiative I thought was genius is the Broadway Green Alliance Binder Project. The Binder Project is an exchange program where you can deposit used binders for repurposing or pick up binders for your new projects. Several large shelves of binders in different sizes are maintained in an office where the actor or actress may come in and sign out as many as they need.

This is such a simple idea that we could start implementing it at Rider next semester. The Broadway Green Alliance has brought greening theater to a whole new level. I hope to see more from this organization, especially with their efforts to educate university programs on sustainability in the theater.

—Chelsea Simpkins 

Westminster Eco Rep 


Printed in the 12/7/16 issue.

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