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In 1990 there was a series of books on 50 things you could do to save the earth. The books went by the wayside until these issues of ecological sustainability and environmentalism came back to the forefront of public discourse recently. Who was not saddened by the image of the polar bear treading water in An Inconvenient Truth?  About the same time as those books came out, there was another one published. That book is Greening up our Houses: A guide to an ecologically sustainable theatre by Thomas Fried and Theresa May. Though there is a significant amount of idealism, it is for the most part a guide to where to get materials, used in production, which are not as bad. It is now sadly outdated. I haven’t verified all of the included businesses, but many are gone, moved or changed direction. This book was publish in the early nineties environmental passion that produced the forgotten 50 things books, the issue fell to the backburner and a business needs to consider it’s economic sustainability first. This is before the Internet, left in a static state; the information itself was not sustainable.


With theater, while you might have the best intentions, the medium is inherently unsustainable. There are thousands of products that make building homes in a sustainable way possible. But houses are built to last; your A Doll’s House is not. Unless you plan to tour, or remount repeatedly, you’re not going to keep it. Parts might be in good shape, and useful for the future, but finding a space to perform is hard and expensive enough without having to store old shows. And if you are going to throw things away, you aren’t going to buy the more expensive green material. However, there is no more away.


There is another book, not theater specific, but essential for the ecologically minded, entitled Cradle to Cradle; Remaking the way we make things by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. The authors work together to help redesign the way things like textiles and chairs are made and eliminate the bad things. They are against things that are less bad, because less bad is still bad. But, redesigning the way textiles are manufactured is different than rethinking our system of theater production. We don’t make the same thing twice; and not in mass amounts.


            While our constant creation is what makes theater at odds with the wider sustainability movement, it also gives us repeated opportunities to remake the way we make things. There is a growing movement afoot. With new restrictions on incandescent lamps and the marketing potential of green technology you already see companies like Electronic Theater Controls and Chauvet making moves in that direction. Portland Center Stage has a LEED Platinum facility, New York Theater Workshop is building a shop to LEED certification benchmarks and the Center Theater Group recently pledge resources to find ways to clean house. There are a growing number of us, exploiting electronic distribution to help get more current information out to more people and we need your help.


            There are things you can do now to create a sustainable theater. Tap into the community around you to share and reuse materials; you can keep trash costs low and combine efforts to afford greener materials. Keep you electrics in good shape to maximize efficiency. Budget your energy use into your show; maybe you can save enough money to update your inventory. Think smaller; 100 full seats are the same or better than 200 seats half-empty . Electronically distribute scripts, schedules, contact sheets, paper work, marketing materials and so on. Collect better marketing information and stop printing postcards, brochures and flyers that get mailed to incorrect addresses or people who aren’t coming. And this is only the tip of the (remaining) iceberg. 



 

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