More than 11.5 million people gave their regards to Broadway last year, generating almost $1.2 billion for New York City’s theater district — and countless greenhouse gas emissions. While Kinky Boots are always welcome on the Great White Way, a colossal carbon footprint is something the entertainment thoroughfare would prefer to do without.
Looking to limit its environmental impact in a meaningful way, Manhattan’s professional theaters have banned together through an industrywide initiative called the Broadway Green Alliance to help Broadway get greener.
“We know that Broadway is not only economically and culturally important to New York City, but people from around the country and around the world come to New York to see a Broadway show, so we know that becoming more energy- and resource-efficient is good for our industry, for our city and our world,” says Rebekah Sale, coordinator of Broadway Green Alliance.
The alliance started as an ad hoc committee of the Broadway League in 2008 before becoming an affiliate program of Broadway Cares Equity Fights AIDS, which is the theater world’s principal non-profit fund-raiser and grant-making organization. “We’re a group of theater professionals, students and fans who come together to work on greening Broadway in a grass-roots way,” Sale says.
When it comes to implementing environmentally friendlier practices, the old adage “go big or go home” need not apply. Sale says that although the alliance is equally as interested is discussing sustainable design or infrastructure improvements with theatres, as it is with organizing recycling programs to make the opening and closing of shows more resource-efficient, sometimes it’s the small stuff, like battery and light bulb upgrades, that makes the biggest difference.
“Most shows now use rechargeable batteries in microphones and flashlights, keeping thousands of toxic disposable batteries from the waste stream every month,” Sale says. “It is easy, saves money, and is better for the environment. ‘Wicked’ went from using 15,000 batteries a year to just under 100.”
The lights of Broadway have been, burning bright since the turn of the 20th century, Broadway Green Alliance liaison for their production,” Sale says. “This season we had Bryan Cranston, Audra McDonald and Michael C. Hall volunteer. They all volunteered to be the green captains on their production, which is nice because of the legitimacy (it adds) among the whole cast and crew.”
Convincing New York’s theaters that energy and resource efficiency doesn’t require them to sacrifice anything in terms of creative integrity of artistic mission has gone a long way toward getting the industry as a whole to embrace the alliance’s grassroots efforts. “Donyale Werle literally went dumpster diving to create the set of ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’ in 2012, and she ended up winning that year’s Tony Award for best scenic design,” Sale says. “It was a totally upcycled set.”
The alliance relies on ambassadors called “green captains” to help relay its message to the casts and crews of every play and musical participating in the program. “We ask for a volunteer at the first rehearsal of every Broadway show, somebody who will be the go-to green person and the Broadway Green Alliance liaison for their production,” Sale says. “This season we had Bryan Cranston, Audra McDonald and Michael C. Hall volunteer. They all volunteered to be the green captains on their production, which is nice because of the legitimacy (it adds) among the whole cast and crew.”
Support from Broadway’s brightest stars is huge, but Sale stresses that greening the Great White Way is really a group effort — one that requires the assistance of both the people on the stage and those in the seats. For the past five years, the Broadway Green Alliance has held four public collection drives a year in New York City. It’s managed to recycle 15 tons of electronic waste and nearly 10,000 pounds of clothing and textiles so far to date.
“We want people to see what we do,” Sale says. “We want to make sure that they see that we’re challenging ourselves. We just want to show people that green is something that this industry cares about and is working on.”