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- Green Captains
We have had a wonderful program of backstage BGA liaisons, overseen by our Production Committee, for the past couple of years. These amazing folks (we call them Green Captains) help us bring the message of green to the backstage realm at each show and let us know if folks have green questions or issues that we can help with.
Each Green Sheet Newsletter offers a spotlight on a Green Captain so that you can learn more about these enthusiastic folks. See Bret Shuford’s interview with EVITA Green Captain, Jessica Lea Patty, in this issue. Several of our Green Captains are alumni who have served for more than one show — and will likely go on to yet another show.
We are now starting to reach out to Off Broadway as well and have already started signing up new Green Captains there.
The really exciting news is that we have achieved 100% participation in our Green Captain program for running shows. That’s right, every single show now running on Broadway has a BGA Green Captain!
Throughout the world, audiences of a certain age and persuasion may recall the wild participatory antics that went along with the legendary midnight showings of the camp/cult movie classic, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. At San Diego’s legendary Old Globe Theatre this month, audiences may be taking home another participatory message – the art of upcycling -inspired by the ritzy glamour and transformational magic of scenic designer Donyale Werle’s reimagining of Frank-n-Furter’s lair. Repurposing materials from at least seven different productions in her creation, Werle and her team have hand-assembled theatrical proof that recycling and reusing offer substantial artistic originality as well as sustainability at the level of design.
Donyale Werle is a Brooklyn-based theatrical set designer who supports and employs sustainable practices in scenic design and also serves as the Co-Chair (with Bob Usdin) of the Pre/Post Production Committee. Werle typically works with salvaged materials to create unique, handcrafted sets and props. She has received a 2011 Obie for Sustained Excellence in Set Design, the 2011 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Set Design and the 2010 Henry Hewes Design Award for Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson for which she also received a 2011 Tony nomination.
Through a recent case study on a previous Werle-designed production, Peter and the Starcatcher, Werle recognized that, even with slightly increased labor costs associated with sourcing and transporting reusable materials, she could save producers significant amounts of money from reduced material costs. This fall, she found eager allies at the Old Globe in Director of Production Robert Drake and Technical Director Ben Thoron, both willing to support her search for sustainability and artistic excellence onstage, as well as economizing.
Designing for sustainability certainly requires artistic leadership and a passion for working with collaborators of a shared sensibility. “Most of my job is communication, even more than drawing,” says Werle, “which is nice because I develop relationships with builders and other designer artisans.” Werle’s process involves a lot of horizontal thinking and “a lot of off-kilter sensibility, trust in happenstance and letting go,” all necessary attributes for the team-based approach to creation she employs. In the end, Werle has found it useful and fruitful to collapse the typical separation between designer and assistants, with material scavengers, construction crews, and pretty much everyone present all having critical input into the design process.
The reuse of plastics is a key design theme for Werle. The Rocky Horror set featured thousands of water bottles collected by theater staff, along with used scroller gels donated from Broadway’s Wicked along with salvaged scrap foil and 3M paper, all of which were cut into spirals and wrapped around steel frames to create shimmering sculptures which became the laboratory walls. Werle and team practiced the necessary flexibility of designing for upcycling throughout the process, allowing some radical re-designs of many set pieces from initial rendering to finished product, ultimately determined less by what was conceived on paper than by what salvageable materials came through the door. Still, she acknowledges, the ultimate result was far richer than anything that could have been conceived through a more typical top-down, less serendipitous collaboration. Even the proscenium arch was pulled from an earlier Old Globe production, and adapted with salvaged foam, rope and some careful cutting.
Werle’s creations are pioneering a unique approach to sustainable design challenges that is leading the field. And, as the Old Globe discovered, audiences are responding with overwhelming interest and support for the theater’s effort to combine a bold visual approach with environmental responsibility.
The red carpet at the Tony® Awards has been green since 2009 – 100% recycled material with 49% post-consumer content – but this marks the first year that the behind-the-scenes action has begun to really earn its place in the environmental limelight.
More than any other awards show, the Tonys feature live performances that require costume and makeup changes at a speed that would outstrip a cheetah, and the whole production is organized in six very wild and woolly weeks. Precision is imperative, but when challenged to go green, the Tonys rose quickly from chorine to star.
This year, Tony Production Supervisor Marjorie Horne served as the first-ever Tony Awards Green Captain for the BGA. She put up a bulletin board in the office: “Tony Awards Go Green” (with a picture of The Hulk), and the whole staff was promptly energized, depositing bottle caps and corks in marked vases that Ms. Horne brought from home, organizing blue recycling bins, and ordering green supplies.
When the tech people started coming in two weeks before the show, one of the sound engineers saw the bulletin board and lit up, asking if that meant he could arrange battery recycling. Batteries are Broadway’s blood cells, and thanks to the BGA, most shows now use rechargeable batteries for body mics, saving money and keeping thousands of tons of toxic waste out of the ecosystem.
Orchestrating the Tonys demands more skill, stamina, and perfect timing than any comedy. For the single dress rehearsal everyone gets at the Beacon, all the nominees, along with their dressers and makeup artists, are brought from their theatre in a van in the morning. All chorus members and other principals travel from their theatres in buses. The Beacon Hotel provides dressing rooms and everyone must prep and rehearse at 10:30, at which point many go back to do their show’s matinee. The whole procedure is repeated in the evening. This year, show presenters arrived in hybrid cars, and one of the big projects Ms. Horne has underway for next year is to work with the bus company, Golden Touch, to green the buses too, hopefully adding particle filters to help reduce carbon emissions.
The week before the show goes on, there are daily script changes. About 30 people get a whole new script every day, and because the changes use colored paper, recycled paper is not yet an option. Ms. Horne was able to accomplish some paper reduction, with electronic versions of the early script editions. Another major project for next year is to incorporate more recycled paper into the scripts. She is proud that the office itself used recycled paper and her hope is to find paper made of more – or exclusively – recycled content.
Other future challenges concern bottled water. The speed and difficulty of prep and rehearsals mean that having a tap and asking everyone to use stainless steel bottles is not feasible. However, this was the first year that plastic bottle recycling bins were put into place. Next year, Ms. Horne will make a point of connecting with the individual shows’ Green Captains to alert them about where and how to recycle so that they can in turn continue to shepherd their shows’ green turns at the Beacon. And since no Green Captain is an archipelago (to paraphrase ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’), she hopes that the others will make further suggestions, too.
The Beacon Theatre itself has done a lot to live up to its own name insofar as environmentalism goes, with energy-efficient lighting, recycled paper products in the restrooms, low-flow toilets and faucets, and all trash taken for post-collection sorting and recycling.
As the green work in the Tony production office got underway, what pleased Ms. Horne the most was seeing the excitement it created. This was something people wanted to do and they wanted to go further. As she noted, we might all do our part at home, but it’s particularly rewarding to do it as part of a community. At no point did anyone say, “Do we have to do that?” but rather, every now and then, “How do I do that?” These were questions that others were happy to try and answer – it was very much an ensemble effort.
Putting on the Tonys is a challenge in itself, and greening them that much more so, but Ms. Horne was proud to note that they did a great deal and had a great time doing it. Watch this space to see next year’s green actions!
Finally, since nothing awards-related is complete without acknowledgments, massive thanks go to The Broadway League, The American Theater Wing, The Beacon Theatre, Alan Wasser Associates, and White Cherry Entertainment for recognizing the need to create a greener Tonys, being supportive of the BGA’s efforts, and helping to lead the way.
Dana Amendola, Vice President of Operations, and Jeff Lee, Staff Associate Director, of DisneyTheatrical Productions (DTP) kindly took the time to sit down and discuss their company’s eco-friendly programs. With gusto and humor they described the conservation measures that Disney Theatrical has implemented, often finishing each other’s sentences in their eagerness. Both men are passionate about the cause and anxious to share their knowledge – there is no doubting their dedication to reducing waste and cleaning up the planet.
Many of DTP’s initial steps are in line with those of the rest of the Broadway community – providing recycling bins backstage, replacing marquee incandescents with energy-efficient bulbs, supplying their shows with refillable water bottles and filtered water, using biodegradable laundry detergents and rechargeable batteries backstage. But Disney does not do things on a small scale. From the porters at the New Amsterdam Theatre all the way up to Bob Iger, the company’s CEO, Disney has embraced ecologically sensitive methods throughout its expansive organization and continually strives to improve its environmental track record.
Lee observed that DTP’s sustainability efforts are company-wide. “The head of our company actually appointed a Senior Vice President to head up a green initiative within the entire corporation. In each of our divisions there’s a set of goals that have been laid out and each division has to report back on what we’re accomplishing. It’s a Bob Iger passion to be able to apply this to all divisions.”
This corporate discipline pays off in the way Disney streamlines and capitalizes on green innovations from all sectors. As Amendola noted, “It was coincidental that we were able to join the Broadway Green Alliance when there was a green initiative being implemented at the top level of our corporation. And with the inspiration of the BGA, there’s a new synergy occurring throughout the Broadway community where good ideas are being shared and implemented.”
And Disney Theatrical is doing more than just recycling paper and plastic bottles – they are involved in all of the BGA committees and are determined to think creatively about solving the unique environmental problems faced by the live theatre industry.
DTP is helping implement the appointment of a Green Captain at each show – a company member who helps facilitate conservation and environmental awareness backstage. They’ve also sourced out a new waste management company that separates and recycles all garbage, even those items that weren’t put in a recycling bin. There are recycling slots for Playbills in theatres with Disney shows. And then there are the waterless urinals that DTP has installed in their administrative offices, saving 50,000 gallons of water a year. “We’re going to install these urinals in the New Amsterdam Theatre next and multiply that savings throughout the whole building. It gets people through the bathrooms much quicker – as with so many of our green initiatives, there are positive fringe benefits that come from thinking green.”
Working with the rest of the Broadway community by sharing new ideas and fighting the “it can’t be done” mindset, Disney Theatrical is proving to be a powerful force in educating, motivating and inspiring the adoption of greener practices in theatre production.
Written and Edited by Caroline Ranald Curvan