In For the Long Haul
National tours go green where the rubber meets the road.
By Stan Friedman
A basic tenet of New York City living is that the longer you dwell here, the less cognizant you are of the large land mass to our west known as “the rest of the country.” To an average urban theater-goer, a Broadway show is a show on Broadway, and when it’s gone from the Great White Way, out of sight means out of mind. But for another entire universe of working professionals, the party is just getting started as America comes calling in the guise of a national tour.
At any given time, a couple dozen current or former Broadway successes are crisscrossing the countryside. Broadway productions in the coming year are scheduled in more than 240 North American cities, which means that you will be able to find national tours of Pippin in Portland,Beautiful in Buffalo and Wicked in Wisconsin.
In the early days of touring, productions traveled by rail and thus turned up only in the larger cities along the major train routes (i.e. Another op’nin‘, another show / in Philly, Boston or Baltimo’). But all of that changed in 1949, when the Broadway production of Mr. Roberts was loaded into a specially designed tractor trailer and became the first show to travel à la bus and truck. Other great plays of the era, like Death of a Salesman and South Pacific, soon followed. Five years later, 11 national tours, including ballets, operas, and philharmonics racked up over 160,000 miles. Fast forward to 2015 and entertainment-based touring covers more than 5 million miles annually.
Leading the way today, as it did in the 1950’s, is a family-owned trucking company known as Clark Transfer. To understand the complexities that the Clark team handles on a daily basis, or just for any fan of behind-the-scenes theater action, their 10 minute “Life on the Road” video is mandatory viewing. Clark is also at the forefront of their industry in terms of environmental responsibility. They are a member of the EPA’s SmartWay program, their Executive Vice President, Charlie Deull, serves as co-chair of the Broadway Green Alliance and, since 2008, Clark has been operating their ownTouring Green initiative.
With so many miles being traveled, and with shows often requiring multiple trucks to satisfy audience demands for the same extravagant sets as a New York production, the carbon footprint is indeed deep. Those millions of touring miles equate to over 8,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. The Clark fleet does what it can to manage emissions – proper tire inflation and reduced idling times are key. But the heart of Touring Green is their efforts in carbon offsets. Each touring show that wishes to participate pays Clark a penny and a half per mile for each trailer they haul. One hundred percent of those funds are then sent to Clark’s energy partner, NativeEnergy, to be used in investing in clean technologies. Over 110 productions to date have taken part and their contributions have been used in such efforts as the Brubaker Farms Anaerobic Digester Project in Pennsylvania, which uses amethane digester to create enough electricity to power a farm and up to 200 nearby homes, and the Iowa Farms Wind Project which, beyond the Man of La Mancha’s wildest dreams, employs wind turbines to reduce approximately 8,165 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year. For more information on Touring Green, visit the Clark website. And go to NativeEnergy’s site to learn more about their widespread carbon offset projects.