Green Theater Initiative Helps to Clean Up the Act

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Theater has long been a catalyst for political change. The earliest Greek performances brought forth controversial topics such as power and greed of government, while today radical theater companies such as the San Francisco Mime Troupe and Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed work to present an alternative view of human history on both street and stage.

But because performing under hundreds of bright lights, handing out paper playbills, and serving coffee to patrons in foam cups is in no way forward-thinking, the Green Theater website now tracks the ways theaters around the world are incorporating environmental concerns into their everyday practices.

For example, the site details the initiative Green Theatre: Taking Action on Climate Change, launched September 9 by London Mayor Boris Johnson. The plan estimates that London’s theater industry creates 55,000 tons of carbon emissions per year, the equivalent of 9,000 homes.  It concludes that if all actions recommended in the plan were taken, such as redesigning internal lighting systems, writing “green” policies into employee contracts, and implementing a battery recycling program, the industry could reduce carbon emissions by almost 60 percent by 2025–the equivalent of converting more than 5,000 London homes to zero-carbon.

Back in the states, Broadway is searching for ways to clean up its act without losing its signature lights. On June 11, a Town Hall meeting affectionately titled “It’s Easy Being Green” was held at the Gershwin Theater to give folks in the industry a chance to bounce ideas off each other. Though many ideas might seem trite, such as reusing water bottles and e-mailing memos, Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of the Broadway League, announced the development of a committee to disseminate information for Broadway to go green. Melissa Wright of the New York City mayor’s office also announced that the city was in the process of putting together carbon inventories and an energy analysis of the Broadway community.

The site offers simple advice that any theater, or professional building for that matter, can follow to save both resources and money–especially important in an age where funding for the arts takes an unfortunate back seat. Terrence Jones, president and CEO of Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, said in an interview on the site, “If you’re answering to a board of directors or shareholders–in our case, a board of directors–that’s pretty compelling evidence that not only is it good for people and good for the earth, it’s good for the budget.”

If you’re planning to see a show in the upcoming winter months, don’t rely on the theater to turn up the thermostat. Bring a sweater. It looks like they’re catching on.

Image by John Kannenberg, licensed by Creative Commons.

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