The Green TheatreSave the Planet and Your Budget with These Eco-Friendly Techniques
By Brian D. Taylor, Project Editor, Pioneer Drama Service
Brian D. Taylor is a former middle school drama teacher and the newest addition to the Pioneer Drama editorial staff. Working with K-12, college and community theatre groups, he has a theatrical background with experience in directing, acting and technical theatre. When he’s not working on a production, Brian writes children’s and young adult fiction.
Sure, you have a green room, but why not a green theatre? No, I’m not suggesting you unleash your design team on the theatre with green paint. I’m talking about simple theatre practices to reduce your impact on the environment. The best part? Making your theatre a bit greener is a win-win! Not only can you do your part to save the planet, but implementing these strategies can also reduce your production budget!
We are certainly living in a more environmentally-minded society with many approaches to sustainability. So you don’t have to go to extremes like installing solar panels and turbines or collecting rain water for the bathroom facilities or growing your own prop foods (though why not if measures like these are within your means?!). Instead, there are several simple practices that any theatre can put in place to reduce waste and increase sustainability.
Let’s start with sets. Many theatres already recycle their sets, either by reusing flats and platforms from production to production or by planning their season around a particular set design. If you can recycle that café set for several different shows, you’ll save time, money AND several natural resources.
Of course, not every theatre has ample storage space, so recycling your own sets may be difficult. However, several theatres will loan, rent or even give away set pieces once they’re done with them. Form partnerships with other area theatres and see how you can help one another out. You could even plan your show around another show in the area and arrange to share a set. It doesn’t have to be the same show, just one with a similar set design.
If you’re building your own sets, there are many useful practices to make your set construction friendlier to the environment. Instead of cutting the first piece of lumber you can grab — or even worse, always starting with a new board — use a piece of scrap that’s already approximately the size you need. It’s useful to keep a stock lumber pile, stocked with boards of standard lengths: 2’, 4’, 5’, 6’, 8’ and 10’. Most boards can be used for many shows before they need to be replaced.
If you’re planning to reuse lumber, you’ll definitely need to eliminate the use of glue and nails as much as possible. Screws are the best option for fastening lumber you’re planning to reuse, and even the screws themselves can be recycled as long as they’re not stripped. Pre-drilling will reduce the odds of stripped screws. Yes, it requires a bit of extra time, but it’s definitely worth it at strike if you can collect all the screws in a recycled coffee can to save for the next show. Also, consider using square screw heads as they tend to be less prone to stripping.
When it comes to paint, you may be thinking that it’s difficult to recycle. Obviously, if you have storage, you can keep old paint around and reuse it until it goes bad. But put yourself on the other end of the recycling/reusing chain, and it opens up more possibilities. Many painting contractors end up with hundreds of gallons of perfectly good, leftover paint. Contact local painting companies to see if you can work out a deal. You can also sometimes find free leftover paint online. My theatre once scored about 500 gallons of paint from one listing on Craigslist. Our paint budget for the several years following was $0. The only downfall to this is that you don’t get to be picky about shades, but you can probably get at least a large variety of colors.
When using paint, stay greener by using water based or latex paints instead of toxic oil-based paints. And when washing paint brushes, minimize water waste with a bucket of water. Rather than washing them under a running faucet, wash off most of the gunk in the bucket, then run a bucket of clean water for the final wash. Instead of drying with a paper towel, hang the brushes on hooks with the bristles facing down to drip dry.
Costumes and props can also be recycled. You can find great props and clothing at thrift stores and garage sales, or even on Craigslist. At my old school, instead of doing a fundraiser for the theatre, we did a costume and prop drive. Families donated bags and bags of old clothes and props. All we did was get the word out about the types of objects and clothing styles that would be most useful for our theatre department. Like sets, many theatres are willing to donate, loan or rent props and costumes, so building those partnerships can be an on-going benefit. Likewise, when you’re cleaning out your own drama storage, consider whether another theatre could use the items you’re tossing. If nothing else, donate them back to a thrift store rather than filling up a garbage bin.
As far as energy-consumption goes, ideally you’d go all out and install LED stage lighting and energy-saving dimmers and amps. Unfortunately, most facilities don’t have the funds for a full energy audit and revamp. However, good energy-saving practices, like shutting off all stage equipment nightly, and keeping an eye on thermostats so the heat and air is not used wastefully, will reduce your theatre’s carbon footprint as well as money on those monthly energy bills. Also, don’t forget to install a compact fluorescent light bulb in the ghost light!
When thinking about green living, using less paper is often part of the discussion. Unfortunately, going paperless in the theatre is practically impossible as our art form requires scripts, programs, posters and all sorts of other paperwork. While going paperless may not be achievable, reducing and recycling is. Think how you can minimize the amount of paper you use, even if it’s just simple things like using two-sided copying for rehearsal schedules and the like. Can other communication with your cast be done via email rather than handouts? Can attendance logs be kept on someone’s laptop instead of on paper? Can tickets be made smaller? Can ushers ask patrons if they want a program rather than automatically thrusting one into every single person’s hand? And of course you’ll save your scripts to reuse another year!
For the paper you do use, be sure to set up a recycling bin in your theater. And we know your actors and crew live on soda and energy drinks, so set up recycling bins for cans and water bottles, too. If you’re working with the adult, coffee-sipping set, get rid of those Styrofoam cups, replacing them with paper cups, or better yet, encourage them to bring in their own coffee mugs.
It doesn’t have to be much, yet every little step you take towards reducing your theatre’s environmental impact will benefit both your program and your community. Theatre already improves society in so many ways, but if we all can also get on board with improved environmental practices, our impact on society becomes that much greater.
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