Stuff and Stuffing: Archiving the Material Resources for PLUTO (no longer a play)

It all started with a unicorn. Not the last unicorn, but rather a mass produced stuffed toy unicorn picked up in a NYC store for its lifelike (can a doll of a creature that’s never lived appear lifelike?) features and bendable legs. It was the first official prop selected for PLUTO (no longer a play) created by Superhero Clubhouse and playing May 11th through June 3rd at The Brick. PLUTO is an allegory about extinction in which three humans attempt to give a presentation about the remains of a play that no longer exists. The preserved pieces seem to suggest the story of a unicorn, an outcast, and a wizard, all struggling to adapt to a rapidly changing world. Facing similar dilemmas, the three humans stage the story as best they can, searching for hope among the fragments.

When selecting material resources for our shows, we use one of SHC’s core tenets of eco-theatre to guide us: imposed limitations. As we collect or build prop, costume, or set pieces, we are always looking for ways to use less, reuse, recycle, or source sustainably with an eye toward what will happen to the item once our show is over. These limitations force us to think deeply about each choice, but also unlocks creative solutions that we might never have discovered if we took the easy, cheap, and often disposable way out of a given theatrical challenge.

For PLUTO, we also charged ourselves with the task of tracing some of the materials we used back to their source to get a deeper understanding of their origins.  In the spirit our show, which finds its main characters excavating and categorizing the remains of a play, we are cataloging our materials in an archive of sorts. Our collection records ask the viewer to engage beyond standard informational descriptions. We want to examine the raw materials that make up the physical object as well as how those materials exist within larger systems of production, wildlife habitation, and ecology. 

We were curious about how the production and manufacture of the materials we encountered impact biodiversity. The single largest threat to biodiversity worldwide is habitat loss. This can include loss due to climate change, agriculture, unsustainable forest management, unsustainable water use, and conversion of land for human use like settlements and industrial sprawl. Soil, water, air, noise, and light pollution from industrial processes can all affect animal and plant life. As I researched fabric manufacture, I discovered the hidden environmental costs behind many traditional favorites from the oil and energy intensive process used to make polyester to the carbon footprint left by growing, producing, and harvesting conventional cotton. 

But what about our cuddly unicorn? It is composed of entirely new materials, but it was specifically sourced from a local store to support small business and avoid the environmental costs of shipping. I found a ton of information online from its maker about how these types of toys (well, toys modeled after real endangered animals, not mystical ones) are educating youth and hopefully inspiring an emotional investment that might lead to future wildlife conservation. What was harder to find was the specifics about how the creation, manufacture, and disposal of the materials in many of these toys might be negatively impacting the habitats of the very animals they are striving to champion.  Often, eco organizations encourage people to help endangered animals by donating money. To encourage donations, companies usually send a stuffed likeness of the creature by mail. Everybody wins, right? But what if that adorable black rhinoceros is made from non-biodegradable petroleum-based polyester? Will it still be sitting a in landfill long after all the real black rhinos are dead and gone?

Our archive of PLUTO materials wasn’t created to make the search for sustainability feel hopeless. Rather it functions as a starting place to inspire theatremakers and audience members alike to ask questions about the objects all around them. What is it? Where did it come from? What is it made of? What did it take for it to arrive here in my hands? Where will it end up? What are the costs (environmental, human, animal) associated with these answers? What alternative methods and materials exist? Armed with knowledge, how can we seek objects and processes that lessen impacts and reduce harm?


PLUTO (no longer a play) Archive Records

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Unicorn Doll

Maker: Hansa Toy International, Inc. From Wildlife Conservation Consultant Don Young: “At Hansa Toy International, Inc., we believe today’s children hold the fate of our planet’s wild creatures in their hands. Today’s children will be the adults who will make the final choice to save the endangered animals of our world or let them disappear forever...Believing that toys can be an important tool in forming children’s values...We hope to inspire a lifelong commitment to wildlife conservation.” 

Geography: Made in the Philippines. The Philippines is home to a rich biodiversity. According to WWF, of the 167 different mammal species and 10,000 or more species of plants found there, over 60% are native only to this region. Deforestation, whether through uncontrolled logging and mining activities or other human encroachment, is a leading cause of habitat destruction that negatively impacts biodiversity across the country. Some of the most endangered species in the Philippines include the Philippine Eagle, the Tamaraw, and the Philippine Tarsier. 

Medium: Polyester - made from oil in an energy intensive process and non-biodegradable. Virgin Cotton - conventionally grown cotton uses synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. The farming process itself, from preparing the soil, cultivation, and harvest, leaves a carbon footprint and uses water resources. High Pile Modacrylics (Kanecaron Brand) containing 35-85% acrylonitrile - provides an alternative to real fur and offers flame retardant properties. Internal Wire - material unknown

Dimensions: 13 x 4 x 11 inches

Classification: Property for PLUTO (no longer a play)

Credit Line: Purchased at Dinosaur Hill, East Village, Manhattan, 2016. 

Accession Number: 1


Artist’s Blazer

Maker: BB Dakota. Offers vegan faux leather alternatives in its line. 

Geography: Made in China. According to WWF, habitat loss due to human activities and development are the most significant threats to biodiversity in China. Over-hunting and climate change are also significant threats to amphibians, reptiles and mammals. WWF’s Living Planet Report China, 2015, found that almost half of China’s terrestrial vertebrates have vanished in the last 40 years. Some of China’s most endangered animals include the Crested Ibis, the South China Tiger, and Giant Pandas. 

Style: M32676

Medium: Oil processed into polyester (64%), cellulose of wood pulp/cotton treated with chemicals and processed into Rayon (34%), polyurethane polymer processed into Spandex (2%) China produces about 69% of the world’s polyester. Chinese textile factories that burn coal for energy are responsible for producing about three billion tons of soot every year according to NRDC.

Classification: Costume Piece for PLUTO (no longer a play)

Credit Line: Purchased from Salvation Army thrift store in Astoria, NY 2017.

Accession Number: 4


LED Chip

Maker: Cree Semiconductors. From Cree: “Cree is focused on the ethical sourcing of minerals used in our products and is committed to complying with the Dodd-Frank Act requirements… Cree supports the stated goal of the Dodd-Frank Act of preventing armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo and adjoining countries from profiting from the sale of Conflict Minerals…Cree continues to assess, with input from our suppliers, whether our products contain Conflict Minerals (tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold) derived from sources which have been identified as ‘Conflict-Free.’" 

Geography: Manufactured in Texas. Loss and fragmentation of habitat are the top causes for the decline of species in Texas. Endangered species in the region include the Gray and Red Wolf, Mexican Long-nosed Bat, Black Lace Cactus, Tooth Cave Spider, Hawksbill Sea Turtle, and the Whooping Crane.

Medium:  InGaN materials with proprietary G•SIC® substrates. InGaN, or Indium gallium nitride, is a light-emitting semiconductor material used in modern blue and green LEDs. It is usually grown on a GaN buffer on a transparent substrate such silicon carbide. 

Classification: Lighting element for PLUTO (no longer a play)

Credit Line: Purchased by Lighting Designer, Jay Maury

Accession Number: 10


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Acrylic Plastic

Maker: Big Reuse. From the company’s mission: NYC’s construction and demolition industry throws away nearly 7,000,000 tons of building materials annually! These materials clog our landfills, release carbon into the atmosphere, and create an artificial need for more materials to be manufactured. By salvaging usable items from demolition and remodel projects and reintroducing them to the market, we take a small step toward eliminating these significant environmental costs. Our goal is to demonstrate another option for materials diversion and hopefully inspire the city to require recycling and reuse for construction and demolition waste.

Geography: Manufacture location unknown. Reclaimed from Big Reuse in Queens, NYC. New York City is home to endangered species including the Peregrine Falcon. From NYC.gov: In New York State, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is responsible for developing a Statewide Recovery Plan for the Peregrine… and protecting nesting sites. Current NYC Peregrine population is 32 known birds.

Medium:  Acrylic plastic (commonly known by its brand name Plexiglas).  Acrylic plastic manufacturing involves highly toxic substances and fumes. Polymerization processes require careful storage, handling, and disposal of materials to reduce risk for humans and the environment. Acrylic plastic is classified as a number 7 plastic, and thus not collected for recycling in most areas.

Classification: Set element for PLUTO (no longer a play)

Credit Line: Purchased from Big Reuse in Queens, NYC by Production Manager, Santino Lo

Accession Number: 13
 

The Greatest Volcanic Eruption in Recorded History: Three Years of Chaos, One Literary Masterpiece, and the Play That Ties It All Together

The year is 1815. In the East Indies, a colossal volcano named Mount Tambora had been dormant for over 1,000 years. No human alive had seen even a whisper of rumbling. In April that year, the mountain erupted with apocalyptic fury, casing the Earth in volcanic gasses and ash that pierced the stratosphere. The sun-blocking particles of volcanic matter encircled the entire globe in a matter of weeks, plunging human communities into the most dramatic, sudden climatic shift in thousands of yearsFor three years following Tambora’s explosion, chaos reigned on Earth. “To be alive, almost anywhere in the word, meant to be hungry.”[1] Flooding rains replaced sunny showers, bone-shattering cold rolled over fallow fields, and drought seized verdant land, turning all withered and dry. Not a corner of the world remained untouched by famine, disease, dislocation, and unrest.

In the turbulent summer of 1816, Mary Shelley (then Mary Godwin) and her lover Percy Shelley were ensconced at their lakeside villa on near Geneva. The ravaged world around them served as the inspiration for Shelley’s greatest work, Frankenstein. Confined to their cabin by the terrifying weather, which their neighbour Lord Byron described as fierce “as an earthquake’s birth,” they amused themselves by sharing ghost stories. The 19 year-old Mary was struck by the vision of a horrifying phantasm, pieced together by eager, unknowing hands, deadened flesh stirring with faint pulses of warmth and life. Behold a monster carved in hazy imagination from the tall, foaming waves of Lake Geneva and the shattering lightning which surrounded Shelley’s waking days. 

Shelley’s classic novel is inextricably enmeshed with the story of a world in ecological breakdown. The people of a blighted Europe moved through heart-wrenching stages of destruction. Children were abandoned or killed by desperate mothers. Roving mobs of people, barely human in their suffering, scoured the frozen fields for rotten food and waged bloody battles. The Monster of Frankenstein was made in their likeness: he bears the same shape as the deformed and diseased masses, and faces the same fear and hostility as the refuges of this global food crisis. The eruption of Mount Tambora offers us a vivid model of our world thrust into a sudden climate crisis, throwing into startling focus the interdependence between human systems and the natural world.

Exactly 200 years after Shelley first dreamed of her Monster, born in a storm wrought from global climate change, Superhero Clubhouse and Kaimera Productions adapt themes of Shelley’s story to imagine a new kind of monster, in JUPITER (a play about power), premiering at La MaMa E.T.C. in February of 2016. The modern world faces its own climate crisis, with promised consequences no less devastating than the Mount Tambora explosion. The story of JUPITER is set into motion by a man named Joe who undertakes a radical action, isolating himself from human society in order to embody his vision of world that is seemingly unattainable. By removing all fossil fuels from Earth in one fell swoop, he seeks to reanimate humanity, doing what no individual has ever had the power to do: redefine what it means to be human in a world facing a global climate crisis fuelled by our own tragic flaws.

Sade said, “Nature permits everything, and authorizes nothing.” Nature breeds monstrosity as often and as easily as it breeds beauty. The ambiguous and paradoxical nature of the Monster in Frankenstein resides in the fact that good and evil are relative positions. In JUPITER, Joe, like Frankenstein, sets the stage for his creation, Humanity, to discover its way into being, devoid of inherent goodness of evil. His monstrosity lies in his ability or lack of ability to relate to human codes and signifiers, to harness language as access, as his medium of truth.[2] Joe creates an open channel of communication between himself and his creation, relinquishing any semblance of power he may hold over the progress of her discovery. We watch as Humanity grapples with the chaos of a world with its spine removed, trying to build herself into a being that can not only survive the horrors of the present, but alter the monstrous elements of her nature that would inevitably herald the drastic consequences of ecological collapse. 

Two centuries ago, a volcanic explosion altered the climate of the world, plunging it into global turmoil. The fictitious story of a Monster and his creator was forged from the human drive to find principle and control in an unprincipled nature. Today, JUPITER interrogates a world on the brink of an impending climate crisis of a similar scale and scope. The play tells the story of Humanity, thrust into a new existence overnight by a man who had the power to do the impossible. It asks if this radical act, done in the name of the greater good, was ethical or even right. Did he create a monster, or did he create hope? In our age, where often it seems our very nature is at odds to our long-term survival on Earth, is it possible for a new kind of human to emerge?  

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JUPITER (a play about power) is presented by La MaMa, created by Superhero Clubhouse and Kaimera Productions. It runs February 11-28, Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays at 2:00pm, at La MaMa’s First Floor Theatre | 74a East 4th Street, Manhattan. Adults $18; Students/Seniors $13. Runtime: 70 min.

Written by Lani Fu

[1] Wood, Gillen D'Arcy. Tambora: The Eruption That Changed the World. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2014. Print.

[2] Brooks, Peter. "Godlike Science/Unhallowed Arts: Language and Monstrosity in Frankenstein." New Literary History. 9.3 (1978): 591. Web.

Between a Riot and a Rhyme: Positioning Theatre in Climate Conversations

Superhero Clubhouse's First Mate, Lani Fu, discusses how theatre might be uniquely positioned to spark action and expand conversations around climate change issues.

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In November, I attended the Climate Change Theater Action kickoff event, an initiative that enlisted playwrights from the world over to explore the phenomenon of climate change—an unprecedented, global challenge that demands a collective shift in practice, in culture, in consciousness. I entered the evening anticipating a plethora of sweet and surprising fruits from the labor of these artists. What I found was writing that spoke with humor and with horror of the events unfolding in our world, lyrical, evocative imagery illustrating our relationship to the natural world around us, and attempts to personify the looming feelings of fear, doubt, and gratitude in the face of radical change. I felt buoyed by the gathering of many ages and backgrounds; honored to be a part of the swell of minds and voices that diving head first into these essential questions, to explore, and create space for answers and for beauty. Yet, I was left wanting more. 

The answer to what I wanted more of lies in the question—why is theater an effective tool in confronting climate change? 

We can only build what we can imagine—a stroke of common sense that carries strong implications for our role as artists. In the course of human history, we are among the earliest pioneers in the world of manifest thoughts, or rather, a mostly man-made environment. Jerry Mander wrote that we live primarily inside projections of our own minds. Our environment is the actualization of our own and other humans’ thought processes. The room I am writing from now sits about 20 feet above the ground, resting on beams of wood and walls of plaster. Beneath the ground, there are methodical whorling tunnels carrying water, thick cords of electricity, waste, steam, and people. When I leave these walls, there are rules outside for where I walk, when I am still, whom I speak to, and what I see.  We move in interlocking patterns of our own design, churning out ideas as objects, making the world as we move. In our own vernacular, we are ecosystem engineers. Even beyond the physical world; we are builders of systems of thought and patterns of behavior. This gives me great hope. 

We wield such power. We realize abstract thoughts and values as concrete systems. We create worlds by telling stories.  To me, the act of making theater is the act of inventing the future. That is why we need it to confront climate change. That is why I want more. Without knowing the answer, I wonder if there is a way we can make theater on climate change that does not reduce it to a political issue to take a stance on; that does not rail about the plight of this or that megafauna that will go extinct; or trumpet a fiery call to arms, covering everyone alive with sin and shame. 

Climate change is an absolutely universal phenomenon. Because of this, the crisis bores deep into our established modes being, and the map of how our world is affected is richly complex.  It is the first time that collectively, as a unified planet, we must attend to what we are doing and how we are living. The enormity of the ecological change we are experiencing demands an inquisition of what we have engineered—our politics, our grounding philosophies, our homes, our social networks, our economic structures, and most importantly the relationship between those and all things. I want plays that embody those questions; that manifest the sensation of asking. I want plays with characters that do not exist as a function of a topic, but as people recognizable to us who are working though those challenges. I want stories that do not state, or teach, or distract—but ones that investigate and propose and dream. 

Stories have always been the way that humans make meaning of the world, and the form they take should serve current needs. What we need now is something of a cross between myth and mystery novel, somewhere on the scale between a riot and a rhyme. This calls for us as artists to be expansive. We must learn more, to know more, to tease out all the complexities of the climate crisis. We need to be the translators, the space-makers, the story spinners furiously sketching out maps as we hurtle forward in time. We must engage communities as diverse as the world is in our art and our art making. We must hold space for interactions that unlock the potential of all brilliant minds, building together a future out of the degradation and slow steady violence of this global crisis. We need to construct visions that transcend current possibility. 

So I ask more of myself, and I ask more of my fellow artists. I am uplifted by the energy and force behind Climate Change Theater Action, part of a larger movement called ArtCOP21: a global festival of cultural activity on climate change in support of the Paris COP21 conference. The organizers and writers of this event began a necessary conversation about climate change with exemplary enthusiasm and vision. Well done—I am grateful to have been witness to your work. Now, how can we do better? What more can we do? 

 

Making the invisible Visible

Eve S. Mosher, a NYC-based artist and interventionist, and theatre designer Ann Beyersdorfer joined the panel for Indie Green: A Conversation about Ecological Practices and Values within the NYC Independent Theater Community during the Big Green Theater Festival at The Bushwick Starr. They shared how, through their respective mediums, they make green practices, sustainability, and considerations of the environment visible to audiences.

 

Photo: highwaterline.org

Photo: highwaterline.org

Eve S. Mosher

Eve S. Mosher's works use investigations of landscape, public/private space, and the urban ecosystem as opportunities for audience exploration and engagement with social and environmental issues.  Her project, HighWaterLine, visualized climate change by illustrating, in chalk, New York City’s high waterline predicted by climate data. The area she marked showed which parts of the borough were 10 feet above sea level, and which were susceptible to flooding. As she laid down the chalk throughout lower Manhattan, Mosher engaged the public in discussions of extreme weather and its impacts. When Hurricane Sandy hit, the chalk line prediction proved prophetic after flood waters reached much of the area she had marked years before. 

What started you on the path to exploring the complexities of climate change through art?

I had worked many years as a studio artist, exploring the complexities of our environment in very abstract ways. I finally got fed up with the public discourse and mostly the federal inaction on what we knew, even at that time, to be the greatest challenge facing humanity. My skill that I could use to influence the conversation was art. I recognized the power in simple actions, interactions, performances, and shared experiences as a way to engage many people in a conversation that was vitally important to all of us, but really complex and overwhelming. Art provided a way into that conversation.

What unique skills can artists bring to the table in conversations about climate change?

I think I answered that a little above, but there's a lot we can do. We can make the invisible, visible. Climate change is huge, it's global change on a rapid timetable. We can use many tools to make that visible. We can also make it visceral, we can give a real sense of meaning and bodily understanding of the scale of change. We can use our skills to share stories, stories of personal experience, challenges, solutions. We can create space for the complex conversation to occur. 

I think approaching the challenges from many many different angles is critical. Engagement is meaningful since we learn so well through experience and are so deeply influenced by stories.

 

Photo: annbeyersdorfer.com

Photo: annbeyersdorfer.com

Ann Beyersdorfer

Dedicated to integrating green design practices into her work, Scenic Designer Ann Beyersdorfer considers sustainability throughout the entirety of her process. Beyersdorfer studied art history in Firenze, Italy, architecture with the Syracuse University School of Architecture, and earned her BFA in Theatre Design and Technology from Syracuse University. She is also co-founder and resident art director of RADD Theatre Co.

When did you first encounter green design practices? Was it part of your training?

I first encountered green design when I was in architecture school, and I quickly became very interested in sustainable design. When I transferred to theatre design school, there wasn't any sort of green practices built into the program. It was something I missed and became important to me as I became aware of the large amount of waste that was generated at the strike of each production. I expressed this interest and my motivation to implement a green committee within the theatre school to a guest designer, and she recommended I look into the Broadway Green Alliance (BGA).  I introduced green practices to the school, and as soon as I graduated, I became involved with the BGA. I am also working in Donyale Werle's studio and as a co-producer of a sustainably-aware indie theatre company while striving to incorporate green practices in my own designs. 

What are some green practices you implement as a designer?

I try to use green practices from conception to construction. I build my models out of cardboard and other recycled/recyclable materials, and I try to create as minimal an amount of waste as possible.  I try to utilize reused/repurposed materials in the actual construction of my sets. I also create a strike plan to either donate materials from the set to another theater company or donate them to Build It Green.

In the design community, do you sense a shift and greater focus on using green practices? If so, what role do you see yourself playing in that shift?

Yes, I do see a movement towards sustainable practices. I've noticed moves such as creating digital programs instead of printed ones that get thrown away. I am also noticing that colleagues are more open to green approaches to theatre. I hope to contribute by being a person who leads by example. I hope to serve as an accessible point of contact if there are any questions about how to approach theatre with sustainability in mind, such as what resources we have available to us, and what we as theatre makers can do to continue to tell stories in a sustainable manner.  I hope to contribute my encouragement in exploring sustainable practices, but not by force. 

Why is greener theatre important?

We have to be able to sustain our industry so that we have room to grow and develop this art and community for future generations to experience and enjoy. 

 

Connecting the Independent Green Theatre Scene

By Megan McClain

Photo Credit: Bella Macdiarmid

Photo Credit: Bella Macdiarmid

On September 21, 2014, over 300,000 people moved through the streets of Manhattan for the People’s Climate March. Walking with members of Superhero Clubhouse, I quickly found myself surrounded by an incredibly diverse crowd of participants. According to organizers of the event, members attended from over 1,500 organizations from labor unions, to religious and cultural groups, to universities, not to mention the hundreds who marched without an affiliation other than as a citizen of Earth.  On the march, I was also welcomed by the faces of scores of fellow independent theatre artists. When it comes to climate change, everyone is a stakeholder with a responsibility to take action. As the event’s slogan aptly put it: “To change everything, we need everyone.” It made me reflect deeply on what artists can bring to the table. How can theatre play a larger role in the societal conversation about the environment? How might green theatre practices serve to not only reduce the field’s impact on the environment, but also connect artists and build community in NYC? 

In her recent article, “Art and Climate Change - Inspiring a Sustainable Future,” Ellen Moyer explains succinctly why the arts are vital in our conversations about environmental uncertainty. She posits that “art allows people to relate to vast and often unfathomable concepts by engaging the heart and the senses.”  The arts in general, and theatre in particular, have the power to put a human face on scientific data and arouse empathy and understanding in spectators. Stories on stage can communicate the dizzying expanse of environmental problems along with the social and economic complexities that are inextricably linked to them. Plays about climate change told through personal human stories have made their way to theaters across the city in recent years, including This Clement World by Cynthia Hopkins at St. Ann’s Warehouse in 2013, The Great Immensity by The Civilians at The Public last year, and the Big Green Theater Festival at the Bushwick Starr which celebrates its 5th year presenting student-written eco-plays at the end of this month (just to name a few).

While conversations about environmental concerns populate our stages, independent theatre artists are also doing work backstage to lead the charge in reducing waste and implementing green theatre practices. In New York City, theatre artists have been subsisting on dreams and shoe-string budgets for decades. If necessity is considered the mother of invention, limitation, though usually cast in the role of evil step-mother, should also get credit for inspiring creativity. Artists rightfully bemoan the lack of time, money, space, and resources available, but these limitations have, in part, challenged them to be innovative. Tricks of the financially-strapped artist's trade already included recycling, thrifting, and dumpster diving for materials before those things were considered green, let alone trendy.  Recognizing the need to organize this effective use of resource sharing, theatre artists created The Shared Independent Theatre (S.H.I.T) List. The S.H.I.T List provides a web-based platform for independent theatre and film makers in the NYC area to sell, rent, borrow, or trade set pieces, props, costumes, and other material goods. The brainchild of members of Gideon Productions, Flux Theatre Ensemble, and Shaun Bennet Fauntleroy, the S.H.I.T List received funding from the League of Independent Theater. For small companies with a limited budget and little to no storage space, The S.H.I.T List provides an excellent option for acquiring and discarding resources economically while reducing waste. Unlike Craigslist or Freecycle (though also great resources to recycle materials) the S.H.I.T. list is tailored to the strange and specific needs of theatre makers who just might need mannequin heads for wigs, LED lights, or a hot pink bird cage on the cheap.

Independent theatre artists are also receiving support from larger advocacy organizations. The Broadway Green Alliance (BGA), already an active champion of environmentally friendly theatre initiatives, has extended its reach by creating the Off-Broadway Green Alliance to focus on the specific challenges artists face working beyond the Great White Way.  BGA recently announced it will provide small grants to Off-Broadway venues or companies to help them start greening programs. Artists can also become Green Captains and receive tips and resources to support green practices, including information on coordinated recycling (paper, textiles, electronics). Simply having a designated Green Captain in the room can help organically raise awareness amongst cast and crew.The Off-Broadway Green Alliance, recognizing the importance of idea sharing, hosted its first event last month, Off-Broadway Green: A Conversation about Greener Theatre, which gave artists a chance to present challenges, successes, and best practices. 

Sharing dialogue through panel discussions and events with both artists and audiences serves to position green theatre initiatives in the larger framework of society’s response to climate change. Two upcoming panels will touch directly on the impact independent artists can achieve while bringing in the perspectives of scientists and society leaders. Indie Green: A Conversation about Ecological Practices and Values within the NYC Independent Theater Community, is hosted by Superhero Clubhouse, in partnership with The League of Independent Theater and the Broadway Green Alliance. The event will present a group of panelists with diverse expertise pertaining to green practices in the theatre and beyond who will discuss the continuous exchange between art making and society at large. The format of the program invites panelists and attendees alike to share resources and ask questions to create an open forum of learning and sharing. The Foundry Theatre, a company known for tackling complex contemporary social and political issues, regularly presents panel discussions, called The Foundry Dialogues, designed to engage both artists and community members. Their next discussion, This Changes Everything, takes its title and inspiration from Naomi Klein’s bestseller about climate change. The event will feature journalists, policy makers, artists, and activists as they explore the impact of climate change on the micro (the body and the local community) and the macro (the country and the planet) and the ways in which people adapt. 

As environmental sustainability comes to the forefront of society’s conversations, theatre artists are uniquely positioned to engage thoughtfully with ecological issues in performance, in the creation of the work, and by generating dialogue between diverse communities. The mission of this blog is to continue those conversations online and highlight how independent theatre artists are tackling environmental concerns onstage while greening their creative processes offstage. By sharing our struggles and triumphs, we might better innovate and push the boundaries of what constitutes eco-theatre.

Walking to the People’s Climate March last September, I remember feeling skeptical about whether my presence mattered and wondered if one more body walking in the street could make any difference. Sometimes that same sentiment can creep into discussions of whether green theatre practices are just a drop in the bucket when it comes to the immensity of climate change and ecological uncertainty. Yet, theatre artists know better than anyone the power of collective collaboration. When it comes to the independent artist community in NYC, we are our own best renewable resource. Sharing ideas, innovations, materials, conversations, and supporting each other’s evolving green processes brings the community together and ensures we can continue to create art that will vitally shape the artistic, cultural, and environmental landscape of NYC. 

 

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Megan McClain is the Resident Dramaturg for Superhero Clubhouse and the Literary Associate for the Civilians. She also works at Lark Play Development Center and holds an M.F.A in Dramaturgy from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.