November 26, 2008

Green Theater! And how local Government can help.

It’s showtime! The show must go on! Break a leg! Recycle, use non-chemical detergent, hire mindful trucks and change out your bulbs! A great article for actors, producers and City Council people everywhere in today’s NY Times about how NY is working with Broadway to turn the Great White Way green. Excerpts:

In nearly a dozen interviews with people directly involved in Broadway Goes Green, one theme kept resurfacing. “One of the NRDC’s main points, and one of the things I deeply believe, is that climate change will be done through the cumulative effect of a lot of small actions,” Mr. Deull said. “This is about working for continuous improvement rather than thinking we’ve ever reached the green destination.”

“By this time next year the lights on Broadway will burn just a little bit brighter, but our energy bills will be a little bit lower, and our carbon footprint will be as well,” Mr. Bloomberg said.

Theater aficionados need not panic: the bright lights, flying scenery and lavish costumes are not going away, but washing those costumes with eco-friendly detergent and illuminating those lights with low-watt compact-fluorescent bulbs and light-emitting diodes are on the list of conservation measures the industry is already carrying out.

“The idea is not to turn off the lights and sit in the dark,” said Rohit T. Aggarwala, director of the mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, in a telephone interview. A main theme, he said, is to attack waste first and not chip away at valuable aesthetic and commercial elements.

The mayor’s office approached the Broadway League in March about working with theater owners to study the efficiency of their buildings and to find ways to decrease the load on the overburdened electrical grid of Midtown. “They were very surprised to learn that all of our theater owners were already in the middle of doing things on their own,” Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of the Broadway League, said of the city representatives.

Cast and staff members of “Wicked” productions use e-mail messages instead of paper whenever possible, and even use bags of frozen peas instead of chemical ice packs for body aches. But, Mr. Stone acknowledged, “The theater community has always been at the forefront of social change, and we have been left behind on this one a little bit.”

“There are over 600 light bulbs here,” said Jennifer Hershey, director of operations for Jujamcyn Theaters, standing outside the St. James Theater on a recent afternoon, pointing to the marquee, where all the bulbs have been switched to compact fluorescents or LEDs. “These normally were 25 watts apiece when they were incandescent and currently are five watts apiece.”

Ms. Hershey, who leads the building subcommittee, said thousands of bulbs had been changed in Jujamcyn theaters, and within a year the three major owners — Jujamcyn, the Shubert Organization and the Nederlander Organization — will have changed all their outdoor lights

Among the other challenges is reducing paper usage. “The paper industry is the third-largest industrial generator of global-warming pollution,” Mr. Hershkowitz said.

Also on the list of challenges is trucking. When a Broadway show hits the road, or a touring company moves from one location to the next, a big, fuel-guzzling 18-wheeler is usually called for. Charlie Deull, an executive vice president of Clark Transfer, which does much of the hauling, is a co-chairman of the league’s committee (with Susan Sampliner, the company manager of “Wicked”).

Clark has been instituting environmental improvements for over a year, Mr. Deull said, by reducing idling time, maintaining optimum tire pressure and staying abreast of new technology.

“There are things we can do and are doing to reduce the impact,” Mr. Deull said. “But, fundamentally, when you have trucks driving millions of miles a year, you are going to have an impact.” For this reason Clark created a program called Touring Green, which allows productions moved in Clark trucks to offset their environmental impact by purchasing carbon-offset credits. Money used to buy the credits is invested in wind power and similar projects.

For the whole story, click here.

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