Striking wastefulness from the set
Theatre Production professor is teaching his students how to keep the theatre green
“Theatre is inherently a green business,” says Assistant Professor Scott Spidell, Theatre Production.
He explains that sustainable practices used by theatre professionals around the world don’t stem from desire—they’re rooted in necessity.
“We always have to reduce, reuse, recycle because we can’t always afford to buy new," he says.
Extravagant costumes and intricate sets don’t come cheap, so Scott incorporates the principles of sustainability into his teachings—particularly the concept of reusing and recycling materials as a means of reducing waste and spending.
Every year, Scott assigns his second-year Theatre Production students to research and present a business practice that could make the theatre business more sustainable. This assignment is called the “Green Team Project.”
In 2015, the students looked into the program’s use of disposable batteries.
After every performance, the students would throw out the alkaline batteries from the microphones—that’s four AAs per performer. This meant that hundreds of half-used batteries were going into the trash every night. Going into a performance without fully-charged batteries could lead to a dead microphone halfway through a show.
“Because of its needs, theatre in general would be a very wasteful industry if we didn’t incorporate sustainable practices into the business,” says Christian Zeretzke, Theatre Production student.
The goal of the Green Team Project is to reduce those needs. So, after the students did a little research, the program switched to rechargeable batteries.
(Scott says the Broadway production of Wicked also switched to rechargeable batteries a few years ago, and will save more than $20,000 over five years.)
“Scott always asks us to think of the best possible way to build something with the least amount of waste and how to use our materials more efficiently,” says Christian. “We try to salvage as much material as possible so we can reuse it.”
Scott and his students scavenged all sorts of used materials to build the set for the 2017 production of Into the Woods. The set walls were made of old ropes, burlap and garden hoses, the lighting was LED, the scaffolding was rented, and the costumes were repurposed from previous years.
“We’re using our resources in the most efficient way by salvaging and reusing materials and planning ahead to prevent unnecessary waste,” says Christian.
Decreasing how much waste students create can be difficult, says Scott, especially when one of their main learning outcomes is learning how to build new things. But when students get to the real world of theatre, they often won’t have the budget to build from scratch.
“The students will have to change their building style so they know how to rebuild from something old,” says Scott. “So we should be teaching how to reuse and repurpose as much as we teach how to build from scratch. ”
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