BAD09: Green Theatre and other thoughts

blog action day
Image by sniggy via Flickr

Today, October 15 is Blog Action Day around the blogosphere. Those thousands of bloggers who have signed up to write about this year’s theme Climate Change, are sitting down and tapping out individual responses. The idea is simply to spread the word.  Maybe it’s preaching to the converted, or singing to the choir of our own smart tribe,  but we write from a personal angle about an issue that’s bigger than we collective bloggers combined.  Perhaps we do this to assuage some sort of guilt, knowing we contribute to the problem.  Perhaps it’s to create a collective sense of purpose.  And maybe it’s just by writing about it in this way that we are obliged to take 20 minutes or so from our busy lives to think a little more deeply about what it means to each one of us.

It’s hard to miss the reality of climate change. In my own neck of the woods, and during the past month I’ve experienced immense dust storms that have blocked out the sun, filled eyes and noses, and given rise to mordant apocalyptic jokes.  In late September windstorms swept across Australia over the course of a week dumping tonnes of precious topsoil out to sea. This week in my home city the dust was raised again as winds blew ferociously, rain storms broke overhead, and hail fell, and all in the space of a few hours on one day. This morning I drove through local countryside smoking from fires, while water-bombing helicopters buzzed overhead.  As I write, firefighters in various parts of Australia are on alert and continuing to battle bushfires, and it’s not even summer yet.  It might as well be; the countryside is tinder dry, and conditions are ripe for a disastrous summer.  We Australians are terrified of uncontrolled fire in our old, dry land; earlier this year in Victoria lives were destroyed with a speed and ferocity that still seems almost unbelievable.  We check the skies on a daily basis.  We long for rain – slow, steady, long, drenching days of rain, the kind we knew as kids.

We read about and listen to the debate, hoping that common sense and politics will converge before, during, and after the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen later this year. We aim for a lighter carbon footprint, a term I wondered about a year ago when I wrote about BAD here on Groundling.  And so as individuals we try to do our bit; we sign up for solar-powered panels, and pay the extra few dollars on an air fare to offset carbon emissions, we turn off lights, refuse plastic bags, grow our own vegetables and reduce the food miles. Small towns ban water in plastic bottles – every bit helps.  And still the figures seem astronomical … beyond our capacity to control almost.  Certainly the forces of nature seem beyond our control.  It’s no wonder it all seems overwhelming, and why many find it all too hard, and just hope that things will get better. That’s no excuse of course, just the reality of people under siege.  Perhaps that is why we take some measure of comfort in doing things at home and at work that we hope will make a difference.  Arts companies are doing their bit in this regard.

It’s probably no coincidence given the date, but I read today in one of my blog feeds that New Leaf Theatre in Chicago is distributing ‘green programmes’ via smartphones as an alternative to the time-honoured paper artefact. The paper used to create what, to some, are precious memories of performance, are being reduced. This is a smart move; unsold, unused programmes are trashed or pulped in their thousands of tonnes each year. As I write this, the company I work with Queensland Theatre Company is squaring off with other state finalists for a national award through the Australian Business Arts Foundation. The ABAF awards honour the best relationships between business and the arts in the areas of partnering, volunteering, and giving. Queensland Theatre Company and URS, a global engineering and environmental services firm, embarked on achieving Queensland’s first ‘Green Theatre’ by working together during 2008 to create a carbon neutral production of The Importance of Being Earnest. They took out a state award, and are vying tonight for national recognition. Other arts companies throughout Australia are engaging with sustainable, green practices like this. The learnings from such partnering between the arts, engineering, and environmental science contributes to a growing body of knowledge about how human activity contributes to global warming, and in turn, assists in providing strategies to organisations to offset the emissions created.

Meanwhile, and in our own ways, we do what we can.  We hope that every bit helps.

Update: The ABAF partnership of the year was won by Bangarra Dance Theatre and Boral Australia.  Congratulations!

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Author: Kate Wilson

Actor, director, teacher, dabbler with paint, serial traveller.

5 thoughts on “BAD09: Green Theatre and other thoughts”

  1. Anything that involves cellphones is not “green” in even the most tenuous sense of the word. They’re made of plastic, are increasingly disposable, and are part of an infrastructure that bathes the entire world population in dangerous HF radiation. Printing playbills on 100% recycled paper (and then re-recycling them) is a far saner and safer alternative than furthering the new inhuman 21st century culture where everyone is hunched over a wireless plastic digital doohickey.
    .-= JSH´s last blog ..Kentuckian Plot Fodder =-.

  2. JSH,

    Granting the ecological footprint of our mobile devices, surely you’re not arguing that program information provided for such devices is a purchase driver? If the impact has already been inflicted shouldn’t we minimize further unnecessary impact?

  3. While I’m usually loathe to let go of physical artifacts – I still cling defiantly to my CDs in the age of the mp3 – the more I think about the idea of e-programmes, the more I like it. I have so many programmes buried in a dusty old crumbling box somewhere in my garage that I’d love to have at my fingertips. The idea of programmes distributed in an electronic format seems to offer this possibility. A theatre researcher’s dream, perhaps?

    Re. the concerns over the ecological footprint of phones: I have read somewhere about this (mind you, not the research for which Kate beckons). I tend to agree with Travis that the ecological impact of these devices has already been inflicted and shows no signs of abating (hopefully, the design of these devices will soon become more ecologically sound) – shouldn’t we therefore put them to good use to counter-balance their evil?

  4. Thanks for the mention, Kate!

    I would actually agree that in terms of our theatre’s carbon footprint, the mobile phone program is a drop in the bucket (we self-publish all of our programs so yes, we do small on-demand runs on recycled paper to reduce waste). As Ecotheatre has outlined for years, this is only one way that theaters can truly make a difference. Other ways are harder for a small community theater to control, but have much more impact: energy-saving improvements to the buildings and conventional lighting we use, and reuse and recycling of building materials, props, etc which otherwise put an immense load on landfills and require all kinds of noxious manufacturing.

    In practice, here’s what I’m seeing from this initiative, which has literally been in use for three days, so keep in mind there’s not much useful data to be culled yet: many people are intrigued, very few people use it. However, we are seeing a huge uptick in care of programs – those that are not saved are usually returned after that they’re being read. In addition, the program is not handed out to everyone since the choice exists – so only folks who actually want to read a program end up taking. This interaction opens the door for our company members to discuss the normal program contents – the season message, the directors notes – as part of the lobby environment. Again, this only works on a small scale, but I think it works better for everyone. We are more mentally sticky as a company, we waste less paper, and people get to read more about the theater and the show on THEIR terms – either before OR after the performance.

    So: this rethinking of how a program gets presented to an audience member isn’t just about being green – it’s about raising awareness at the moment of entertainment. And that is, we feel, one of the purposes of theatre.

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