What Would Elphaba Do? The Broadway Green Alliance Squeezes Broadway Into Smaller Shoes

“I wasn’t green, but I’m organized,” says Wicked Company Manager Susan Sampliner.  ”I’m a manager.” When Sampliner signed on to the Stephen Schwartz musical in 2003, little did she know that environmental thinking would become an integral part of her work in the arts. But the term ‘carbon footprint’, alongside terms like ‘places’ and ‘10 out of 12′, quickly became part of her arts management lexicon.

Wicked producer David Stone, like many Americans, saw Al Gore’s Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth and began to wonder what he could do to find viable solutions to our planet’s growing environmental crisis. Having facilitated Eve Ensler’s successful V-Day initiative to stop violence against women, Stone began wondering if he could use his new hit musical to educate the Broadway community about its role in the issues of climate change and sustainability.

Stone realized that smaller shows didn’t have the financial resources to invest in greening operations, but that “big shows have big power”.  Knowing that he could commit the upstart capital needed to make energy-saving investments, and with the extremely eco-minded Universal Pictures as a producer, he decided that Wicked would be the first Broadway show to explore green procedures and procurement.  He began by tasking Sampliner with researching ways in which the production could green its operations.  And in the early stages of the show’s run, NBC/Universal provided in-house health and safety experts who ensured that toxic chemicals were stored, labeled, and handled properly.

When the hit show launched multiple companies, Stone encouraged each department in Wicked’s U.S. companies to find more energy efficient and earth-friendly options for carrying out daily duties. Over an 18-month period, Sampliner worked to tabulate each company’s (and each individual department’s) eco-efforts.  To date, the New York company alone has saved over $80,000 by recycling batteries and replacing incandescent front-of-house lighting with compact fluorescents. Additionally, Wicked’s makeup designers were encouraged to work with actors to adjust their makeup palettes to account for CFL lights, as opposed to traditional incandescent dressing room bulbs. These actions were not only good for the environment, but allowed Stone to invest financial resources in additional backstage eco-efforts.

In addition to environmental thinking in Wicked’s backstage areas, Stone and his staff wanted to integrate environmental education with their community engagement and marketing efforts. After being approached by Bette Midler’s New York Restoration Project, Stone funded the Wicked Friendship Garden in Upper Manhattan, which opened on the fourth anniversary of “Wicked Day” in October 28, 2007. The Wicked producing team made the decision to use all subsequent Wicked Day events around the globe to educate the show’s fans about environmental action they can take in their daily lives. Local environmental organizations and eco-minded companies have been invited to provide information to Wicked Day participants in London, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, and other cities worldwide.

Wicked’s producers and marketing team decided to curtail the show’s traditional billboard campaign andfocus on media outlets that would help spread Stone’s vision for a greener Broadway. Marketing firm Serino Coyne suggested a new marketing campaign that highlighted Wicked’s green efforts. Using the portion of the show’s marketing funding earmarked for taxi and bus advertising, Serino Coyne developed the “This is a Wicked green bus/taxi” campaign, advertising the musical on the sides of hybrid buses and tops of hybrid taxis throughout the city. Additionally, ads at commuter stations, including Penn and Grand Central Stations, encourage patrons to utilize mass transit when making their way to the Gershwin.

In Spring 2008, Stone contacted the Broadway League regarding Wicked’s newfound environmental ethos, only to find that the League was discovering the importance of inserting environmental considerations into Broadway productions. The League encouraged Stone to host a town-hall style meeting in June 2008 to inform the Broadway community about Wicked’s eco-efforts and source additional interest from theatre owners, producers, general managers, and industry members. After hiring an outside marketing consulting firm, the League was paired with Allen Hershkowitz, PhD, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Hershkowitz was brought on board to help the New York theatrical community realize its impact on the local and global ecosystems. After learning of the efforts of the Wicked companies to date, Hershkowitz was quick to admit that Stone and Co. had taken more environmental action than a major US soft drink company!

Hershkowitz, who has worked to green the Oscars and Grammy Awards, used NRDC’s Major League Baseball Team Greening Program to show theatre owners and producers how the Broadway community could take similar action. “We’re using the audience’s passion to educate them,” says Sampliner. “A baseball fan’s favorite players are heroes just as our favorite theatre stars or characters are our heroes.” Stone concurred, saying that if Wicked’s Elphaba were living in the present day, the environmental crisis would be her raison d’être just as animal rights influence her thoughts and actions in the musical.

The town-hall meeting proved that going green was on the radar at many New York producing offices and non-profit theatre companies. Due to the overwhelming concern and commitment voiced at the meeting, the League began to work with Stone to gather an ad hoc committee that would decide on further research and action. August 2008 marked the first meeting of the “Broadway Goes Green” Committee. Broadway League President Nina Lannan appointed Sampliner and Charlie Deull (of Clark Transfer) as co-chairs. Upon realizing the scope of the new initiative, the committee agreed to divide their research into three subcommittees: Pre-/Post-Production, Production and Venues.

The Venues Subcommittee, headed by Jujamcyn Theaters Head of Operations Jennifer Hershey, was the first subcommittee to analyze their piece of the puzzle. Because most Broadway theatres had already received energy audits as first steps toward potentially receiving state funding for energy-efficiency upgrades, baseline measurements already existed for the energy-intensive act of housing a Broadway production. Thanks to these numbers, the Venues Subcommittee had a clear vision of the work ahead; but shops and shows had a bit more research to conduct before disseminating findings among program participants. Jujamcyn Theatres has moved to add recycling bins to dressing rooms, with other theatres soon to follow.

The Pre-/Post-Production Subcommittee, headed by Showman Fabricators owner (and LEED AP) Bob Usdin, is analyzing the building of sets with a focus on end-of-life cycle recycling or reuse. The Production Subcommittee, headed by Stage Manager Spook Testani, began researching green practices for the running of shows from rehearsal through their runs. The Production Subcommittee distributes a monthly publication, called The Green Sheet, which features the eco-efforts of different departments across various productions.

Two more subcommittees were recently added to the Ad Hoc Committee: Touring and Education & Outreach. The Touring Subcommittee, headed by Kirk Wingerson of Broadway Across America, is working to gather green practices being implemented across the country and see if they can work in New York. Additionally, this subcommittee will address the issues of trucking and travel associated with touring productions. Finally, the Education & Outreach Subcommittee, headed by 9 to 5 Producer Seth Greenleaf, will explore ways to inform audiences about Broadway’s green efforts and establish partnerships with other members of the entertainment industry.

Having worked to challenge local colleges, universities, and hospitals to explore sustainable options, New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg quickly set his sights to other major industries, including the commercial theatre sector. The Mayor’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability began working with the League to examine commercial Broadway’s carbon footprint. On November 25th, 2008, Mayor Bloomberg was joined by representatives from various Broadway productions at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre to launch “Broadway Goes Green”. Since the press conference, the newly-named Broadway Green Alliance has worked hand-in-hand with the Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability to establish set recycling data tracking, retrofit marquee lights for energy efficiency, and develop various sustainable strategies for productions and theatres. The Broadway Green Alliance will reexamine Broadway’s eco-efforts in November 2009 to assess efforts to date and make industry-wide recommendations. Additionally, the Alliance hopes to hold discipline-specific seminars highlighting “better” eco practices, including workshops with costume, set, and lighting designers in theatre and film.

Disney Theatricals, who has been a leader in sustainability, has also joined the Alliance and appointed a representative to each of the subcommittees. Disney was the first show to appoint a “Green Captain” at each of their shows. Since then, other productions have elected Green Captains who will receive regular briefings on actions that can be implemented at their own shows. The Alliance is also exploring levels of green certification that will enable venues and productions of various sizes and means to participate in the initiative. In the near future, participants that join the Alliance may post signage in their theatre’s lobby area to educate the public about the initiative. The Alliance is also working to obtain an energy baseline for the Tony Awards to green aspects of the awards ceremony is the near future.

In March, 2009, Broadway theatres turned off their marquee lights from 8:30 to 9:30 pm to “cast their vote for Earth” during Earth Hour. The folks at Wicked took the challenge one step further, encouraging cast and crew to turn off as much electrical equipment as possible during the hour. Sampliner plans to encourage the Wicked company to have their own “off the grid show” once a month. (For productions in which cast members spend the majority of the show away from their dressing rooms, exploring the off switch might be a good route for one hour a month, or even one show a week.)

Sampliner refers to Broadway’s recent green awakening as a grassroots movement. “We’re helping the different departments talk to their colleagues at other shows to figure out what works and what doesn’t.  I was around when Broadway Cares started and this is the first initiative I’ve seen since that one that affects everyone in the community,” she adds. “That’s what’s so interesting to me. Everybody can do something. You might not be able to do it all but you can make a difference.”

Links:

Wicked’s Green for Good page

The Broadway Green Alliance

9 to 5’s Green from 9 to 5 page

ShareThis

Go to the Green Theater Initiative

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