Crystal Field, the artistic director of Theater for the New City, is thrilled. Under Field’s direction, TNC has been a pioneer in the environmental movement for over 15 years, and she remembers when environmental issues were taboo. “When we wrote street-theater songs about organic food and rejecting genetically modified foods 10 years ago, people thought we were crazy,” she remembers. Today, her street theater focuses on environmental responsibility and climate change and the fact that here in NYC, “We may all be underwater while not having enough water to drink.”
Field is inspired by the fact that now there is technology accessible to help us address these issues. The issue is at the forefront of our minds, and now city and governments are willing to help, which Field says is “going to change everything. It’s not just going to be little cliques. It’s going to be well into the social fabric.” She adds, “Now we’re going to put some money where our mouth is,” and that’s just what TNC has been doing.
TNC has taken extensive steps to make its facilities and productions more sustainable, and they have ambitious plans to continue their sustainability efforts. TNC has already taken the following steps to green their theater:
- They have replaced all the incandescent light bulbs in their theater offices and public spaces with compact fluorescents
- In their lobby, which they use as an exhibition area and art gallery, they have installed a system that senses the availability of natural light and decreases electric lighting accordingly
- Recycling of paper, plastic, glass, and metal has always been a priority, and they recently initiated a battery recycling program
- Reusing show programs: TNC asks audiences to return their programs for reuse if they don’t want to keep them as souvenirs
- Hosting Green Cabarets, which feature a variety of readings, dances, and musical acts, all inspired by green issues
Beyond these initial steps, however, an ambitious green renovation plan is in the works. TNC is currently seeking funding from the Kresge Foundation, local businesses, and charity events; once a set goal is reached, the city of New York, which has become very active in green issues via its ambitious PlanNYC, will cover the remainder of the costs. Features of the renovation are set to include:
- A green roof, the flagship component of the renovation, will feature vegetation and solar panels which will reduce their carbon footprint by gobbling up CO2 and releasing oxygen, insulating the theater (reducing heat/cooling energy needs), and generating power to run the theater from the solar panels.
- Planting trees and shrubs on the sidewalk in front of the theater to increase visibility of their efforts
- Installing more efficient stage lighting lamps
- Complete renovation of the Chino Theater, including green lighting and mobile seats
- Water-saving measures
- Rennovating the scenic shop to make it more energy efficient
- An audio/visual recording studio downstairs
- All renovations will use sustainable wood and the most environment-friendly products possible, and they plan to reuse or recycle as much of the remaining material as possible
Field says that their emphasis on a green roof came about for three reasons. Firstly, wanting to create an urban green space but without extra land of their own, they decided to turn to an unused space of their own: the roof. The space will not only reduce their carbon footprint and improve the air quality in a crowded city, but also provide organic food for the community. Secondly, they’re hoping that it serves as a model for other local theaters, saying, “If all theaters in New York City followed our example, the reduction of our collective carbon footprint would be extraordinary. “ Lastly, they realized that it would cut down on their long-term energy costs by reducing heating and cooling expenses, and might even help to prolong the operational life of the roof itself.
TNC’s plan is ambitious, and the obstacles to fundraising in today’s economic climate are many, but Field remains positive and determined to keep working towards a greener planet. She urges relentless perseverance and gradual change: “One small step and then another small step that is obtained with blood sweat and tears. But, you know, we don’t have slavery in this country anymore, right?” She believes Americans have the ability to recognize their mistakes and change their ways. She jokes, “We smoked, and then we got cancer. But then we gave it up. We learn.”
When asked what recommendations she would give to other theaters looking to go green, Field suggests that they start with green committees made up of staff and audience members, and that they address how the theaters can save money right away by greening their basic operations, from buying green janitorial products, to switching out lightbulbs, to recycling everything possible. She advocates going online to learn about the basic ways to green a business and to start applying those practices. Lastly, she suggests that you “start talking about green on your own website. Put your plans on your website and people will start to contact you who want to get involved.”
According to Field, it is the theater’s job to be a part of the solution: “The theater is going to tell us that things can be solved.” She maintains that theater is good at reinforcing the message of going green to people who already support that cause – the converted. “The converted need inspiration to go on and do the work that needs to be done. Theater is of great value in that way.”
More information on TNC’s green roof via their website
“What is a green roof?” via HowStuffWorks
Go to the Green Theater Initiative