Sustainability Movement on Broadway

by Euna Park (@eunapark)


The flashing lights of Times Square may not seem like the most eco-friendly environment for an Earth Day event, but that didn’t faze two organizations that were collecting old clothes and shoes on Wednesday to keep them out of the city’s landfills.

The Broadway Green Alliance, an organization working to help theaters adopt eco-friendly practices, and Wearable Collections, a recycling company, chose a location that made it easy for members of the Broadway community — stagehands, actors, producers and managers — to unload their unwanted shoes and clothes.

Micah Stock, who plays Gus in “It’s Only A Play,” is a volunteer Green Captain for his show. (Photo: BroadwayWorld)

That’s exactly what Micah Stock, an actor who plays Gus in “It’s Only a Play,” did. Stock is one of more than 40 Green Captains on Broadway who promote sustainability and eco-friendly practices on their shows. Green Captains post eco-tips, encourage shows to use rechargeable batteries and maintain collections for recycling, among other things.

Recycling and reusing have become common in the theater. In “It’s Only a Play,” for instance, many of the costumes have been passed down from previous shows.

“Used things and vintage things are more lived in and more real,” Stock said. “I wear a pair of black jeans and cowboy boots that have been worn in four Broadway shows.”

Dinner jackets in the show have appeared in other productions, he said, and many of the show’s tuxedos were originally from actors’ closets.

The New York City green-theater movement began in 2007 when “Wicked” producer David Stone challenged his team to find ways to be more sustainable. After 18 months of research and brainstorming, the BGA was formed.

Susan Sampliner, the company manager for “Wicked” and co-chair of the BGA, holds a pair of green heels from “Wicked” that will be recycled. (Photo: Euna Park)

“In theater, we don’t have a lot of money, so it’s really a helpful thing to be able to reuse things and give them a second life,” said Susan Sampliner, the co-chair of BGA and company manager for “Wicked.”

She emphasized that being sustainable “isn’t so hard” and that doing so “doesn’t have to be very expensive.”

BGA focuses on recycling and reusing costumes, props and set materials, and works to make theater productions more eco-friendly. In the last six years the organization has collected over 10,000 pounds of textiles for recycling and has responsibly discarded over 15 tons of electronics. BGA has also installed energy efficient bulbs on theater marquees in Times Square, saving 700 tons of carbon emissions a year, according to the BGA.

“There are a lot of inspirational ways that people can go green,” said Rebekah Sale, BGA’s coordinator.

Marisha Thakker, 23, donned a hair clip made out of old Broadway playbills. (Photo: Euna Park)

Two shows, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and “Book of Mormon,” sent BGA used guitar strings, which were transformed — upcycled — into bracelets, and formalwear from “Phantom of the Opera” has been sent to girls who couldn’t afford prom dresses.

“I think people are just being more conscious of what we produce and what can be reused and not just thrown out,” Sampliner said. For instance, instead of tossing props and sets when a show is redesigned, they can be donated to other theaters, high schools or colleges.

“If you think about doing something greener everyday, things add up,” she said.

Theater executives were hesitant at first to adopt green initiatives, because they thought recycling was going to be expensive, said Sampliner. “But once they saw that they were actually saving some money and that this was something people were interested in, it actually hasn’t been so hard.”

Erich Bussing (right), the building operations manager at Jujamcyn, brought in multiple bags of textiles for Wednesday’s drive. (Photo: Euna Park)

Erich Bussing, the building operations manager of Jujamcyn, which owns five of the 40 Broadway playhouses, said that though “it’s hard to put a dollar amount on it,” the company has saved money through its green efforts.

Events like the textile drive, which is held twice a year, also generate good will with theater workers.

“The Broadway community has learned now to expect [the drives], so they actually say to us, ‘When’s the next one?’ and they hold onto stuff and they bring it to the drives,” said Sampliner.

“Wicked” and “Jersey Boys” made hefty contributions on Wednesday. Some of the items donated included signature green leather heels and boots from “Wicked.” Wearable Collections will collect, sort and distribute the various items to be reused, made into rags or converted into fibers.

The BGA holds four drives a year: two for textile and two for electronic waste. (Photo: Euna Park)

Originally published at columbiajournalist.org on April 24, 2015.

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