by Dustin Atlas
Last week, the Center for Architecture offered a week-long Summer Program for middle school students to investigate the architectural topics of theater and set design. Students had the opportunity to imagine and build a scale model of a theater before setting the stage for a production of their choice. This program was led by School Programs Coordinator Dustin Atlas, who shared insight from his personal experience with set design. Students were challenged to consider the dynamic program of the entire space, questioning how different participants (actors, audience members, designers) engage with the various elements of a theater. Inspired by the ideas presented in the current exhibition, Designing Waste: Strategies for a Zero Waste City, our students were also asked to look at the world of theater through an environmental lens. We were able to facilitate this conversation by teaming up with the Broadway Green Alliance, an organization dedicated to helping theater professionals establish environmentally-friendly work practices.
The Broadway Green Alliance (BGA) was excited by the opportunity to collaborate with our students and generously invited our group to visit the Gershwin Theater, home to Wicked, to see how some of these green initiatives have made a significant impact. We were met by Emily Harrington and Alice Stevenson from the BGA, who shared some of their recent initiatives. Some ideas that could be replicated in a school theater department, such as setting up a costume/textile drive or recycling script binders from production to production.
As we toured the Gershwin, we were met by Susan Sampliner, Company Manager at Wicked and Co-Chair of the BGA. She showed us details of the set that were designed to create a more intimate theater experience in an otherwise very large auditorium. She also offered our students a chance to look backstage to see various mechanical systems at work. During our tour, we also spoke with cast member Larkin Bogan who serves as Wicked’s Green Captain. In this role, he is tasked with communicating green efforts to other cast members.
Neil McShane, the Gershwin Theater Electrician, also spoke with our group to share some of the technical responses to going green on Broadway. He helped us understand how one small change can make a huge impact when you recognize it will be repeated eight times a week. For example, Wicked used to go through 15,000 disposable batteries a year to power their mics and flashlights. Now they are able to run the entire production with fewer than 100 reusable batteries. Similarly, they have replaced their lighting on and off stage with energy-efficient options. But, if our students were to design a theater from the ground up, he said the key to a really green design would be to create an efficient HVAC system that doesn’t work to heat/cool the entire theater when only one portion is being used. Our students really enjoyed this visit and introduced some of these ideas into their own designs over the course of the week.