This story is part of a special issue on theatre and climate change; the whole package is here.
In the face of a climate crisis, theatre has the potential to positively shift cultural norms surrounding environmental sustainability. From plays depicting catastrophe to theatres governed by eco-friendly practice, the health of our environment can and should be considered in all facets of theatrical life.
Theatre in the U.S., however, has lagged somewhat in building a sustainable backbone. We have a great deal of work to do compared to the U.K., whose efforts include the Royal Court of London’s commitment to net-zero carbon emissions this year, and whose arts endeavors, across the board, focus policy on climate action: the Edinburgh Festival Fringe; Creative Carbon Scotland; Julie’s Bicycle; the National Theatre.
For U.S. theatremakers considering going green—as we should!—here are some resources to get started.
- For inspiration on why and where to begin: While Bill McKibben’s terminology might be outdated, the cornerstone of his 2005 piece for Grist remains true: Artists are integral to promoting action on climate change. Additionally, a brochure from Julie’s Bicycle, a London-based charity for climate activism in the arts, highlights seven trends (or categories) in which creative communities can act on sustainability.
- For those nervous about cost: Broadway Green Alliance’s case studies, located under “Good Business”, illustrate the financial benefit of going green.
- For information on greenhouse gases and offsetting emissions: Produced by the Climate Institute, this PDF defines carbon-related terminology and explains the impact of carbon and other greenhouse gases. Also, you can learn how to offset carbon emissions in The Guardian’s “complete guide to carbon offsetting.”
- For guidance on creating sustainable policy: Uniting ecology and theatre, Superhero Clubhouse’s “ecotheater” proposes artistic practice as a method to shift culture regarding environmental degradation. Similarly holistic, HowlRound’s Sustainable Theatre Practice Treaty, created with the Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts (CSPA), offers guiding principles from “prohibit toxic materials and the disposal of harmful waste” to “guarantee continued freedom of artistic expression.” For more specific policy inspiration, check out Broadway Green Alliance’s eco tips and the Green Production Guide by the Producers Guild of America (PGA). Note that while the Green Production Guide was created for the film industry, it holds valuable information for theatremakers.
- For sustainable theatre materials: Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company’s Green Theater Choices Toolkit, published by CSPA, lists a plethora of theatre materials and their ratings on a scale of eco-friendliness. You can also track your materials and their ratings using the Green Exhibit Checklist, also published by CSPA, and source your materials through PGA’s Green Vendors map.
- For climate news: For green theatre to work, it’s vital to stay in touch with climate news and to support green policies at all levels. Find your international climate news from the United Nations and, when possible, advocate for sustainable policy at all levels of government. Also check out this breakdown of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s climate proposal, the Green New Deal.
- For more voices on the climate/theatre intersection: In her essay “Beyond Bambi: Toward a Dangerous Ecocriticism in Theatre Studies,” Theresa J. May, a theatremaker and scholar who specializes in environmental theatre, argues for the necessary inclusion of climate change in theatre conversations and discusses unconscious obstacles barring us from going green. HowlRound Theatre Commons also posts regularly on climate change.
- For dramaturgs interested in “greenturgy”: May’s essay linked above is a must-read for this lot, as are these guiding questions from playwright and activist Chantal Bilodeau: “How does our work reflect on and respond to the challenges brought on by a warming climate? How can we participate in the global conversation about what the future should look like, and do so in a way that is both inspiring and artistically rewarding?” Dramaturgs should also check out Holly L. Derr’s article for HowlRound, which specifically cites greenturgy.
- For plays surrounding the crisis: Artists and Climate Change, an initiative of the Arctic Cycle, regularly updates this compilation of climate-related work.
- For playwrights considering climate: The Sloan Initiative awards a commission to not-yet-finished plays centered on science, math, and technology—an ideal combination for a climate change story. They also consider for production completed plays on the same themes.
- For wider industry standards and green certification: Become a LEED Green Associate or Sustainable Event Manager to ensure that your theatre runs according to industry standards of sustainability.