It’s a brisk day in New York City as I write this column, still holding on to all the fabulous and relaxing moments I had on my recent birthday trip to India. You may remember from my first column in American Theatre magazine (May/June ’17), I was born in Guyana, and my family’s immigrant story is part of the Indian diaspora to the Caribbean that dates back to the 1800s. Traveling to India was both a magical and a humbling experience for me.
My personal set of beliefs often lead me to challenge traditional or outdated value systems. Often I look ahead to build something new. But the trip to India reminded me of the importance of introspection and lineage. While it can be difficult for me to slow down, I felt very calm in India, which is kind of ironic because India has a population of more than 1.3 billion people and there the concept of personal space is nonexistent. I immediately felt rooted and balanced there. I can’t explain why I felt that way, but I do know that since then I have been determined to find more places of belonging, and I am hopeful that on the stages I visit in the coming months, I see more faces that look like me and experiences I can relate to.
Looking for roots also has me thinking about our planet and the spaces we occupy, and our responsibility to those spaces once we leave. I’m in awe of Greta Thunberg, Time’s person of the year, who has turned our anxieties and concerns about the planet into a worldwide movement calling for global change. I am also inspired by the many theatres and artists featured in this issue that are listening, learning, and leaning into the work to make our planet a better place. We at Theatre Communications Group take inspiration from the climate activists, theatre artists, and organizations doing this very hard work, and we are implementing changes here at TCG.
Last summer, at TCG’s national conference in Miami, climate action was a key focus of our Well-being and Wellness programming track. This work was guided and facilitated by our first Conference Committee on Climate: Annalisa Dias, Tara Moses, and Ronee Penoi (Groundwater Arts); Elizabeth Doud (Fundarte/-Climakaze); Lanxing Fu and Jeremy Pickard (Superhero Clubhouse), who have a piece in this issue; and Chantal Bilodeau (Climate Change Theatre Action), who has a piece in the issue as well. TCG also welcomed our first National Conference artist-in-residence: multidisciplinary climate artist, activist, educator, and Miami local Xavier Cortada, who frequently collaborates with our Miami theatre community and Conference Committee.
In early fall, TCG partnered with Green Queens and hosted a roundtable discussion about reducing waste in our theatres. Participants learned how easy and affordable it is to reduce, reuse, and recycle at each stage of the production process. Participants were equipped with the know-how needed to source materials like lumber and furniture in an environmentally friendly way. We learned how to strike greener, including inexpensive ways to recycle costumes and props, and how to more responsibly dispose of materials. With a little advance planning, conversation, and modest investment in resources, we can (and must) use our creativity for good!
TCG’s operations are also going green. In the past six months, we eliminated more than 8,000 single-use pieces of plastic and paper eating and drinking utensils by switching to reusable coffee/tea K-cups and ceramic, silver, and glass kitchen items. By using both sides of printing paper, all of it recycled, we’ve reduced our paper consumption by 50 percent. For a staff of 45-plus, that’s a lot of paper! TCG has more 14,000 square feet of office space—a lot of energy is needed to operate that much space, especially during the bitter cold and hot months.
But since we’ve implemented our own green initiative, and staff are being more mindful of how we use energy, we’ve reduced electric energy consumption by nearly 50 percent. And most of our new supplies are made from bamboo products and purchased from women-owned companies. We only use cleaning supplies that have received the Green Seal or ECO logo certification. This initiative is currently being led by our operations and special projects manager, Raksak Kongseng. We received complete support from our staff to make this move to a greener office space, but it didn’t happen overnight. We created a sequence of events to make this switch over a two-month period. Thanks to the commitment from our team, it required only minimal resources to make our space a little bit more environmentally friendly.
Finally, by the time you read this column, TCG’s annual Gala: OUR STORIES will have ended. This year we honored the 30th anniversary of the National Black Theatre Festival, a program of the North Carolina Black Repertory Company, a TCG member theatre in Winston-Salem, N.C.; and playwright David Henry Hwang, whose plays have been published by TCG. The evening included performances from A Strange Loop and Soft Power. Playwright Nambi E. Kelley honored National Black Theatre Festival by reading Dr. Maya Angelou’s manifesto, and the Public Theater’s Oskar Eustis honored David Henry Hwang. It was a beautiful evening for theatre—and it reminded us that our stories are shaped by our roots.