StuCo Green Initiative aims to reduce waste in theater productions

Stavros Agorakis, Reporter

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When the cast and crew of a theater production tears down a set after closing night, Communication sophomore Izzy Porte said most of the scenery materials get thrown out.

But it is not just the materials from the set that go to waste — batteries are often not recycled and countless pages of printed scripts are tossed, Porte said. Students typically lack the incentive to ‘go green’ because of the financial costs that are attached, she said.

Porte set out to change that with Student Theatre Coalition’s fledgling Green Initiative, an effort to make student theater on campus more sustainable by reducing its generated waste.

“The thing about theater in general is that nothing is permanent — nothing is built or thought of to be lasting,” said Porte, who is in charge of the initiative. “Whatever set elements aren’t kept or can’t really be reused because they’re so specific to the show… are getting thrown out each weekend.”

The initiative, which is currently in its early stages, aims to encourage students to adopt environmentally-friendly practices for shows by changing the way every production member approaches their position, Porte said.

As StuCo’s assistant equipment manager, Porte presented the idea that she shaped over the summer to the executive board during Fall Quarter 2015. Because the initiative came up organically rather than as a pitch during one of the meetings, the team’s response was positive overall, said StuCo co-chair Tristan Chiruvolu.

“It takes a specific type of leadership to spearhead the initiative,” the Communication senior said. “Everyone sort of acknowledges the fact that practices in theater are pretty wasteful, but no one really has made an organized effort to do something about it.”

Porte created a series of documents on departmental sustainable practices — including costumes, props and scenery — in partnership with Broadway Green Alliance, an organization based in New York City which educates and motivates the theater community to minimize its environmental impact. She shared the initiative last week with NU theater members through StuCo’s email list.

Within 24 hours, Porte said she received about seven emails from students who were interested in joining her or were interested in exploring the available resources.

Porte said people are aware that waste is a systemic issue in theater, but it can be difficult to break ingrained habits, such as buying new materials for each show.

“Everyone knows that when you need lumber, you go to Home Depot — so it’s hard to break out of that,” Porte said.

However, the cost of “going green” can increase a production’s spending quickly, said Julie Cahillane, manager of sustainability and resource management at the Office of Sustainability. For example, LED lights are more environmentally friendly but not as cost effective as incandescent bulbs, Cahillane said.

The office helped alleviate these expenses by providing additional funding to acquire recycling dumpsters — which Porte said cost $100 to $200 more than regular ones — to set the theater community’s environmentally-aware practices in motion.

Cahillane said although saving materials when production teams are taking down sets is a “good first step,” students should consider how they can reduce waste at every stage of production.

“Every single one of us can be more sustainable by just looking at our practices,” she said.

Email: agorakis@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @stavrosagorakis

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