Thursday, August 6, 2009

Green Feedback!

Seema Sueko from Mo'Olelo invites your feedback on the latest version of the Green Theater Toolkit! (Available at - be patient, it may take a moment to download.)

Hello Think it, Do it, Blog it readers:

We've posted the updated Green Theater Toolkit scorecards for Wood Products; Plastics and Foams; Metals; and Glass, Ceramics, Earthen Materials
here. Please take a look and post your comments and feedback – feel free to be as direct as you wish with feedback. These scorecards aren't final, so your ideas will be extremely valuable to their development. If you don't feel comfortable posting your feedback on this public blog, you can email me directly at (please write "Green Theater Toolkit" in the subject line).

Some questions for you to consider:

1) Do you understand the charts below?

2) Is any of this useful for your theater-making process?

3) Are there any materials you wish were on the list; or anything you wish were not on the list?

4) Are there any surprises for you on this list?

Thanks for taking the time to contribute to this project!


Seema Sueko
Artistic Director
Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Notes from a Woolly Sabbatical

Tim Plant, Woolly Mammoth's Development Director, blogs his sabbatical experience:

My Aha! sabbatical experience thus far has been nothing short of fantastic. Thanks to the help of a Woolly Mammoth Board member to make the introduction, and the wonderful willingness of their staff, I’ve started my sabbatical at the Sidwell Friends School in Washington, DC. My desire to learn from Sidwell Friends was simple – it’s recognized as one of the preeminent private schools in the country and the reputation of their Development team is well-known in the city.

Any nervousness I felt the first day (I hope it didn’t show) did not last for long. Mainly because we headed into meetings and didn’t look back from there. I’ve been shadowing Assistant Head of School for Institutional Advancement Patty Carocci and she’s allowed me to sit in on meetings ranging from how to use the database to track events, to planning for the next alumni magazine issue, to reviewing fiscal year-end plans. Her willingness to let me see how she manages every aspect of her job has been tremendous. Her responsibilities are obviously broader in scope than my position at Woolly (her staff is much larger than Woolly’s development team of three) so watching her manage the different parts has been instructive in how to handle my various responsibilities.

The rest of the Development team has also been incredibly generous with their time, whether it’s Leslie showing me all the reports used to track Annual Fund progress, or Lauren spending an hour sharing her experiences running the Sidwell Friends events. I truly feel like a sponge trying to soak up as much information, advice, and knowledge as I can.

The best part of the experience so far – and the hardest to convey – is the excitement that builds during my time there. I want to recreate Leslie’s “Yield” report, and look into adding an online portion of our auction similar to what Lauren described. And I want to do it today. On Monday, I posed a challenge I face in my job to Patty and she said, “Ok, we’re going to figure this out.” That willingness to dive into my work and share her experience is exactly what I hoped to gain from my time at Sidwell Friends. I’m going to be very sad indeed when my time visiting there is done. Thankfully, that’s not yet!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Mo'Olelo: Green Guidelines!

Seema Sueko from Mo'Olelo Performing Arts Company recently checked in about the progress of Mo'Olelo's Aha! project: the Green Theater Choices Toolkit Scorecard. If it all looks a little technical, don't worry, she enlisted the help of Eric Wilmanns of Brown & Wilmanns Environmental to help out with some handy definitions.

We have a proto-type for the Green Theater Choices Toolkit Scorecard!

Alright, so what is all this stuff? We worked with our Scenic Designer David F. Weiner and the consultants from Brown & Wilmanns Environmental Consulting to evaluate a variety of materials used in scenic design and rate them according to three focus areas: Material, Human Health and End of Show Fate. The above proto-type is just a look at woods. We'll be creating scorecards for metals, foams & plastics, textiles, and a few other areas. This woods scorecard is also not quite done. We're working on making it more user-friendly for designers. I asked Eric Wilmanns of B&W to provide us with some definitions for each of the focus areas. Here's what he shared:


This is an overview of how the material fairs when you consider its total life-cycle impacts. We take into account the conditions and environmental impacts associated with obtaining the basic raw materials, e.g. oil and natural gas, forest management and harvesting, mining, agricultural production etc. We also consider human social issues that effect the production of raw materials, manufacturing, use and end-of-life on affected communities and cultures. We consider the relative amount of energy required for obtaining and manufacturing the product as well as associated green house gas considerations. Note that many of these factors and indicators we rank by qualitative vs. quantitative means. So we might not have absolute numbers for each material in each category – but where we do have numbers we use them.

Human Health

For this focus we look specifically at the human health effects of the manufacture and use of a given material. We consider both acute and chronic health concerns and also if materials or compounds used in the life cycle of the product are carcinogenic or may cause reproductive effects or mimic hormones in the human body (endocrine disruptors). This may sound super science focused and to a large degree we try to do just that. We give more weight to a compound that has issues that can affect the end user but we also look up and downstream in the products life to see if workers are affected there too.

End of Show Fate

We typically call this parameter “end-of-life” but end of show seems more relevant for this project. Here we address the potential for reuse, recycle and reclamation and the potential impacts associated with reuse and/or recycling, land filling and/or incineration.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Woolly Mammoth: If at First...

As we all know, things don’t always go according to plan, no matter how perfect an idea seems. Washington, D.C.’s Woolly Mammoth has been working hard on sending staff members out on their Aha! sabbaticals, which has proven to be more challenging than anticipated. Woolly’s Aaron Heinsman goes into detail…

At Woolly, literally everyone can have an impact on the art. So it seemed a no-brainer for us to send each of our full-time staff members out into the wider world to do a working sabbatical to glean new ideas and pick-up best practice insights at operations perhaps outside the regular purview of our theatrical network.

Easier said than done! It's proved especially challenging for us to arrange our sabbaticals, as we're attempting to reach out to new companies and organizations where we don't necessarily already have a relationship. But sadly opening these doors has not been as easy as we hoped. While there is enthusiasm for the program's concept, not everyone is willing or able to house one of our staffers. But the Woolly spirit is to keep trying until we figure it out!

And now the good news: we've gotten our first placement secured! Development Director Tim Plant is going back to school, and in this case he'll be in some pretty good company at DC's Sidwell Friends School. He'll glean some ideas and best practices for keeping alumni and their families connected to an organization long after the immediate relationship ends. This is particularly compelling for the Washington arts scene as the District frequently has a sizable residential turnover with each majority swing. Can a modestly sized theater -- where so much of the connection of patrons involves them actually experiencing our plays -- keep donor relationships going once they're not attending regularly or even still in the region? An intriguing question, and one we hope we'll soon be able to successfully answer affirmatively.

As for the rest of the staff, people are FIRED UP to get out there this summer, particularly as our colossal Season 30 will be soon upon us! Our props master wants to get her hands dirty at an FX house, our operations/company manager wants to see how the talent is managed at the D.C. United football club, and I am hoping to observe corporate philanthropy in action at the Whole Foods Foundation in Austin. Fingers crossed!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

New Models; New Challenges

Here on the Aha! Blog, we strive to bring you the whole truth about the Aha! projects, from success to challenge to total conceptual reboot.

Take, for example, Theater Grottesco’s original concept of creating an LLC as an alternative capital campaign. Well, it turns out that SEC (the Securities and Exchange Commission) laws and regulations limit partners in an LLC to 35 people, each with a net worth of $1,000,000 or more, not including their homes. Suddenly the idea of offering shares to anyone with a spare $1,000 and an interest in downtown Santa Fe real estate seems pretty impractical.

But in true Aha! spirit, Grottesco has some new ideas:

In Model 1, a small group of partners invests substantial funding that is paid back with modest interest in 7-15 years. Investor motivation is less about return than community investment. However, in the current economy, this may present a more lucrative opportunity than standard securities or real estate. And the investments are understood to be risky. They may be transferred to a chosen non-profit organization as a tax-deduction as needed. Initial investments become a challenge to the general public to donate to the project in a conventional capital campaign. A third stage encourages volunteers to help build under the supervision of a licensed and insured contractor.

Model 2 is based upon the Calvert Community Investment model. A 501c3 solicits loans (not investments) of any size which are paid back with modest interest in 7-10 years. A 2nd campaign is then waged to repay the loans, a daunting prospect. On the other hand, with the low-interest loans, a theater could be created and we would be in a much stronger position to raise money the second time around.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Update: PWC Trailers are Live!

And you can see them here.

And they look great!

The Trailers Are in the Can. Now What?

As Aha! Blog readers know, Minnesota’s Playwrights Center has been hard at work producing trailers for unproduced plays. Now that filming is done and editing is underway, Erika Eklund reflected on the next steps for these digital synopses:
We are in the final throes of creating a DVD that includes an interview with PWC Producing Artistic Director Polly Carl about the genesis of the idea and the three trailers. The DVDs will be sent to 100 artistic directors across the country as well as our funders and major donors; our hope is to get them out the door by the end of April. At the same time we will launch the trailers and interviews on our website and we will be sending out a card announcing this launch to our mailing list of roughly 2000 people.

Because of the extensive amount of time and energy that the marketing effort has generated, we think we won’t create DVDs for the following trailers—that this will exist as an initial marketing effort for the launch of the project, but the next set of trailers created will be marketed solely through electronic means.

Effects of the project are yet to be determined. We think they’re great. The playwrights are thrilled with them. We are most eager to see—and have yet to see—the effect the trailers have on piquing the interests of artistic directors and literary managers to produce the plays. We have yet to see if this effort to “play Cupid” between script and producer really works.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Theater Grottesco: New Models, New Language

Unbelievably, we have reached the midway point for some of the current Aha! projects. John Flax from Theater Grottesco was kind enough to reflect on the Aha! process so far. Here, he discusses the challenges of learning a “business language” to complete their Do It! project.
Theater Grottesco is used to working with complex multi-dimensional structures in the creation of its artistic projects. But legal terms like “qualified investors”, “securities”, “merit review”, and “wealth transfer” have never been mentioned by creative artists. At this stage, our A-ha! Project has been both a positive anomaly and a burden in much the same way that learning a new language is difficult. Once the language is learned, however, the transformation can begin.

Soon, artistic and administrative staff will join board members in presenting a creative and sophisticated business model to Santa Fe’s leaders of commerce and philanthropy. We anticipate increased awareness and respect for our organization and our art, along with the necessary funds to create a state-of-the-art intimate performance venue which will add another layer of understanding and commitment to Grottesco and to smaller performing arts organizations everywhere, as we create a national model that will hopefully we duplicated and developed by others.

Up next on the Aha! Blog from Theater Grottesco: decoding some really complicated SEC legalese!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Every Day is Earth Day on the Aha! Blog

In honor of Earth Day, the Aha! Blog presents the following list of green resources, compiled Seema Sueko, artistic director of Mo’Olelo Performing Arts Center:

Brown & Williams Environmental Consulting

The Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts

The Cranbrook Court Theatre Company


EcoTheater Blog

GreenLine paper company

Mo’Olelo’s GREEN Theater Categories & Sustainable Guidelines

Portland Center Stage’s Gerding Theater

The Recycled Products Co-Op

Seema will also be taking part (via Skype!) in tomorrow’s panel on Theatre and the Environment at the Martin E. Segal Center in Manhattan.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Meet The Playwrights Center

Playwrights hear it constantly: “what’s your play about?” It’s a complicated question to answer, especially if your play hasn’t ever been published or performed. Minneapolis’ Playwrights Center (PWC), which has a long history of supporting playwrights at every stage of their careers, wanted to help answer that question. With trailers. That’s right, trailers.

PWC’s Do It! Grant was awarded to help PWC “play cupid” between playwright and producer. Three years ago, PWC launched a Profiles section for 40 of PWC’s Core writers, and a New Play Gallery. These areas of PWC’s website have become the most frequently used areas, and playwrights were contacted from as far away as Sao Paolo, Brazil. But PWC felt there was a crucial aspect of the “courtship” process still missing. They proposed to use their Do It! funds to produce a professional web trailer series, available to be downloaded for free in an audio-visual gallery on PWC’s website.

These trailers are being produced right now by PWC’s team. They’re not quite ready for public consumption yet, but as a kind of teaser-to-the-teaser, please enjoy these stills from the under-construction trailer for RASKOL by Kira Oblensky:

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Meet Theater Grottesco

Theater Grottesco (based in Santa Fe, NM) had a string of bad-renovation luck. One space was condemned after a flood. One lease fell through when a co-lesee ran into administrative troubles. Then when the company found the perfect space and renovated it for a site-specific performance, the company realized they just didn’t have the network and resources to raise several million dollars in a capital campaign.

Grottesco is renowned for its organizational agility and adaptability. The company was founded in Paris in 1983, then moved to Detroit, and then again in 1996 to its current home in Santa Fe. So when faced with these real-estate setbacks, Grottesco decided to look at the bigger picture. There were other groups in Santa Fe whose work didn’t exactly fit into the traditional proscenium stage at the local community theatre, and none of them had the resources to start a campaign. What to do? Form an LLC.

As far as performance space real estate goes, this is a pretty radical idea. Everyone who purchases a share of Grottesco’s Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) will own a share in the venue. Shareholders are investors rather than donors, and shares will be sold for as little as $1,000 each.  As the project develops, TCG and Grottesco will report on how this new strategy is panning out. In the mean time, if you are interested in learning more about Theater Grottesco, visit their website.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Meet Woolly Mammoth

It’s a story every theatre practitioner knows by heart: scrappy company of artists with a daring approach to art sets out to change the world, scrappy company encounters success and makes some money, scrappy company hires a few staff members, scrappy company buys a building… and suddenly scrappy company’s daring approach to the art form is in jeopardy.

Sadly, this story usually ends with a slow, steady drift away from the company’s core values. But Washington, D.C.-based Woolly Mammoth is determined not to let success get in the way of a good thing.

Woolly Mammoth’s Think It grant is intended to stimulate creative thinking among the Woolly Mammoth staff – by giving them all time off. Every staff member will be taking one- to two-week paid sabbaticals, and shadowing someone who works in another profession. Staff members hope to return to the theatre with new ideas, new energy, new approaches, and new relationships and inroads into audience and donor bases.

Not every theatre company would have zeroed in on staff members as key players in the company’s continued commitment to innovation. But Woolly Mammoth is interested in integrating new ideas at every level of the company. Woolly Mammoth wants to ensure that the cutting-edge thinking they bring to the plays they produce gets translated to staff members. Check back as these sabbaticals take shape – we’ll be talking about what worked, and what didn’t work.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Meet Mo'olelo Performing Arts Company

Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company is clear about the questions it is trying to answer with its Think It grant: (1) how do we measure the environmental impact of the practice of theater? (2) is it possible to create theater that does not damage the long-term health of our communities?

Based in San Diego and founded in 2004, Mo’olelo has social consciousness written directly into its mission statement. It didn’t take long for Mo’olelo to notice that producing theatre creates a surprising amount of waste, and that waste was at odds with the company’s socially-conscious focus. Scenic materials bought to create the short-term world of a production depend on de-forestation and high energy impact; toxic paints are dangerous to scenic artists, actors and audiences; and we all know how energy-inefficient stage lights are.

After consulting with LEED-Accredited professionals (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), Mo’olelo developed GREEN Theater Categories and Sustainable Guidelines. Their A-ha! Think It grant will be put towards measuring the toolkit’s success, and then applying the toolkit to Mo’olelo’s own productions in the Spring and Fall of 2009. The final step will be field-wide dissemination of the toolkit for industry feedback.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

New Guidelines and Applications Available!

Guidelines and Applications for the 2009 MetLife/TCG Aha! Program are now available, and TCG is soliciting your untested, risk-taking, barrier-breaking, trend-defying ideas.

The world needs more outrageous ideas. Submit yours to TCG! The deadline is May 15, 2009.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A-ha!: Share the Process

The first round of A-ha! recipients’ projects are building up steam, and TCG is proud to share their process with the field as they move their projects from lightbulb-above-the-head to reality.

To bring everyone up to speed, the MetLife/TCG Ah-ha! Program: Think It, Do It was created to encourage and foster creative thinking and action among TCG member theatres. A-ha! has two components: Think It grants (up to $25,000) give theatre professionals the time and space for research and development, and Do It grants (up to $50,000) support the implementation and testing of new ideas. 150 TCG Member Theatres submitted proposals for the first round of grants, and the following four theatres were awarded grants:

Think It!

Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company will research and develop a tool to measure the environmental impact of theatre, helping the industry to make choices that do not damage our communities.

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company will send its staff on 1-2 week sabbaticals to shadow professionals working in analogous jobs or fields to help provoke new thinking about their work at the theatre.

Do It!

Theater Grottesco will create a state-of-the-art intimate performance venue for smaller, not for profit organizations by inviting partners to invest in downtown Santa Fe property through a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC).

The Playwrights’ Center will take its cue from the film industry. PWC will create a professionally produced web trailer series, available by free download in an audio-visual gallery on its website.

Over the coming months, this blog will fill up with images, text, video, quotes – anything we can think of that might help the field learn from these projects. We want to share what’s working and what isn’t working.

Feel free to comment, email or interact with us any way you can think of! This blog is for you, the field!