Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Learn More About the First Sustainable Stage Craft Summit

Welcome to the first Sustainable Stagecraft Summit
On February 26th, Childsplay and members of the ASU Global Institute for Sustainability held the first of three Sustainable Stagecraft Summits. We brought together production staff members from Arizona Theatre Company, Actor’s Theatre of Phoenix, and the theatre department at Scottsdale Community College to discuss the materials we use in scenic construction: what we like about them, what we wish we could change, and how we could find more sustainable sources for our materials and dispose of them in a more responsible manner.

{Participants (below) include representatives from Actor's Theatre of Phoenix, Childsplay, Arizona Theatre Company, Scottsdale Community Council, and Arizona State University.}
{Creating lists (below) of recycling options...note the sample tree branch in the center of the room!}
The first part of the morning focused on the types and sources of materials used in scenic construction. Our conversation quickly narrowed to the amount of lauan consumed by the theatrical industry, a problem that was put into real terms by Childsplay’s technical director, whose stories of travel through the devastated Indonesian rain forests inspired Childsplay’s quest to find more sustainable alternatives to our current practices. Jeff brought samples of eco-friendly plywood alternatives currently being used in the architectural design world made from wheat, bamboo, and sorghum straw. The challenges with applying these materials to theatrical uses included: 1) the materials are manufactured for finished work (e.g. furniture, floor, cabinets, etc.) and cannot be purchased in raw form; 2) the materials are not very flexible or durable and probably could not withstand the rigors of trucking and the wear-and-tear of a performance run; 3) the expense alone is up to 10 times the price of lauan, and 4) wheat board, the most practical of the materials options, is not yet manufactured in a ¼” product.

See the video here: Jeff Lemire of Childsplay shares samples of plywood alternatives with summit attendees.

Childsplay - Sustainable Stagecraft Summit 1 from Anthony Runfola on Vimeo.

{Bill Toby (below) from CMS Morrell explains which portions of a sample flat are recyclable.}
Lacking a readily available alternative for lauan, the summit participants began to create the profile of the ideal material:
  • Weight: 25 pounds for 4’X8’X1/4” sheet
  • Size: 4’X8’ or bigger
  • Moduli of rupture and elasticity equal to or superior than that of lauan
  • Able to take adhesives, paint and fasteners
  • Able to be worked with existing tools
  • Non-toxic
  • Sustainable harvested and manufactured
We welcome your feedback about these properties and intend to use this information in future conversations with manufacturers.

The victory of the day was the discovery of a regional commodities recycler who would accept far more of our scenic materials with less preparation at strike than we had ever anticipated. At the close of our next show, we will be coordinating with them to take our scenery to recycling right from the loading dock of the theatre. We will also be working with this company to develop recycling resource information specific to theatrical productions, which we will share with you all in the days to come.

The success of this summit was due in large part to its focus on immediate, practical solutions for making stagecraft more sustainable. Everyone walked away from the meeting with a new piece of information they didn’t have before. All participants expressed a desire to build a model of sustainable material and to form partnerships that enable this model’s success. The group also agreed that they wanted to keep communicating with each other in person – we were all thinking the same things individually and just not talking about it with our colleagues. Thanks to TCG for bringing us together!

To learn more about this summit and our next steps, please visit the Childsplay website at and look for the Sustainable Stagecraft link.

--Jenny Millinger & Anthony Runfola, Childsplay

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