Wednesday, July 21, 2010

News from Childsplay’s Third Sustainable Stagecraft Summit

At our third Sustainable Stagecraft Summit, the participating organizations gathered to review our first two meetings and discuss what can be done to begin to fill the gaps between our desired sustainability and the resources that are available to us now.

Overwhelmingly, the theatres agreed that improving communication during the design process can improve the sustainability of our scenery and the personnel who build it. Working through Midsummer illustrated the great benefit of involving the technical director from the start of the process. However, it will require an understanding on both the designer/director and TD of why they are all in a room together. Some artists may resist the presence of production person so early in the process, while some TD’s might feel like they are there to squash ideas before they’ve had the chance to fully evolve. The real benefit lies in the TD understanding the design on a much deeper level, which could inform the decision making process once the scenic design gets down to “value engineering.” For directors and designers, the TD’s presence early the in process could help to focus ideas on what’s possible given the theatre’s production time line and budget.

It was agreed that any thoughts of sustainability go out the window as opening night draws near. How could the energy that goes into these final weeks be re-directed to the front end of the process? Would it help keep your design process consistently on time? Would this yield a more productive working environment during technical rehearsals?

It was noted that production timelines are often determined by the needs of the box office. It’s difficult to change one process without looking at all processes necessary to produce theatre.

The idea of a centralized depot or co-op (as our colleagues in Austin are creating [Salavge Vanguard]) came up several times. The question of the financial feasibility of such an organization came up each time. Operations, fee structures, and space were ongoing concerns. Because of the disparate operating budgets of area theatres it’s likely such an operation would be highly attractive to the smaller companies, while the larger organizations would get less out of participating.

What gaps should we focus on now?

Materials – the thought that spurred this project: let’s stop using trees on stage. We have discovered that several potential alternatives (Kirei Wheatboard, PlyVeneer) are being developed, but as of yet, we have not found a product that meets most of the needs of scenic construction. We’re confident we will find the right manufacturer who will be interested in helping us realize our goal.

Funding – there’s no doubt that using a sustainable plywood alternative will be more expensive. We need to find ways to convince our funders that sustainability is important. In Childsplay’s case, the irony of a children’s theatre with a mission of “imagination and wonder” that is mortgaging children’s futures through unsustainable practices was not lost on the group. We need to tie our requests for support to causes, “asking for the right thing, the right way”.

Conciseness raising – as we learned at the first summit, recycling our scenery was a much more achievable goal than we had been led to believe in the past. The Think It grant allowed us to spend the time to find “the right person.” In our next blog post, we’ll be taking you though the process of the first two sets to have been recycled in Childsplay’s 33 –year history.

-- Jenny Millinger & Anthony Runfola, Childsplay

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