Sustainable Design Practices
Since 2012, Barnard College Department of Theatre students, faculty, and staff have been investigating and developing practices to foster more sustainable design and production methods in theatre. Our work has crossed from the classroom to our season to professional work done off campus by our faculty. We are focussing, for now, on sets, costumes, and props, with an emphasis on emissions reduction though circular design and production methods.
Our aim is to create both a logic of why to change material and production choices, and a simple set of tools that explain how to do so. So, we have worked with consultants to assess the carbon footprint of a show with used and new materials. We have created a system for assigning monetary value to stock items, to make it possible to track reuse in the budget. And we have created a set of tools to make it easier to budget ahead of time for reuse.
Our goal is to connect the dots all the way from the first design meetings all the way through strike, and to create a systemic, trackable, institutional approach so that "green" becomes the way we do business. Charles Eames said that "design depends largely on constraints," and that the many constraints we are all accustomed to facing - time, money, architectural realities - can actually fuel the artistic process and help shape the work we produce. Social environmental impact can be considered one of the "necessary constraints" of the artistic process, and can make our work stronger, more impactful, and more responsive to the world we live in.
2012: The Egg Layers, our first departmental production consciously designed and build largely with repurposed objects, with sustainability as one of the design goals.
2013-2015: First experiments with "unit set" approach on Thesis Festival, with the aim of both streamlining Festival production and minimizing waste. Steady decline in number of dumpsters ordered.
2015-2016: "Theatre Stuff" research initiative: Students, faculty and staff collaborate to quantify and track reuse in sets, costumes, and props for our season. We assign a monetary value to our entire stock, and track purchases and "pulled" items. Lead student researcher: Lhana Ormenyi. We begin experimenting with "split budget lines" for new and used materials. Begin introducing classroom projects with "circular design," material life cycle analysis, and other exercises designed to engage students in considering sustainability during the design process.
2017: Results of 2015-16 research are published in TD&T magazine, along with a materials purchasing guide (attached) developed with BC theatre students and alumnae.
2017-2018: We hire Gotham 360 to do a carbon footprint analysis of the emissions reduction of reuse (attached), using Some Hero as a case study. We analyze Some Hero sets, props, and costumes from 3 premises: 1. "As built," i.e. about 50% used, 2. as if 100% new, and 3. as if 100% used, and compare the carbon emissions. Results show that reuse is a powerful way to reduce emissions in these production areas. We also begin asking new design hires to apply these principles from the start.
2017: Barnard faculty use these practices in several professional shows, most notably The Book of Will in Denver, which is nominated for a Henry Award for Outstanding Set Design.
2018: We share the results from our work at USITT conference, in conjunction with the Broadway Green Alliance. We share a budgeting system that can help institutions track and measure reuse, as they currently track labor and dollars spent. BC Theatre produces Jeune Terre, a new play that explores land loss in Louisiana from climate change.
2018: A second article on these ideas is the cover story on the winter 2018-19 issue of TD&T magazine. A similar draft submitted to be a chapter in a book on Environmental Discourses, edited by Barnard faculty and part of a Willen seminar. Barnard faculty and staff become more involved with the Broadway Green Alliance, engaging in discourse and exchange with other practitioners on these topics.
2018-2019: The Barnard team has presented this work as a template for creating institutionalized, replicable, and sustainable practices in the arts, at USITT, Yale School of Drama, and the International Conference of Fine Arts Deans.