Kitchen Theatre Implements Green Practices

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Tompkins Weekly 9-25-05

By M. Bevin O’Gara

Theatre by its nature is the least green of all art forms: shows are built, they open to the public, and they close only a few short weeks later. Without a lot of time, staff and bandwidth, much of the material that make theatrical design magical ends up in dumpsters.

The Kitchen Theatre Company (KTC) has long been committed to producing high-quality productions while trying to maintain as green a footprint as possible, including the building of our LEED-certified green facility in Ithaca’s West End. And last season, we took a major step in making our methods more efficient and sustainable in terms of production elements by adopting and enacting a new Green Initiative.

This type of effort takes time, something not always available to a small operation like ours. Our part-time Technical Director Brendan Komala spends a great deal of time and effort ensuring that everything we build is created in as efficient and cost-effective a manner as possible.

Karl Gregory (left) and Adrianne Krstansky (right) in Kitchen Theatre’s “TRIBES” in June. Photo by Dave Burbank Photography

He reuses pieces of lumber and hardware for multiple sets and scours Craigslist, eBay and local used furniture stores for inexpensive set pieces. For comparison, a theater the size of Kitchen Theatre Company usually spends $10,000 on a typical set; at KTC, we have a scenic budget of approximately $1,600 per production.

With the help of funding from the Park Foundation, the Kitchen has set about becoming a leader in the community and the industry for creating more eco-friendly practices and behaviors. We innovate creative solutions for producing theatre that reduces our carbon footprint.

Our recent efforts include the creation of an online database for scenic and prop pieces, allowing designers to pick from the collection prior to entering the space. Knowing if a designer wants to use an item in stock also saves us from driving out to our storage facility in Lansing to get several set pieces to choose from, so less gas is used.

We’ve also increased the amount that can be stored with the addition of a new storage unit right in our back parking lot. With more storage, we can hold onto items for longer periods of time and create ways of working them into more shows rather than taking them directly to the dump for lack of space.

We like to think we are adding to the fun for our audience as well, giving them a bit of a scavenger hunt for items used over multiple seasons and productions. It’s a veritable “Where’s Waldo?”

Additional funding has also been acquired to convert our existing lighting inventory to lower wattage, energy efficient, LED lighting. Over the coming season, we will be converting to a system that eliminates dependency on expendable color accessories, allows for more versatility in design and reduces power consumption.

Perhaps the most significant shift for us is the recent addition to the staff of KTC’s first Production Coordinator and Sustainability Manager Scott Hitz. Scott is charged with planning productions so more items and materials are recycled and reused. He will also be establishing and maintaining relationships with local institutions such as ReUse to identify new methods of collaboration in conjunction with this policy.

Having a position like this is a major asset to the KTC and unlike any other position that we’re aware of in the American Theatre, setting us in a great position to set an example for the larger industry beyond Tompkins County.

We intend to encourage our staff and audiences to be responsible green citizens, and we endeavor to work with partner organizations that share our green values. It is our intention to operate our business in an as environmentally friendly way as we can. We hope you too will join us.

M. Bevin O’Gara is the producing artistic director for the Kitchen Theatre Company.

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