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Greening the Great White Way

Broadway Inbound

If you happened to be in Times Square yesterday, you might’ve noticed some hubbub near the TKTS Booth and its cardinal red stairs. Despite the recent sub-freezing temperatures, dedicated members of the Broadway community gathered to participate in what is becoming something of a tradition: collecting people’s old electronics.

Since 2008, Broadway Green Alliance (BGA) has been on a mission to create a more environmentally-friendly theatre community, one small act at a time. The e-waste drive on January 10 was just one of four collection drives BGA holds annually (textiles will be collected in November and May, and another e-waste drive will be held in September). While the collection drives are probably the most public BGA project, they are far from the whole story.

Behind the scenes at the Gershwin Theatre, Wicked is pioneering the use of rechargeable batteries to power their mic packs. What might seem like a simple switch has had a huge impact, bringing the show’s annual battery consumption down from some 15,000 to an impressive 96, and leading the way for several other shows around the world to follow suit.

Broadway Green Alliance is finding sustainability in more visible places as well, updating marquees and signs around the city to use more energy-efficient bulbs. “That was one of the first big industry-wide initiatives for BGA,” says John Darby, Vice President of Facilities for Shubert and BGA board member. “All the outdoor signage lamps used to be 15 watt lamps, and we went down to 3 watt lamps.” Thousands of mirror lights were replaced in dressing rooms around Broadway as well.

Now, as technology has improved, BGA is looking to update again. “As the years have gone by, [bulbs] have become more and more energy efficient,” Darby says, indicating that updating to LEDs is on the immediate horizon.

Not all the projects are so flashy; if there’s one thing BGA understands, it’s that there is power in recognizing that seemingly small and simple changes can have a big impact. Susan Sampliner, Co-Chair of BGA and Company Manager for Wicked, explained that to address problems of sustainability, “we’re going to have to take an awful lot of actions, and they’re little actions, but they do add up.”

Backstage, at theatres around the city, recycling programs are being implemented, appliances are being switched out for more energy efficient models, and cast and crew are being encouraged to use refillable water bottles. BGA has even coordinated a binder exchange, housed out of Actors’ Equity and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids, to facilitate reusing binders from project to project.

“It’s often just as easy to do things in a green way as in a wasteful way,” says Darby.

The impact extends beyond Broadway—beyond New York City even. Every year, BGA’s College Green Captain program coordinates with college students who want to bring sustainability to their schools’ theatre departments. As touring shows become greener, they bring sustainability with them and leave new practices in their wake. As people hear about BGA, they get inspired.

“One of the important points to understand,” says Darby, “is that people can do a lot of little things that don’t seem to matter that much, but the accumulation of changing habits will matter in the long run.”

“We can set the example with what we’re doing in the theatre for what people can do in their offices and homes,” Sampliner says. Her advice to Broadway audiences who want to contribute? Bring reusable water bottles and take public transportation to the theatre, but more importantly, implement small changes in your own life. If there is anything to be learned from the Broadway Green Alliance, it’s that making a big difference is easier than you think.

Author: Christine Nyland