It’s Not Easy Being Green

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How did we bring a boat chase to life on an eighteen-foot stage, without expensive effects, while still giving the audience a thrill? We created a puppet show utilizing a wild assembly of props and models, with our cast of nine using every hand (and some other appendages), all choreographed to music. A piece of blue fabric stood in for the sea, behind which two small-scale boat puppets gave chase. Obstacles came and went—lending opportunities for references to classic Bond action sequences like a double-taking polar bear, surfing a tsunami, and a loop the loop ramp with a slide whistle.

The chase culminated with Claudius, Hamlet, and Horatio emerging from the ocean in two wearable boats—made, of course, from cardboard. But how to stage a flamethrower torching Claudius’s ship? As Hamlet launched the flamethrower, a visible stagehand appeared from the dark to hold a stand fan under the hollow stern of Claudius’s boat—blowing yellow and red crepe paper up from their hiding place into a waving fiery frenzy. This incredibly simple and cheap solution, made of recyclable materials, received riotous laughter and raucous applause each and every performance. It was far funnier, more theatrical, and truer to the spirit of the play than any attempts to fake realism with a boat chase and fire.

Cost for set of From Denmark With Love: < $350.

Total waste: less than one trash bag.

With all of the advantages to digital programs, it’s time to ask: When will we bring the curtain down on printed programs?

Those Damn Dirty Programs

Theatre programs are my personal bane. They are the hill I will die on. Sure, they can be recycled, but only after the immense resources used to print, box, and ship them—not to mention the additional resources used to transport them to recycling plants and the energy required for the actual recycling.

In the 2018–19 season, 14,800,000 tickets were bought to Broadway shows. That’s 14,800,000 programs. And let us not forget that Broadway—while massive in revenue and quantity of sales—is a relatively small percentage of the theatre in the United States, not to mention the world. Multiply that figure by regional theatres, national theatres, fringe and community theatres… and the number dizzies.

Over the past year, printed menus have disappeared and been replaced by QR codes in nearly every restaurant. This adjustment makes life easier for everyone because it eliminates updating, printing, and maintenance for restaurants and it eliminates waiting and clutter for guests. Adopting similar practices can help the theatre field by eliminating time and resources to print (and recycle!) programs, as well as staffing resources for passing out and cleaning up programs at performances. With online programs, productions can offer a deeper dive into dramaturgical content, including video interviews with playwrights or designers. Digital programs can make theatres more resilient as well by making it easier to swap in last minute casting changes and rotating advertisers—including video ads.

With all of the advantages to digital programs, it’s time to ask: When will we bring the curtain down on printed programs?

When people asked for a program or asked why we didn’t have them, we explained our green mission and directed them to the website. The vast majority of people were understanding of, if not supportive and enthusiastic about, our mission.

Starting in 2012, I eliminated printed programs from every project over which I had producing control. In order to avoid printing, we make all program information available online and links to that information easily accessible at performances. We also create show-specific ways to convey information to audiences and celebrate the artists involved.

For Bear Patrol, we made on-site programs in the style of a panhandler’s sign: hand-painted on scrap cardboard, placed throughout the lobby. In From Denmark With Love, we incorporated credits into the show after the 007-esque pre-credits action sequence. Behind a screen, actors danced with thematic props and cardboard cutouts, casting shadows that allowed for clear reading of the credits projected on the screen.

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