Sunday, November 15, 2009

Green Materials

Mini-post, but check this out. I read about materials like this and the first question that comes to mind is, "How does it hold a coat of paint?" But if it really functions like wood, then that's super exciting. Cheap AND biodegradable? Why yes, thanks!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Energy Auditing for Theaters

So I've been absent for a while. It's an unfortunate truth that taking time out to examine a set of 'best practices' for theatre is often complicated by spending all this time doing theatre... *sigh*

But enough excuses. I do have some exciting news to share. Some of the exact details still have to be ironed out, but it looks as if the energy auditing program of the John Van Duzer Auditorium, the main stage for Humbold State's Department of Theatre, will become a reality.

To give some background on this project, this is part of an on-going effort of myself and other students, faculty and staff from the department to update our stage lighting system and reduce our energy consumption. To this end, we are attempting to integrate long-range energy auditing into the space. The intent is not only will this data help in implementing our own energy solutions, but that this project may also be helpful in providing information to other theatre companies that are also interested in monitoring their energy consumption.

The above-average complexity of the electrical system in the JVD (typical of many playhouses) creates unique challenges for energy monitoring. Because of this, we've started to create partnerships with Green Campus, a student-run energy conservation group, and the Redwood Coast Energy Authority. The hope is that within the next couple weeks, we will be able to have a consultation with a professional from the Authority, which will be an open event to students from Green Campus as well as students and faculty from our own department. The end result will hopefully be a plan for moving forward with an actual energy auditing program. I'll be sure to update this site as this project continues.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Just How 'Regional' is Regional Theatre, Anyway? - Part 2

There are some thoughts that have been banging around in my head since my post on Mike Daisey's work, "How Theater Failed America." To bring up to speed, Mike's piece makes the argument that the increasingly corporate structure of theatre in America, coupled with NYC and LA functioning as nexuses for professional artists, is dooming regional theaters to a slow death by dwindling, aging audiences served by an equally dwindling population of nomadic professionals.

There's no doubt that many of Mike's points resonate deeply with me. I don't think there's a single professional working in theatre that isn't concerned about the imminent fate of the industry. But there are also discussions happening here on the Web that remind me that, like most things, this is a complex situation with many possible perspectives.

Check out this theatre blogger from the DC area who a while back posted a long response to Daisey's piece. The response is itself well worth reading, but if you scroll down the comment list for a bit, you'll find a long comment from a poster named "Philip", who claims to have worked in the industry for over 40 years and takes a very contrary view.

Definitely read it for yourself, but to sum up Philip's argument, he believes that it is disingenuous to accuse artists from NYC or LA who work in other locales of being less artistic, committed, or their art being less worthwhile because they don't live in the places their work is being produced. He continues to say that great art is great, irregardless of the exact connection between an artist's residence and where their art is viewed. Also, he states that many artists continually meet up and collaborate, despite a model that discourages the formation of stable companies.

First, while I hesitate to assume, I believe the fact that the poster has been working in the business for 40 years implies a certain attachment to how professional theatre 'has always been done.' But secondly, his arguments are well-reasoned and worth listening to. I know very well that my own ambitions don't include migrating to LA or NYC in order to make a name for myself so I can work all over the country, but for many young people in the industry, that may be EXACTLY their dream, and not just because of the notion that they 'have to.' Who would I be to belittle that? For another example, we have a venue here on the North Coast that regularly hosts touring shows, and due to knowing the technical director of the company, I've had plenty of opportunities to see these shows both backstage and in the audience. It's certainly not the lifestyle I'd chose for myself, and while quality and spirit varies, I've seen many good shows where the performers and crew are giving everything they can, which is too much for me to discount their work as lesser because it isn't local. It's just different.

The point I'm steering towards here is that I believe it may be a mistake to reduce the issues currently facing theatre to a simple dichotomy of a 'local vs. nomadic' mode of production. I'd like to believe that theatre is expansive enough to warmly encompass both, for the special gifts that both offer. And that the failure of vision occurs when the dominant belief is that one way is the 'only' or 'right' way to produce theatre.

The long history of the profession, in the West and otherwise, seems to show me this as true. James Burbage built the theater whose timbers became the Globe in his community of Shoreditch at the same time minstrels and troupes of players wandered all of Europe. Let those who want to wander, wander. And let those who want to share their gifts with the community they call home do so. A truly sustainable theatre should be able to sustain both.

Also, I'd like to offer these final words that Philip shared:

In conclusion, I have been in this business, man and boy, for over 40 years and all during that time various individuals have decried the imminent demise of theater, it’s mediocrity and its corporatization. I am glad for everyone of those prognosticators of doom, for they shake the tree and keep us awake to the pitfalls inherent in the juxtaposition of art and income.

I am immensely fond of this statement. Amongst other things, it reminds me that theatre has almost always been a profession that has suffered, been marginalized, threatened with extinction, yet we're still here. We're impossible to get rid of.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Aha! - Mo'olelo's GREEN Guidelines

Here's an interesting story about the Mo'olelo Performing Arts Company, based out of San Diego, and their GREEN Theatre Categories & Sustainable Guidelines that they first developed and adopted back in 2007. Some of their new practices are quite innovative, others more basic and really just common sense now-adays (like having plenty of recycling bins available.) But what I think is of particular interest here is that Mo'olelo adopted a clear and systematic approach to these issues. They've committed to their new practices in writing and treated their company as a whole organism, paying specific and organized attention to every aspect of their resource consumption. This is significantly different from a more haphazard and piecemeal implementation of ecologically-friendly practices. In the latter, not only is progress hampered by potentially missing opportunities for improvement that would be caught by a more detailed analysis, but there's also the very real possibility of backsliding, due to new practices being implemented informally by individuals without total buy-in from the complete company.

Also of note, Mo'olelo was able to develop these guidelines with help from a grant offered by TCG's Aha! Project, which offers grants to member theaters to develop and then implement innovations in theatre production. The blog for this program is worth checking out just for the exposure to some new and exciting ideas.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

More Links

I've added some links to the site, these ones with more of a socio-economic bent to them.

First of all, there's a link to the Theatre Communications Group, the 800 lb. gorilla when it comes to organizations working with the regional theatre scene. The amount of research they have compiled over the years is truly enormous, and they were an immensely helpful resource to me while writing my thesis. Since my last post was examining different perspectives on the current environment of regional theatre, I thought I'd also throw this link up to a fairly short but meaty article that TCG produced. It's a few years old at this point, but it's still full of interesting tidbits.

Moving on, there are some sites dealing with theatre at a smaller scale than the regional houses. There's the Community Arts Network, which is just about the best web resource available on the burgeoning field of community-based arts. It's purview includes all of the arts, but theatre still features prominently on the site. Also there's this blog for the Less than 100k Project, started by Scott Walters and intended to gather and implement strategies on creating successuful and sustainable arts organizations and theatre companies in non-metropolitan areas. This is a subject particularly dear to me, and Scott already has quite a few exciting ideas floating around his site, and there promise to be many more. Definitely check it out.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Just How 'Regional' is Regional Theatre Anyway?

Since yesterday I threw up some links related to the ecological side of theatre production, today I thought I'd discuss some articles and sources dealing with socio-economic issues.

First, there's this article, The Empty Spaces written by Mike Daisey (who also turned the same article into a one-man show entitled How Theater Failed America.) Warning: while it makes many sound and searingly insightful points, Mike doesn't pull any punches in his discourse, and the picture he paints of theatre in the USA is exceptionally bleak. It's a must-read, but not when you're trying to savor your good mood. While the whole article is worthy of discussion, there is this particular section I wanted to cite:

The institutions that form the backbone of Seattle theater—Seattle Rep, Intiman, ACT—are regional theaters. The movement that gave birth to them tried to establish theaters around the country to house repertory companies of artists, giving them job security, an honorable wage, and health insurance. In return, the theaters would receive the continuity of their work year after year—the building blocks of community. The regional theater movement tried to create great work and make a vibrant American theater tradition flourish.

That dream is dead. The theaters endure, but the repertory companies they stood for have been long disbanded. When regional theaters need artists today, they outsource: They ship the actors, designers, and directors in from New York and slam them together to make the show. To use a sports analogy, theaters have gone from a local league with players you knew intimately to a different lineup for every game, made of players you'll never see again, coached by a stranger, on a field you have no connection to.

The trends that Mike Daisey refers to are worrisome, and have been cause for concern for most theatre professionals to one degree or another. One of the great promises of the regional theatre movement was, as Mike alludes to above, the possibility for artists to work where they live, in their own communities, instead of being forced to migrate to New York in order to make a name for themselves and then wait to be shipped out on their next contract (or abandon their theatrical ambitions and jump ship to LA...) I believe that there is something visceral about this issue. I know for myself, I have little desire to live and work out of New York or LA, and there is something deeply depressing about the thought that the only avenue to having a stable career in an established community may end up being a job in higher education.

At the same time, it is important to note that even Mike allows that there are legitmate reasons for these trends. Artistic directors and other administrators of regional theaters constantly struggle to keep the doors open by whatever means possible, and at the elevated level of the regional theaters, competition over limited funding is ferociously intense. There is this article from the New York Times (which references Mike Daisey's work and examines many of the same issues) where the artistic director of the Guthrie was quoted as saying that in the world of regional theatre, "You either grow or you die." I don't reference this source as a justification, rather just an argument that these conditions are systemic in nature, and not simply due to 'short-sighted and corrupt' regional administrators we can shake our fists at.

Well, I don't want to dwell in just doom and gloom. In the last few years, there has been a resurgence of interest in the bioregionalist movement, localized economies, and community building, and this has also been reflected in theatre. For an example, there is this very recent piece by David Dower that takes a more cautiously optimistic view of regional theatre and it's future than Daisey. Theatre, like any sub-section of human society, is an incredibly diverse and complex ecosystem unto itself, full of often contradictory attributes and trends. It's tempting to formulate simple opinons and answers, but intricate issues require equally intricate and nuanced analysis.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Hello again! So I've added quite a few new things over the last 24 hours. First, be sure to check out the Links section I've added underneath the Blog History. The links found there are all sites well worth visiting. And if you have links to suggest, please do! Secondly, given that the full text of my thesis runs about 90 pages, you might not think that's exactly 'light' reading. So if you're interested in just a quick rundown on what it's about before you go any further, I've added the thesis abstract as its own PDF file to the Thesis Documents section. I've also added a consolidated version of Chapters 2 and 6 to this section. This short version only runs about 20 pages, but includes all of the truly sailient points of the piece. Oh, I've also updated the About the Author section. And while it doesn't offer much beyond what you'll find here, it's worth mentioning that I've created a Facebook page for this site in order to increase networking. Check it out if you have a moment. That's all for now, although with the time I have available this week, look for some more posts in the very near future. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

New Links

So I thought it'd be a great time to list some links to some prominent people and organizations that have been working on much of the same research my thesis has been focused around:

First, the Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts. This is a newly formed organization that is apparently quite active in training, research, and archiving on ecologically sustainable practices in the arts. They have a great list of links to related sites, and is a substantial information web-hub on the subject.

Second, here's a fellow writing a book on the subject of ecologically-friendly production techniques. He's accumulated a truly impressive collection of research, all worth checking out (for example, this bit on London theatre.)

Thirdly, the Green Theater Initiative is another information web-hub, this one based out of New York.

Finally, here is a link for the newly-created Earth Matters On Stage festival at U of Oregon, Eugene. While the festival places much of it's focus on ecodrama and the presence of ecological issues in playwrighting, it also includes discussion of eco-friendly production.

Obviously, the focus of the above organizations and writers is on ecological issues, but bearing that in mind all of these websites are replete with useful contacts and resources. It's also worth noting two thoughts that occured to me:

First, that without exception, none of these sites were launched later than 2007 (most actually 2008.) Ecologically sustainable production is an idea quickly growing in credit and appeal amongst the larger theatre community. These issues are, mirroring the attention paid to ecological concerns in broader society, swiftly becoming mainstream.

Second, while more and more theaters are doing what they can to improve their own ecological footprint, they often do so while being isolated and unaware of what others theaters have done or are doing across the nation and the world. Many of the above websites state that one of the most notable reasons for their inception was to address this breakdown in communication and informational awareness. This is exceedingly important. Sound decision-making only happens when accompanied by sound informational awareness. And for theatre companies hesitating to implement what may seem like drastic and uncertain changes, they may find their minds set at ease and their path smoothed by learning about what other companies are doing.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Well! It's been a while, hasn't it? The last year has seen a lot of ups and downs, but it's also seen the completion of my thesis. I'm putting up a link to a Wordpress host (since Blogger seems to have issues with PDFs), and the full, beautiful text can be viewed here. Whew! It's a relief to have this done and able to see the light of day. But it's a project that's far from over. Any of the many topics I've touched on in this work could easily have an entire book devoted to them. New solutions emerge through discussion and the accumulation of knowledge, and I plan to use this blog as a collection of thoughts and writing that may be of interest. So feel free to read it (just bits or the whole thing if you have the time), discuss it, and most of all, share your knowledge and experiences here.