Photo via Democracy in America
A couple weeks back the British Council hosted the Greening the Arts program in New York City. Leaders in the theater, music, and art worlds were all in attendance. And while there were big events and high-profile talks, I was invited to attend one of the less publicized events: a meeting between Ben Todd, the executive director of the world's first carbon neutral theater, the Arcola in London, and Steve Warnick and Vallejo Gantner, the executive director and artistic director respectively, of New York City's renowned Performance Space 122.
PS 122 is slated to undergo a $21 million renovation project, and the meeting was arranged to help the landmark theater take a cue or two from the Arcola—and go green as possible in its new form. In doing so, it could set an example for greening theaters worldwide.
A Formidable, Sustainable Project
Warnick and Gantner have a huge task ahead of them: the building became a theater in the 70s, and was built decades before that—as Gantner said at one point, "I don't think there is a fire code with which we comply."
And the theater is aiming for LEED platinum status. But that's why the meeting was arranged—to hash out new ideas. Architects from both projects were also in attendance, and the meeting seemed to spawn some positive ideas in steering theater building practices towards more sustainable waters. Though no concrete decisions were made, the meeting was an eye-opening introduction to what it takes to create, maintain, and promote a successful theater—and how to do all of it greenly.
The Future of Green Theater
Ben Todd had some intriguing ideas: he borrowed a hydrogen fuel cell from London's mayor, and not only used it to sustainably power his theater, but included it as part of the backdrop on the stage. This served both to promote the new technology, and position his productions and theater toward the cutting edge of progressive thought.
They discussed properly insulating the buildings, waterproofing correctly, and increasing energy efficiency. Todd talked of composting toilets and drafting strips. They talked about the increasing demand for equipment that supports new media—much of the art world is making use of it now. Gantner and Warnick seemed genuinely interested in absorbing sustainable concepts and new ideas, though no distinct initiatives were drawn up.
But most of all, they agreed on one thing—the need to promote a vision of the future that artists and audiences alike would be able to respond to and respect. And in making the theaters visibly sustainable, that future feels closer at hand.