The Great White (Green) Way

Broadway is about to undergo a major green initiative that will recycle Playbills and install energy-efficient LED lighting.

It takes a special type of person to walk past the bright lights of the theater district and think, “man, that’s pretty wasteful.” You may or may not be that type of person, but your author definitely is. I also have never really been able to suspend disbelief on the “singing when you should be talking” thing that kind of defines musicals, so it’s probably not that surprising that I see a big, dumb carbon footprint where I’m supposed to be seeing Broadway’s good-timey glitz. While I may never learn to stop worrying and love Crybaby, The Broadway League – a group representing the theater owners and producers footing the bill for said glitz – are preparing to ensure that the Great White Way is about to get a bit greener. Yes, Broadway, a national institution based on all-singing, all-dancing spectacle, is turning its attention to the notably less glamorous topics of recycling Playbills and lighting marquees with LED bulbs.

As with so many green-oriented improvements in New York, this one was spurred by Mayor Bloomberg’s office, which approached the League about becoming more energy efficient back in March of 2008. In the wake of an economic downturn that has put a serious dent in Broadway’s profits – three hugely successful shows will be closing in January – the prospect of swapping out some bulbs in the interest of shrinking energy bills and getting some good, civic-minded pub looked pretty good.

And that, in short, is how a woman wearing full green makeup and a witch costume – it’s this woman, who’s currently playing Elphaba in the long-running musical Wicked – came to introduce Mayor Bloomberg at a press conference last Tuesday, announcing Broadway Goes Green. The initiative, a partnership between the Broadway League and Bloomberg’s PlanNYC program, aims to cut waste, energy and otherwise, at all of Broadway’s big theaters.

“Ten theaters already have replaced some 10,000 bulbs with more energy-efficient ones,” Crain’s reports. “And within the next 12 months, all of Broadway’s theaters will have made the switch.” Jennifer Hershey, director of operations at Jujamycn Theaters and the head of the Broadway League’s building committee, told the New York Times that the St. James Theater had already swapped out 600 25-watt incandescent bulbs for five-watt compact fluorescent bulbs.

Theater owners should see obvious and fairly rapid returns on those investments, but it’s less clear whether individual producers – who already take on huge risks putting on shows, and might be disinclined to, say, buy idling-tour-bus-offsetting carbon credits as part of the Touring Green program – will be as keen to go green. Still, a little less excess and a crapload of new lightbulbs look like a good start. It’ll still strike your author as weird when people start belting out songs when they should be having serious conversations, but the economics of Broadway Goes Green, at least, seem to make a lot of sense.

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2 Responses to The Great White (Green) Way

  1. jeff Friday, December 5, 2008 at 12:30 pm #

    as a musician who subs in many broadway show pit orchestras, the lack of recycling has been mind boggling to me.

    a large amount of paper, metal and plastic is generated by actors, musicians and stage hands when consuming food, reading newspapers, etc. i’m surprised that the same city requirement that residential buildings recycle these materials does not apply to businesses – if it does, it is being completely ignored. there are no sorting bins anywhere to be found. if a sorting/pick up system was in place, i would hope people working in the theaters would participate in it.

    however, some education may be necessary. for example, some shows are big on celebrating people’s birthdays, and will have cake for them at intermission. i have started washing and returning my plastic fork, but no one else really seems to think it’s important to do that.

    i am concerned that most of plannyc’s proposals that this is greenwashing – replacing bulbs is only a start. i hope it is a start that will turn into a comprehesive program that will reduce the large amount of waste on broadway.

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