The play is over. The performances went really well and I’m very proud of all the students involved. The day after the last performance we had strike. We took down the entire set in less than five hours. Unfortunately, it goes faster the more you throw away. Taking things apart and storing them takes more time, more effort. Of course, I would happily take that time and effort except I don’t have storage space. The set looked like this:
The dumpsters at the end of strike looked like this:
A lot of materials went to a trash dump at the end of the day. And yes, I feel badly about it. I hope that thinking about the environmental impact through this process will mean that future shows will end up with less in the trash.
The setting we are using for Much Ado About Nothing is an Italian stone villa. There are many ways to create stone on stage. What we decided to do was use vacuform plastic. It allows for a 3D look without having to create each stone by hand. The kind we ordered is made from high impact polystyrene. That is the same substance used in foam cups and everyone should be aware that they are not good for the environment. It is also likely on the side of your house or your neighbor’s. It also may be the insulation in your walls. This is what the Environmental Defense Fund thinks of it: carcinogenic.
Plastic is an environmental problem. It was made by man and does not occur in nature. It doesn’t break down. It was made to be durable, to last, and not break down. The technology exists to recycle it, but the recycling process like the manufacturing process isn’t very environmentally friendly. Many cities won’t allow all plastics in their recycling bins. Unfortunately, most of the replacement products have drawbacks. Plastic is useful. It is easy for a company to heat it, soften it, and create the illusion of stone. That is much easier than me and my carpenters cutting individual stones from wood. And the other option is foam, which basically made of the same plastic.
The building of Much Ado About Nothing has been coming along. After reviewing the platforms that we own, I decided to use as many as possible. What that meant was that we cut them down to the size that we wanted. I was feeling better about not building the entire show from scratch. Then it occurred to me that because the platforms that we are making are not rectangular, after the show they will be thrown out. Right angles allow for easy joints so anything without right angles isn’t worth the storage space. I may be reusing old platforms. But they are going to end up in a landfill anyway.
We did have to build some of the platforms from scratch. I ordered lumber twice, but it was a relatively small amount. I ordered 23 sheets of 4 foot by 8 foot plywood, made of fir. I also ordered 25 sticks of 8 foot long 2×4, made of pine and 10 sheets of 4 foot by 8 foot luan, which is typically a tropical hardwood.
I would like to say that lumber is a renewable resource. That it is made with sun and soil. But the truth is that forests are being cut down faster than they are growing. And the truth is that even with no mistakes made in building, and even if the show was entirely made of rectangles, there is always excess after cutting. Small pieces of wood build up. Eventually the bin for pieces less than 2 feet gets full and those small pieces are thrown out. And that’s in a perfect world. Instead I can’t store all of the scrap even when it’s not that small.
As an industry, set design has not historically been very environmentally friendly. It’s been built on the principle of using wood to build things that will be used for a very limited period of time and then probably thrown away. Storage space and expense is always a problem, no matter where you are, and especially in cities which is where theater has usually flourished. It is certainly not the priority at a school, such as the high school where I work. I have one room, one hallway and one closet. The room is storage and a wood shop, the hallway is for lighting equipment, and the closet is for paint since it has a paint sink. Below is a picture of what I currently have to work with.
I have 12 flats (as in wall units), 16 platforms, 14 chairs, 7 stools and 3 tables. All made entirely of wood, screws and nails. I also have about 25 sheets of wood and 70 sticks of wood.
I designed a set for Much Ado About Nothing with no thought to what I have. (Something I hope to change in the future.) That doesn’t mean that I can’t use any of it. In fact, I’m going to do my best to buy as little new wood as possible. We kill enough trees with the amount of paper from scripts and set plans and notes.
There are people out there who make theater with a lot of thought to their environmental impact. Look at this list of topics that was at the World Stage Design conference this year: WSD2013
It’s been a while since I’ve written a post. But I haven’t forgotten. I have been thinking and reading as always. I’m currently in the middle of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. It’s a seminal book and I had never read it. It is amazingly thorough and I am learning a lot about the complexities of ecology. I am also finding it thoroughly depressing. It is only in the last six months or so that I have been really learning and thinking about environmental issues. I have been reading a lot of blogs, news reports and books. I have tried to notice every time I do something that impacts the environment. The result is that I am overwhelmed. I am overwhelmed by the amount of problems. I am overwhelmed by the idea that anything I can do will not be enough. But I haven’t decided that I am not going to let it defeat me. I am going to do two things.
The first is more immediate. I am going to go with the idea that what I do can make a difference. I am currently the technical director at a high school. For the fall play we are doing Much Ado About Nothing. I am the set designer, lighting designer and technical director (with help with a large group of students). I have decided to keep track of the materials as specifically as I can without going too far out of my way. I am going to write several blog posts as I go about it, so I will leave the details to later.
The second thing I am going to do is keep searching for a career that helps the Earth. I get busy with my current job and reading and writing this blog and a million other things that I do every day. But I do want to make a difference and I have to figure out how to build a life that involves doing that.
This is my second post about my trip to Germany. I went with my family and we rented an apartment. It was wonderful to have our own kitchen (unlike in a hotel) and it meant that I felt more like part of the regular life of Germany. This includes small things that they do to lesson their environmental impact. Things I think the U.S., or at least Boston, could learn from. On the very first day, my family ran across an example of this in the supermarket. In grocery stores, nobody bags your items. In fact, there are no bags except the flimsy plastic kind for produce. Paper or plastic isn’t a question. You better have your own bag, or of course you buy a reusable one. This extends to other types of shopping. In the U.S. when you buy something the cashier generally puts it right into a bag. Not in Germany. If it seems likely you need one, they ask.
There was also curbside pickup of compost, which does exist in some places in the U.S., but not where I live. The recycling was also split up curbside into plastic, paper and glass. I even saw glass bins that split up clear from colored glass.
I wanted to talk briefly about bicycling. There were bikes everywhere and no one in the cities where helmets. The only helmets I saw were on people on good road bikes going on obviously long rides in the country. Part of it is must be that they are simply not afraid of being hit by cars. This is clearly true in pedestrian zones (that mostly include bikes) and also the bike lane system is phenomenal. In Austria, most of the bike lanes weren’t even part of the car lane. They were more attached to the sidewalk. Believe me when I saw the bike lanes (or lack thereof) and the drivers in Cambridge mean I’m always going to be wearing a helmet.
I just came back from two weeks in Europe. It was the first time I was there while keenly aware of renewable energy and our environmental impact. I spent a majority of the time in Germany and was very impressed with what I saw. I drove through most of Bavaria (or Bayern). Almost every town, no matter how small, had at least one house or barn with solar panels on its roof. Driving along the autobahn I saw several solar panel farms. I did not go out of my way and yet I saw solar energy everywhere. If a roof wasn’t at a good angle, the solar panels were tilted on top of the roof. You can see examples in the pictures below. Even as I was working on creating this post, I came across an article on Treehugger (one of my favorite sites) about Germany’s solar power. Their pictures are of better quality and look like what I saw while I was there. I was very glad to know that what I saw was being used.
One of the things I want to do with my blog is help the average person (if there is such a thing) know how to be more eco-friendly and energy efficient. Not everyone wants to go out of their way, but there are still small things we can do. There are also bigger things we can do, especially if we own a home. I do not – I’m a renter with no control over the fact that my windows don’t always shut properly. My parents do own a home. They have recently decided to make some changes and I think they are worth sharing.
The first thing they did was put solar panels on their roof. It was something they had thought about because of the established technology that gives clean, efficient energy. However, they had found out that it cost $40,000 to put them on. A friend of theirs got some help and put them on for half that, but it was still too much. Then Vivint Solar came to their door with a proposal which they accepted. Two of their friends who lived in the area (including an engineer who looked at the schematics) had already had the solar panel installed. The basis for the deal is that Vivint Solar is ‘renting the roof’, and so there is no upfront cost. My parents get a percentage of the electricity generate by the solar panels and the rest Vivint Solar sells to NStar (or whatever energy company who is the energy provider). Their bill to Vivint Solar fluctuates based on the amount generated and the amount used but has been about $60-80. Their electric bill used to be about $200/month. This summer they have been paying nothing or a few dollars to NStar. They expect to pay more in the winter, but it should still be about half of what they were paying before. It seems like a good deal economically as well as environmentally.
Their next step is changing their heating and cooling system so that they are much less dependent on oil. This proposal came from Next Step Living. My parents knew nothing about this, but are interested in helping the environment and this proposal also came with no upfront costs. Two of their friends also have this technology in their homes. It is a Total Climate Control system made by Fujitsu that works with condensers outside of the house. Each room gets a heating and cooling unit or a vent in the ceiling from a unit in the attic, each of which has an individual thermostat. The oil system stays in place because the system doesn’t work when the temperature gets too cold (as in -5 degrees Fahrenheit). Before it is installed an energy audit is required. My parents had Next Step Living do it. They were given a list of suggestions and free energy efficient lightbulbs. They are only paying $500 of the cost of implementing the suggestions. In terms of the money, Next Step Living works with Commerce Bank, NStar and MassSave, and my parents are securing a zero interest loan of about $23,000. It will take them about 7 years to repay after which they will own the system and not have to pay. It means that instead of paying $340/month for oil, they will pay whatever small amount they use when it gets really cold in the winter and $274/month to repay the loan for those 7 years.
I just spend a week on Cape Cod. It is possibly my favorite place on Earth. I have visited the town of Wellfleet every year since the day I was born. It is remarkable in that there are many fresh water kettle ponds very close to the ocean. In the middle of the 90 degree days, a swim in a pond was perfect. Then I would spend the early evening in the beach. As beautiful and relaxing as it was, I didn’t stop thinking about the environment, carbon or sea level rise.Newcomb Hollow Beach, our family’s favorite, had changed dramatically in one year, although it had actually gotten wider. At the same time, I could see erosion of the dunes. Two recent hurricanes had definitely made an impact.
I enjoy taking pictures, especially while walking on the beach. What I don’t enjoy is seeing litter on the beaches. There were also a lot of signs trying to make sure that people were respectful to the environment. I’m glad that someone cares but also disappointed that the signs were necessary.
I think that everyone knows that to be environmentally conscious we should use reusable bags when we go to the grocery store. I would like to say that this is what I do. The truth is that most of the time I stop by the grocery store on the way home from somewhere else and didn’t put a reusable bag in my car. That means that I am confronted with the question at the checkout: paper or plastic? Today I chose paper. And then I decided to do research. It turns out that more energy goes into the making of and the recycling of paper bags, so plastic is the more energy efficient choice. This was not the answer I was expecting to find. There are negatives to plastic bags, including the well-known fact that the plastic almost never breaks down and can injure wildlife if it becomes litter.