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Going Green Eight Shows a Week

July 1, 2009 - Broadway is going green, and two shows are leading the way in the effort.

It all started when Wicked producer David Stone watched An Inconvenient Truth a few years ago and found himself inspired. He proposed a challenge to the cast and crew of Wicked: be green, but in a very different way from the show’s green-skinned main character Elphaba - who later becomes known as the Wicked Witch of the West by the time Dorothy arrives in Oz.

For eighteen months, the production took a hard look at every aspect of production and thought up new ways to save energy and be conscious of its carbon footprint. They switched to rechargeable batteries in the mic packs and amplifiers, thus saving hundreds of batteries every month. They make sure to only print day-of cast changes for Playbill when they’re needed, and instead of multiple inserts printed on multiple pieces of papers, they print it all on one sheet. When the fifth anniversary CD came out last year, it was released in a recycled paper case instead of the typical plastic.

In the show, Elphaba leads the charge for animal rights. “We really think that if Elphaba was around today, she’d be trying to save the planet,” said Susan Sampliner, Wicked's company manager and co-chair of the Broadway Green Alliance, which grew out of Wicked's efforts.

Launched in the fall, the Alliance looks to have every Broadway production replicate Wicked's model and think up new ways to be green. Sub-committees have been established that pay special attention to each aspect of production: pre-production, to get shows thinking about building and disposing of their sets in a more environmentally friendly way; production, which takes a look at everything happening backstage like paper use and the amount of perishable items; venue, which works to install energy efficient lights in the theatres; education and outreach, to look for ways to engage fans in the movement; and touring, which works with the numerous touring companies throughout the country on ways they can be green on the road.

Eight shows closed on Broadway in January, said Sampliner, and “ninety-four percent of the sets were reused or recycled.” The Alliance has also worked with the Tonys this year, ensuring that Playbills at the ceremony were printed on recycled paper.

9 to 5, based on the 1980 workplace comedy with new songs by Dolly Parton, is one of the first major musicals to open since the green initiative was launched so from the very beginning, the production took its responsibility seriously to do everything it could to create a ‘green’ show.

On the very first day of rehearsals, the cast and crew were given aluminum water bottles that they could fill with filtered tap water instead of using wasteful plastic bottles. Even within the show itself, every effort is being made to keep things green. In one scene, copier paper comes flying out of the machine on comedic cue. Since the paper, which is made from 100% recycled paper, can only be used in the machine once to prevent it from jamming, the pieces end up backstage as scrap paper so that nothing is wasted. Click here to read more about how 9 to 5 is going green.  

Even the ghost light is now green. A long-held tradition in the theatre is to leave one light lit in the middle of the stage all night to ward off unfriendly spirits and, for more practical reasons, to keep anyone who happens to venture onstage from falling off in the dark. Wicked made sure to maintain the tradition by switching to an energy efficient bulb. “It has to stay on,” said Sampliner.

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