In the face of continuing environmental concerns, art and theatre students and faculty at the University Southern have responded by developing a series of creative endeavors aimed at encouraging conservation and efficiency at USM.
With the February production of Eurydice, the USM Theatre Department has begun paving the way towards a future of green productions at the university with efforts to reuse and recycle props, costumes and sets and a new, efficient lighting system.
Third-year theatre major, costume designer for the production, Katie Foster, said that she welcomed the experience of working with limited materials and budget because of the opportunities that it provided for her portfolio.
“The advantage of a green production is that it does highlight the skills of actors and tech designers,” said Meghan Brodie a lecturer of theatre at USM and director of Eurydice.
Foster and the other student designers involved in the production said the ability to work creatively, reconstructing and redesigning preowned and borrowed materials, allowed them to free their imaginations from the constraints of the material element. Foster herself collaborated with other local theaters to share supplies and costume items. The show prompted students to get even more creative.
As Foster explained, for her that meant exploring more than just Goodwill. “I spent a lot of time rummaging in closets,” she laughed.
Another environmentally-conscious advancement for the theatre department came last year, when Brodie and fellow assistant professor of theatre, Shannon Zura, applied for a university-funded Center for Technology Enhanced Learning grant for “green” light fixtures. After successfully applying for the grant, which Brodie found out about through a CTEL faculty newsletter, the department was awarded $10,000 which was used to install eight new LED lighting instruments.
“The department’s recent substitution of eight LED instruments saves 4,000 watts of power per hour meaning that a two hour production in our theatre saves 8,000 watts,” said Brodie. The new lights will save nearly $13.00 per two hour show. That is, if the the theater was used 50 nights out of a year, they would save over $600. Though it may seem like a small economic benefit, in addition to this, they will save more in the long run, by not having to replace lighting equipment as often, and of course, the new lights are much more environmentally friendly.
Brodie said that she wanted the new lights to end a bad habit. The university had begun replacing the oldest lighting equipment with slightly less outdated still inefficient equipment to cope with its lacking budget.
“We contended that the investment in some of the pieces needed to launch a new, energy-efficient system would enable the department to make the leap into the 21st century and demonstrate to students, audiences, and stakeholders how a relatively small investment in green technology can yield outstanding, sustainable results,” said Brodie.
Along with its new green lighting instruments, Brodie and the cast and crew of Eurydice threw out nothing after the production and used few purchased items for props and sets.
“Only one small set piece was purchased for the production,” said Brodie. “We generally recut and repainted everything, and the cast and crew helped to provide us with the props we needed.”
Brodie said one of the most important messages that could be gleaned from the green production of Eurydice is that imagination can be a more powerful transportation for audiences rather than extravagant set pieces, costumes and props. “The set and minimalist style really allowed for an imaginative interpretation,” said Brodie.
For Brodie, this is the essence of theater that she is teaching her students, with a push in the direction of environmental consciousness. “Theater is all about illusions,” she said. “The show demonstrates how with almost no budget and an eco-conscious cast and crew, we can still produce a great production.”
If her schedule permits, Brodie hopes to continue with the efforts that she started with Eurydice in a production of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando next spring.
The Environmentalism of Artistry
The theatre department at USM is not the only contributor to green initiatives at the university. USM’s Art Department has been teaching students material conscious and environmentally responsible methods for years.
Art Department Outreach Coordinator Debe Loughlin explained, “All of our students have to learn to recycle from the start, how to use materials to their best advantage, even recycling their old work for new work.”
Loughlin said it’s not only about art students conveying messages with their work, but also about being conscious of the environmental impacts of the materials that they use.
And some danger exists in practically every branch of the art department including photography, printmaking, oil painting and welding.
“It’s not just about recycling your cans here. It’s about thinking about your health and others’ and the environment. Art students have to be aware of everyone,” Loughlin said. “Here we have to be environmentally conscious from the get-go, and we have to be cost effective. It’s a good life lesson for everyone.”
Universities Lead the Way
Last year the university art program combined green and humanitarian efforts to go beyond simple recycling. This group effort, a collaborative project with the Maine College of Art and the Partners for World Health, calls for USM art students to produce an environmentally friendly fashion to premier on the Blue Wrap Project Runway.
The students use leftover, never-used surgical blue wrap to design a wearable fashion that will hit the runway at a benefit at Hannaford Hall on April 26. The profits will be used to send surgical supplies to third-world countries.
“Universities like ours need to be leading the way in solving and addressing some of these issues because we are hubs of creativity, research and education,” said Assistant Director for Sustainable Programs Tyler Kidder.
The initiatives of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences play an important part in raising awareness for environmental activism.
“It’s likely that folks didn’t even notice a difference when changes were put in place, yet we are saving heaps of energy each day with the improvements,” said Kidder.
As administrators and students like Kidder, Loughlin and Brodie show, USM community members have taken it upon themselves to prepare students for a future in which they can care for themselves and their environment. “We need to send students out into the world with a strong environmental awareness and ethical sensibility,” Kidder said, ”so that they can take care of their communities and themselves.”
It’s an effort which requires participation at all levels. As Kidder explains, “It’s not hard for a person to change, but it does take a desire to do so. ” Certainly, Brodie, Loughlin, and Kidder have this desire, and now, they’re working to instill it in others.