Students Promote Sustainability in Theatre

From Sets to Costumes to Paperwork, a Spotlight on Reducing Waste

March 05, 2013

Repertory Theatre Term 2013
Above, student Avery Wigglesworth rehearses a scene at a riverbank made from a large canvas curtain -- one of many recycled or reusable items in the set for The Caucasian Chalk Circle that emphasized sustainability in both design and production.

From sets to costumes to paperwork, the Knox College production of Bertolt Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle is shining a spotlight on reducing waste and promoting sustainability -- in theatrical production as well as the larger community.

Repertory Theatre Term 2013Students in Repertory Theatre Term with tote bags they made from recycled t-shirts.

A long-standing commitment to thrift means that Knox College theatre was already practicing much of what it's preaching in The Caucasian Chalk Circle. Lumber and hardware are reused for years. Costumes are assembled from pieces of other people's cast-offs.

This year, students raised the emphasis on sustainability to a new level by methodically examining every aspect of the production, down to paperwork.

"With all those scripts and programs we have to print, it's hard claim sustainability as a tenet of our philosophy when we use so much paper," said Samantha Auch, chair of the publicity team, in her blog report on activities in Knox's Repertory Theatre Term. The Caucasian Chalk Circle is one of two plays produced in the ten-week-long "total-immersion" theatre course.

Students explained that all items in The Caucasian Chalk Circle were reused from past shows, purchased from second hand/vintage shops, or created with the intention of being used again. "Living sustainably is hard," the students explained in the printed program for The Caucasian Chalk Circle. "The best we can do is be conscious of our environment and try to change habits that might be harmful to the world around us -- to the best of our feasible and monetary abilities."

Repertory Theatre Term 2013Director Jeff Grace (right) meets with cast and crew members on the set of The Caucasian Chalk Circle.

At the outset of Repertory Theatre Term in January, along with crews for sets, costumes and other aspects of the production, the students created a Sustainability Crew -- a first for the Knox theatre department. Students in the crew included Auch, Mya Kahler, Alyssa Gill, John Bird, Emily Passarelli, and Jacob Schneider.

"Themes in The Caucasian Chalk Circle center around compassion, justice and taking care of the land we have," the students wrote in their program notes. "Director Jeff Grace has taken these themes and connected them fluidly to sustainability."

Students on the Sustainability Crew met throughout the term to develop ideas and projects. Among their initiatives, the costume shop sewed tote bags from old t-shirts, students posted light-hearted videos promoting sustainability on YouTube, and encouraged each other "to be more sustainable in their everyday lives, whether this means remembering to turn off lights in the Green Room [backstage area] or not printing out class readings if possible."

Our hope is that this dedication to sustainability continues past Rep Term XVI and can be incorporated into all of our practices as a theatre department. It will be a long journey, but a necessary and ultimately rewarding one. Because, as Brecht reminds us in The Caucasian Chalk Circle, "What there is shall belong to those who are good for it."


Below, more photos highlighting sustainability in class materials and the use of existing and re-usable items in The Caucasian Chalk Circle, a mask in The Green Bird that was first used in the 1990s, and tote bags made from old t-shirts by students in the costume shop and given out at performances.