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College of Arts schools 'thinking green'

September 12, 2008

When Kimberly Marshall, director of the ASU Herberger College School of Music, attended the grand opening of ASU's Global Institute of Sustainability in May, she came away fired up to "go green."

"I was so inspired. I thought, 'How can the School of Music get on board?',” she said

Turns out Marshall wasn't the only one thinking in those terms.

Others in the School of Music and in the School of Theatre and Film already had ideas and were talking about what the schools could do to save resources – and funds.

One of the first topics of discussion in the School of Music was programs.

What if information about performances were projected in the concert halls and posted in the lobbies? Would audience members mind? What would they do without programs to read and shuffle?

Bill Symington, technical director for the School of Music’s Lyric Opera Theatre, went to Marshall with an idea for how to project information in Katzin Concert Hall, Recital Hall and the Evelyn Smith Music Theatre. (ASU Gammage, where the school's larger ensembles perform, doesn't currently have the necessary projection equipment.)

"We throw out 8,000 programs a year that never get used," Symington said. "Occasionally, someone will keep one for a scrapbook, but people take them home and put them in the trash. I just thought there must be a more environmentally responsible way to get the audience information.”

Marshall and Gary Hill, director of bands, estimated that over the course of a year, the School of Music uses a minimum of 500,000 sheets of paper for programs for its 650 events in all its concert halls. At, say, $4 per ream of paper, that’s a savings of at least $40,000.

Marshall said having concert information projected on screens "will enhance the musical experience in many ways. It will help people follow the program and they won't be dropping them on the floor."

There are still issues to be worked out, such as how long composition titles should be displayed on the screen, whether the various movements of long works should be listed, and how to deal with copyright issues for some pieces.

But audiences will not be uninformed, Hill asserted. "We want people to have information. We are an educational institution," he said.

Shortly after she arrived at ASU in 2004, Linda Essig, director of the School of Theatre and Film, began thinking of ways to be more sustainable. A lighting design  expert, she investigated the possibility of a lighting upgrade for the theatrical performances, but "the energy cost payback period was too long at that time to garner university interest in supporting the initiative," she said.

Now, the school is seeking $140,000 to replace the current lighting with more energy-efficient fixtures. "By doing so, we can reduce our energy consumption for stage lighting by as much as 40 percent," Essig said.

At an early staff meeting last fall, Lance Gharavi, assistant theatre professor, got the ball rolling by suggesting that the school look at ways they can model sustainable practices, especially in their production practices.

It has taken a year, but the school now has its "Go Green" campaign in place.

"The list evolved over the course of several staff meetings about our production practices, and it will continue to evolve as we find additional means to reduce our environmental impact,” Essig said.

The campaign list includes recycling steel, re-using old paint, minimizing the use of volatile organic compounds, exchanging materials with other organizations through, recycling costumes and donating fabric scraps to charity, all of which already are happening.

"The scene shop sells its unusable scrap steel to scrap yards to be smelted down and reused," said Christopher Tubilewicz, scene shop supervisor. "Not only does this help the environment by reusing the material instead of sending it to a landfill, it also helps recoup some of the cost of these materials."

The scene shop also maximizes resources by mixing old show paints to create the colors needed as opposed to buying everything new for each show. "Because latex paint and scenic paint rot, we add vinegar to the paint to kill the bacteria that causes the paint to rot. This practice enables us to discard far less latex paint waste," Tubilewicz said.

The school's future environmental goals include some small steps and some that are more ambitious. The smaller steps include switching from latex paint to more ecologically friendly (and more expensive) paint products in the scene and prop shops, and replacing traditional hair coloring and styling products that contain heavy metals with plant-based products.

According to Essig, one of the biggest goals is to use electronic book readers or tablets in the play development process. "The Festival of New Work consumes thousands of sheets of paper each year as plays go through the process of readings, workshop and production. New technology in light-weight tablets could reduce our paper consumption significantly and really could have impact on the way new work is developed," she explained.

Lyric Opera Theatre also is applying these “green” principles in its scene and costume shop, Symington said. "We're using more eco-friendly paint in our shops, more steel in our sets and trying to promote recycling materials as much as possible. We're doing it."