From carbon dioxide sensors in Ruth N. Halls Theatre that help adjust energy use based on audience numbers, to reducing theatre set wood waste by using screws rather than glue and nails, IU Bloomington freshman Olivia Ranseen is trying to bring sustainability from backstage to center stage at IU Theatre.
As a member of IU Office of Sustainability and IU Integrated Program in the Environment’s inaugural class of 2020 Sustainability Scholars, the former high school musical theatre performer from Brentwood, Tenn., has found a new voice in looking at human behaviors in every aspect of theatre production – from auditions to set teardowns – and then identifying sustainability opportunities.
Gone are the purchases of up to 750 alkaline batteries each year needed for the theatre transmitters that power microphones – rechargeables do the job just as well, saving money and reducing the waste stream.
With the installation of carbon dioxide and occupancy sensors in both Ruth Halls Theatre and Wells-Metz Theatre the university’s building automation system is working at new levels of efficiency by providing the optimum environment to patrons based on actual occupancy.
And while an analysis of wood salvaged for reuse after the February production of Macbeth amounted to a low 38 percent reuse rate, the April production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is expected to be higher due to a greater use of screws in set-building compared to the loads of glue, staples and nails used in the Macbeth set.
“Those in theatre typically apply short-term, single production goals and objectives, which means reuse is minimal in regards to scenery pieces, wood, and other products,” said Paul Brunner, an associate professor of theatre technology and Ranseen’s 2020 Sustainability Scholar mentor. “A few materials, like paint, are tightly conserved in order to save resources, but this is irregular and not systematic. The theatre consists of much more than just the stage and scenic studio; it has administrative and academic components as well which grapple with different environmental challenges.”
Brunner is no stranger to “green” theatre. His 1999 graduate thesis at University of Wisconsin-Madison was on the topic of sustainable design and production and he’s since presented at conferences, published research and contributed to the first text book on greener production approaches for theatre.
“With Olivia, IU Theatre is developing a research project to study more intimate aspects of theatre production,” he said. “She has a particular interest in electricity conservation, but she’s already performed preliminary study on scenic paints, scenery wastes, wood recycling options, battery use, recycling programs, and other more broad issues in IU’s theatre productions.”
He described Ranseen as “incredibly organized and driven,” adding that he’d been “thoroughly impressed with her work, determination and maturity.”
Andrew Lowry, assistant director for building systems at IU Facility Operations gave Ranseen an introduction to common strategies used in building automation system and then a real-time view of energy use at IU Theatre that led to a range of heating, ventilating and air conditioning recommendations and improvements.
“Olivia was extremely interested in what, if anything, Facility Operations did and we were pleased to take advantage of the opportunity to engage her curiosity and at the same time present and make known the efforts and strategies we employ in regard to effectively managing energy consumption,” Lowry said. “And she was instrumental in the installation of carbon dioxide and occupancy sensors in Ruth Halls and Wells-Metz theatres.”
A two-week study during weekday hours of computer monitor and building lighting also identified an opportunity to increase LED light use, and her research also delved into how props and sets can be better stored, made more accessible and reused for longer periods of time.
IU Theatre and Drama properties and painting supervisor Dan Tracy said the use of an image-based inventory database allows set designers to view source materials easily, while also allowing him to track usage, condition and location of materials.
“However, the use of the system is dependent upon our being able to organize and grow our stock responsibly,” he said. “We simply don’t have the space organize our stock efficiently to make the database work.”
That’s where Ranseen recognizes that real sustainability begins with behavioral changes, like bringing to the forefront the rather unglamorous problem of not having enough efficient warehouse space.
“Identifying current behaviors and habits and then developing a good model that people can follow, and in this case, throughout the entire creative process, is our ultimate goal,” Ranseen said.
She is now working on a set of sustainability policies for theatre production and next year will use a $3,000 grant from the Office of Sustainability to develop a Green Certification Program for theatre productions at not just IU, but at other universities and even professional productions. The foundation for that policy development process will be a new case study focused upon the beginning-to-end process for a single upcoming IU theatrical production.
For more information, contact:
Steve Chaplin, Research Communications Manager, IU Communications, firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul Brunner, Theatre Technology, Department of Theatre, Drama, & Contemporary Dance, email@example.com
More information about the 2020 Sustainability Scholars program and additional research projects around the Bloomington campus can be found at IU Communications’ Student Experience blog.