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What exactly makes art eco-friendly is a pretty big question that’s bounced around a lot, at this festival as well as others that are shooting for green excellence. Is it recycling sets, going paperless and rehearsing in the park? Is it simply having less onstage, approaching theatre in “the two planks and a passion” genre? We all like a Big Show every once in a while, but what happens to the intricate architecture and the disposable materials of the everyday?
While attending a workshop at a Brooklyn mainstay, I was informed by the production manager that for in-house productions, their sets were scrapped and thrown into a back-alley, where they sit between thirty-six and forty-eight hours awaiting disposal. Immediately my thoughts turned to raiding the trash heap for my own maximalist designs, but then the question becomes: “Where exactly do I put this?” Producing work in New York is a huge, never easy adventure for any art form, and for the performing arts it’s a particularly tangled web of limited space, funds and time, leading to artistic, economic and ecological challenges all at once.
Recently, legend-man Peter Brook has been on a minimalist bent: for The Suit, coat-racks became busses, windows and walls, a lone table changed space and the suit in question became a wholly expressive third body. And in his presentation of short Beckett plays at BAC, there was a chair, a bench and two large plastic bags. For someone that spent the better part of his early career throwing everything imaginable onstage, Brook’s transition to reduction as opposed to the maximal styles that first brought him to New York points to directorial poise. However, intentionally or not, something else is at work: through the removal of fixed structures, the economic, ecological challenges are similarly reduced to a manageable, compact level. Artists more local and accessible than Brook are also delivering works of stunning theatrical depth with little physical material, the most recent ones in my memory being Rhodessa Jones’ passionate production of blessing the boats: the remix at Under the Radar festival this year and a particularly clever multi-media rendition of Vaclav Havel’s The Pig, adapted to English by Edward Einhorn and directed by Henry Akona at 3LD Art + Technology Center.
But sometimes, we all want to make the special kind of magic that is the province of the Big Show, and there are definitely places to help out with that. Materials For The Arts allows artists to set up a time to visit the warehouse and pick out scraps of materials for their next production. If your next project happens to be a film, drop by Film Biz Recycling for access to materials you’ll need on set. But don’t stop searching at the institutions either: if you have the taste for adventure, head out to scrap yards, dumps, flea markets and trash bins. It’s not as if anyone else is using the material, and that approach can always prevent that giant piece of plastic you happen to need from decomposing for thousands of years in a landfill. Just make sure that someone gets all the pieces when you’re done: check with any of the aforementioned organizations, or go completely DIY. The Brooklyn Free Store on the corner of Marcy and Lafayette in Bed-Stuy will be more than happy to help find your array of chairs, benches and tables a good home.
But of course, if you would like to go really big on foraging, I have it on good authority where you’ll be able to find pieces from Long Day’s Journey Into Night this summer.
Don’t tell anyone else though.