Sustainable Design for "Save The World!"

One of the goals for our Ice Factory Festival production of The Anthropologists Save The World! was to make the show as low impact as possible. The theme of this triptych of plays was if and how people can change for climate change.  So, it was essential that we considered how best to use our resources and which kinds of materials to use or not use.


Theater productions can often, even with the best of intentions, create an accumulation of materials (set, costume, props, etc.) that are only used temporarily until the end of a run. We wanted (needed) to avoid this pitfall and there were other kinds of sustainability we were trying to cultivate, namely:

  • re-allocating financial resources to people vs. materials

  • using found objects or materials at the performance venue in order to save people resources (e.g. transportation of set pieces) and to avoid duplication 

  • finding new life from existing materials 

Fortunately, these kinds of practices are becoming more normalized and there are some fantastic resources in NYC like Materials for the Arts. (Remember the acronym MFTA - you'll be seeing it a lot!)





Costumes were sourced through Goodwill, personal closets, fabric or items from MFTA. We also held a Clothing Swap fundraiser where we were able to score some great pieces! Each actor was asked to design their own costume which helped to spread out the somewhat labor intensive task of sourcing the costumes and in almost all cases allowed us to give back some money to the actors (see below!). 


Here's Resident Actor Jean Goto (L) modeling her find at the Save Your Closet! fundraiser and (R) as Edna in The Lecture.


We also found some excellent bizarre costume props from MFTA (a construction mask that kind of looked like a gas mask) and from actor Arisael Rivera's own closet! ;)


Alexandra Bonesho (L) in a blazer from the clothing swap and pants from her roommate with Arisael Rivera (R) in a melange of costume pieces including the construction mask. Photo credit: Jody Christopherson.


Set & Props: the set design consisted primarily of creating the world of The Blackout, an underground DIY sustainability lab and artists studio.  This was something of an installation piece brought together by the fabulous hoarding tendencies of the cast and creative team (portable amp and mic? check! tilapia pool aka inflatable kiddie pool? check!) along with the considerable artistic talents of set and visual designer Irina Kuraeva. 


It was a fun journey to go from stash of canvas material from MFTA to banners and works of art painted by Irina to create an evocative set.



The majority of the set pieces (chairs, music stand, tables, ladder and platforms) were all lovingly and gratefully sourced from the New Ohio Theatre. The other major element: bike and bike stand were brought in on loan!


We also re-used existing stock like flashlights from No Man's Land (2016) and fabric from Mahalla (2013).  Of course, we had to purchase some very specific props like this amazing squeaking plastic hamburger:


My personal favorite was creating the plastic-filled world of The Robot, set in the not-so-distant future (approx. the year 2100). We knew that we wanted to transform the space after The Blackout and create an environment defined by plastic waste.  Want to hear something truly scary?? "We are now producing nearly 300 million tons of plastic every year, half of which is for single use. More than 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into our oceans every year." (source: Plastic Oceans).


Mid-rehearsal, I happened to order new mattresses for my 2 children and they came wrapped in heavy-duty plastic.  Being that I have hoarder tendencies and a lot of guilt when it comes to plastic waste, I was determined to put that trash to good use!


Thanks to our amazing Ice Factory intern run crew (hey, Isaac!), plastic bags drifted in like tumbleweed; don't worry - those plastic bags were reclaimed by their donor at the end of the run.  And thanks to the ingenuity of our Production Manager and Lighting Designer Ali Hall, we rigged large sheets of plastic to the grid which actors released as they entered the space.  


The sound of the plastic sheeting unfurling was seriously one of my favorite moments of the show!


Psst - see those shiny black pants on Mariah Freda? Brianna Kalisch made them out of fabric we scored at MFTA!



We came in way under budget.

The original estimated budget for all design elements was $800; we spent a total of $170.78 on all production supplies:

  • $35.78: props

  • $50.61: set & lobby display materials

  • $50.96: general tech & lighting supplies

*there were 3 LED lanterns purchased for the show but the lighting designer wanted to keep them so they were not included in this budget


We paid out $112.50 in costume "bonuses" to actors who were able to source their costumes for free. We split the cost savings with them 50/50.


We had fun!

There was a real sense of celebration when we were able to find exactly what we needed from a friend, like the beloved bike stand (thanks Jennifer and Jeff!), or a cache of sturdy cell phone cases that could double as prop phones at Materials for the Arts (score!!). It made us more imaginative and also more appreciative of what we had.


We achieved our design aesthetic! This approach lent itself to the design aesthetic of our show which encompassed a community meeting room, a basement "doomsday prepper" lab / art studio and a dystopian future filled with single use plastic. 



Ideally, we should have a better plan in place for our strike, to make sure that our materials are disposed of or recycled properly.  This may be folded into the job description of Production Manager or could involve a different staff member. We gave a lot of stuff away to members of the production and because there were many costume pieces and props that belonged to the actors and the majority of set pieces belonged to the New Ohio, we didn't end up with a lot of stuff. But there were still items that went to the trash that might have been dealt with differently.


 (Almost) the whole company, post-strike! With a vegan cake from By Chloe, of course.


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