portland center stage

Earth Matters On Stage: Wrap-Up

It’s been more than a week since the final days of this year’s Earth Matters On Stage EcoDrama Symposium. I returned from Oregon to be immediately eaten alive by my other life: just coming up for air now and able to digest some of the great happenings and events. Hence this giant post.

The picture above is from day nine : that’s Ian Garrett and Naseem Mazloom of the Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts chillin’  on the lawn of the University of Oregon. After nine very full days of lectures, workshops, panels and a staged reading of Theresa May’s intense play Salmon is Everything, we  needed a break.

The very full final weekend  started off with an early-morning video conference with a UK contingent hosted by the  Ashden Directory. The overseas contributors overcame the fuzzy video and iffy sound quality of our current technology by preparing  a short film.

In it, several leading environmental artists, administrators and thinkers passed the philosophical baton by asking questions like: “How far is art worth the damage?” and “How can we reunite culture and agriculture through performance?” The room was brimming with ideas after that, and it was all we could do to get a few notions exchanged across the Atlantic before time ran out. Watch the video: do it now.

The stimulating conversation continued the next day with a panel called Theater’s Double Helix: Green Building and Sustainable Community Engagement.  Tim DuRoche and Creon Thorne of Portland Center Stage discussed their mecca of a green theatre: the folks from CSPA discussed their future mecca of sustainable practice.

Easily one of the most fascinating panels of the week, however, was the Northwest Theater Town Hall Meeting on Place/Community/Theatre. In it, Artistic Directors and administrators from a wide swath of Pacific Northwest Theaters (Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Teatro Milagro, and the Lord Leebrick Theatre, to name a few), discussed how they strive to best serve their communities.

Issues of race surfaced, and not timidly (quote from Valerie Curtis-Newton of the Lorraine Hansberry Project: “Why does the marketing sound like an anthropological expedition? White people! Stop trying to sell me to other white people!”). The idea of non-local community also came under discussion (45% of OSF’s audience is from the SF Bay Area: the internet creates seas of non-geographic communities: PCS had Scrooge “twittering” during A Christmas Carol). All in all, great perspective from a group of seasoned professionals.

Somewhere within these ten days I led a panel and a workshop: there were also many, many other worthwhile performances and presentations (including a short play starring a Cedar Tree). Over the next few months I’ll do retrospectives of works I’ve missed: stay posted.

Garrett and I had to miss the last day to get back into California for work. We left exhausted, but excited about the future. The Earth Matters On Stage EcoDrama symposium was a kind of turning-of-the-soil, great groundwork for things to come. Thanks to the University of Oregon, Damond Morris, and Theresa May for making it happen.

Some greenmuseum.org ecology and performance links:


~Platform London

~Hester Reeve

~Simon Whitehead

Go to the Green Museum

Three Years Later: Portland Center Stage and the Gerding

“Will we have to put salmon runs in the lobby?” asked Artistic Director Chris Coleman, somewhat facetiously, when first confronted with the idea that the new theater he and then-Project Manager Creon Thorne had envisioned would be required to be a green one.  I met Thorne in early March in the lobby of Portland Center Stage’s nearly three-year old Gerding Theatre, where he now serves as its General Manager, and although no salmon runs were in evidence, it was hard to miss the building’s many environmentally friendly features.

Thorne is quick to emphasize that PCS’ vision for its new building, an old armory that they saved from impending demolition, encompasses far more than just environmental stewardship.  Expanding on the advice of designer Ed Schlossberg, who suggested that they work to “move the proscenium outward, so that the audience is on stage as soon as they walk in the building,” they decided to work toward a new model whereby the meeting of audience and organization is not just a “transactional relationship”, with spectators entering the doors to head straight to their seats.  Rather, they envisioned a model in which the theater is a locus of the community, with spaces that function as public arenas and events that enhance the work presented on their stages.

Two views of the PCS lobby

This meant, first of all, the creation of a lobby space open to the public at all hours of the day.  A gorgeous cafe with wireless internet sits just in the doors; at lunchtime, the upstairs lobby is host to tai chi and yoga classes; and as audiences file through the doors, seminars and parties are often underway in an adjoining area.  The theater’s design facilities an open, communal feel, with the oval space of the lobby conveying a sense of swirling movement.  “The project was about creating a building people could identify with us,” said Thorne, and there is little question that a visitor to the Gerding might forget its interior.

Thorne oversaw the work during the Gerding’s retrofitting, and he recounted the process that led them to the decision to move into it.  At the time, they were sharing space with the Symphony and Ballet in a multi-use facility nearby, but the 900-seat house was too large and not well suited to their needs.  A commissioned study of the Portland arts scene recommended that PCS be given its own home, and Coleman was brought on as artistic director in part because of his commitment to that process.  Although the financing was tricky, and required the concerted efforts of a number of dedicated partners, they managed to raise the funds necessary for the move.

And when Norris Lozano, the president of the project funding partner Portland Family of Funds, a newly formed organization tasked with bringing New Market Tax Credits to Portland projects, insisted that the new theater be a showcase for green technologies and aim for LEED status, the learning curve was steep.  In particular, Coleman and Thorne were worried that the concessions they would have to make to earn the points necessary for certification would alter the design of the two spaces that had worked so carefully to craft.  However, the result is a magnificent building with two gorgeous theaters, and has been, as Thorne says, “Better than we could have hoped.”

As for its green credentials, the building was the first on the historical register and the first performing arts facility to achieve LEED platinum status, a mark not easy to hit.  It helped that they were able to reuse the shell of the old building: the recycling of building materials earns a number of points.  However, meeting some of the other measures proved somewhat difficult — it took some persuading to get their seating manufacturer to work with fabric made from recycled soda bottles.  And not all of the green features proved easy to use at first.  The cold water sent from a plant on top of a nearby Whole Foods (also supplied to a number of other area buildings, as the Gerding is part of a larger green development project) was, at first, sent at pressure high enough to blow off a number of the building’s valves.  And properly calibrating the motion and daylight sensors, both meant to reduce lighting usage, has taken some time.  Thorne is quick to point out, thought, that some of the technology the installed was still freshly developed when they installed it and might be far easier to use in this day and age.

Some green measures proved too expensive.  Installing photovoltaic panels on the roof or microturbines in the basement — both of which would have gone some way toward decreasing the theater’s carbon footprint and saving money in the long run — would have added significant expense to the project.  Moreover, under the current LEED standards, set to be changed later this year, these elements would have only garnered a point each, whereas a much less costly step such as installing scrape grates at the entrance doors was also worth a point.  Thorne says that, although it might be tough in this economic climate, they are still looking to add such features to the building, and that they might be able to do so with the increase in funds and tax credits being directed toward green energy projects.  And as the building’s LEED accreditation is set to expire after five years, he’s looking ahead to adding features that will make it eligible for LEED-EB (existing building) status.

Going green has drastically increased PCS’ local and international profile.  Groups of green architects and designers from around the world, drawn to Portland because of its high number of green projects, have taken tours of the building.  Just that day, a group of 100 school high school students in the midst of an environmental education course had come by to learn about the building’s rainwater reclamation tanks, chilled beams, and CO2 monitoring system.  Community Programs Manager Tim DuRoche put their tour in context by explaining that most of Portland’s energy came from coal and that PCS’ efforts would reduce the amount they had to draw from that non-renewable energy source.

Although PCS might have rested on its laurels with a green building, it has continued to try and make its operations as green as possible.  They’ve banned the use of spray paint whenever possible; they use recycled paint from a local city agency whenever they can; and they use Zipcars for local staff transportation.  And they’ve taken an even more significant step by opting to purchase green tags — tradable renewable energy certificates — from the Bonneville Foundation.  Of course, living in a city with the green consciousness of Portland, employees are already fairly mindful of their environmental impact.  They’ve had little luck persuading designers to work with less wattage and fewer materials, however, as most of them are reluctant to change their working methods, and Thorne said he thought it would take a revolution in education before younger, environmentally-conscious designers began to rise through the ranks.

Before I went, I had been told that PCS’ younger demographic had increased significantly with the move to the new building, and I asked Thorne if that could be attributed to their new green credentials.  “Not necessarily, but it has played a part,” he said.  More importantly, he said, was that the new building, and the new model that it represented, had increased PCS’ presence and integration with the city’s residents.  “They feel a sense of pride and ownership.”


“The Four Pillars” (theater, community, history, and sustainability), PCS website


Go to the Green Theater Initiative

DramaBiz magazine – The Eco-Friendly Theatre of the Future

“Greening” operations can reduce your carbon footprint while still delivering stellar productions—and help keep your audience and staff healthy

According to the U.S. Green Building Council, buildings are responsible for 72% of electricity consumption, consume 40% of our raw materials, spew 38% of all CO2 emissions, create 136 million tons of construction waste, and use 15 trillion gallons of water per year in the United States alone.

Green buildings, on the other hand, consume 26% less energy while emitting 33% fewer greenhouse gases. The USGBC also estimates that if “half of new commercial buildings were built to use 50% less energy, it would save over 6 million metric tons of CO2 annually for the life of the buildings—the equivalent of taking more than 1 million cars off the road every year.”

Now take a deep breath – because those are significant numbers that should give us pause. But it does not mean we should all go out and start looking for a green architect and a wealthy donor. Not yet, anyway. Rebuilding from the ground up is not the first step. Efficiency and green building experts agree that the first and most important thing you can do is improve conservation and efficiency within your current operation and facility.

Portland Center Stage, Theatre For A New Audience, and Theatrical Outfit in Atlanta have all taken the big step. Each of these companies work in what are known as LEED certified facilities. LEED – or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – is a certification program managed by the U.S. Green Building Council. The program works on a point system, with points awarded for things as diverse as proximity to public transit to how efficiently the building uses (and reuses) water and electricity. Depending on the number of points earned a building can receive one of three levels of certification from Silver to Platinum, with Gold in the middle. Theatrical Outfit, for example, produces in a renovated historical building with a LEED Silver rating and was the first performing arts facility to be LEED certified in the nation. Portland Center Stage also renovated a historical building in the heart of Portland, earning a Platinum rating from the USGBC. Their facility includes such eco-friendly features as a rainwater collection and reuse system, natural ventilation, extensive use of natural lighting throughout the lobby and administrative offices, and radiant heating in the lobby. The building also reportedly uses about 30% less energy than code requires.

Visit DramaBiz magazine  for the entire article.

R. Buckminster Fuller: THE HISTORY (and Mystery) OF THE UNIVERSE at Portland Center Stage

Check out R. Buckminster Fuller: THE HISTORY (and Mystery) OF THE UNIVERSE at Portland Center Stage. Sustainable Figures mixing with Sustainable Companies. You can see the trailer here:

R. Buckminster Fuller trailer

Having visited this company, contrary to what they say directly, there is a clear philosophical difference in the production here then in other places. It is in part due to the sustainability of Portland as a whole I’m sure, but living and working in a sustainable environment, here the Gerding Theatre at the Armory, has an impact in the the back of its inhabitants’ minds. In part it seems that everyone is just happier, but easy access to lots of natural light can do that. And here it would even seem that the content is conscious of the issues that this company’s home invokes. 

Willamette Week is currently running a contest in conjunction with PCS:

Together with Portland Center Stage and in celebration of R. Buckminster Fuller’s passion for the environment, Willamette Week is hosting a film shorts video contest.

Portland has been called “America’s top green city,” but it’s old news to us. With the highest bicycle commuter population the United States, most green buildings per capita and the toughest anti sprawl ordinance in the nation; it’s apparent that all Portlanders are making an effort to live sustainably.

Show us what sustainability means to you.

First Prize:
A $100 gift card to Kell’s Irish Pub
4 tickets to the PCS production of to R. Buckminster Fuller: The History and Mystery of the Universe
4 passes to the OMSI exhibit Mindbender Mansion

2 Runners up will receive:
A voucher good for a pair of tickets to any PCS production this season
$50 voucher to Kell’s Irish Pub

How to enter:
1. Shoot a video 30 seconds or less.
2. Upload your video to youtube.com.
3. Go to our contest channel at youtube.com/WWeekcontest
4. Send us a message with your video attached by November 3.
5. We will post it to our channel for the world to see.

Submissions will be accepted from October 1 to November 3. The PCS Art Director and Willamette Week Stage Critic Ben Waterhouse will judge the videos and the winner will be announced on November 10. The winning video will be posted on wweek.com and pcs.org