Theater prof: It is good to be green

Ellen Jones

Ellen Jones

There’s no questioning Ellen Jones’ environmental friendliness. After all, she’s an avid recycler and has even been known to keep a worm composter to recycle food scraps and other materials.

So, it was natural for her to go “green” at her job – the theater.

“It struck me that while I had all these environmental concerns in my personal life, there was a complete disconnect in my work life,” she says. “That’s when I really started thinking about it in terms of theater.”

Jones, YSU assistant professor of Theater and Dance, has written a new book to help her colleagues make greener decisions in their theater productions, from costuming and painting to lighting and the rehearsal process. A Practical Guide to Greener Theater: Introduce Sustainability Into Your Productions was released by Focal Press in electronic version late last fall and in print in December 2013.

Jones joined YSU’s faculty last fall after more than two decades designing and painting scores of productions for various theater companies and shops from Florida to Minnesota. On one particular job where she was making backdrops for a corporate event, a co-worker commented on how some artists were using garbage to make art, while they were doing the opposite – designing sets and backdrops that eventually became garbage.

So she decided that it was time for theater to become more environmentally friendly.

“Introducing ‘greener’ approaches to theater can save money, save labor, and in many cases, can make your work area more environmentally friendly for your students or your employees,” said Jones, a native of Tennessee who holds bachelor’s degrees in Theatre and in Political Science and Philosophy from the University of Tennessee and a Master of Fine Arts degree from Indiana University. “If something is going to hurt the environment you can be pretty well assured that it’s not going to do much for humans either.”

Jones said many playhouses discard everything from a production – props, costumes and sets – because there’s no storage space available. It’s among several topics that she addresses in the book.

Even small steps, such as turning out a stage light, can make an impact, especially when one stage light is equivalent to 33 normal light bulbs, she said. She also advocates using screws rather than nails, so sets can be disassembled and reused, and using machine-washable fabrics to save dry-cleaning costs.

“One of the first places that you start being more environmentally friendly, and it sounds counterintuitive, is to cull your inventory. Do a complete inventory of all equipment and props and throw out what is unlikely to be reused so that everything else you have is useable, findable and not damaged when you want to use it,” she says.

For more information about the book or Jones’ work behind the stage, visit