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Just In Time for Earth Day, the Big Green Theater Festival Hopes to Make Bushwick Greener

Friday, April 22, 2011

The warehouse-lined blocks of Bushwick, Brooklyn aren't exactly environmentally friendly. According to the Department of Sanitation, Bushwick has some of the lowest recycling rates in the city--it sends off just 16.3 tons per day for recycling. But the Big Green Theater Festival is seeking to make Bushwick greener, just in time for Earth Day on Friday, April 22.

"We believe the neighborhood in Bushwick needs to improve environmental awareness," states the Big Green Theater's blog.

To that end, the first-ever Big Green Theater Festival will present plays using green theater techniques that are addressing environmental themes. The catch? The plays are written by kids from Bushwick and performed by professional actors.

The Big Green Theater Festival started five months ago with weekly one-hour lessons on theater and sustainability for neighborhood kids between the ages of 8 and 13. Guest lecturers from Columbia University as well as from local environmental organizations like Solar 1 spoke to the children on everything from urban farming to natural disasters.

Kids from Bushwick working on a play for the Big Green Theater Festival.

For Noel Allain, the artistic director of the Bushwick Starr performance venue, the festival is the first step in encouraging an eco-friendly outlook in the neighborhood.

"That's why it's important to talk about these issues with the really young people," he said. "The more awareness they get outside of the home, the more they will take that into their lives."

Allain added: "People are sometimes just struggling to get by. Worrying about recycling isn't necessarily a thing that's on their docket."

The festival is a collaboration between three non-profit organizations: the Bushwick Starr, the Superhero Clubhouse theater company and the local educational group Still WatersBig Green Theater Festival in the making. in a Storm. In true collaborative spirit, volunteers from each of the organizations banded together to create a program that they hope to repeat annually in the years to come.

Students used theater techniques like improv to draft plays with their adult counterparts. Seven of the resulting plays with names like "Plastic Cup" and "No Water," will be presented this weekend at no cost for Bushwick residents, or for $12 general admission tickets. The festival runs Friday and Saturday with performances at 4 P.M. and 7 P.M.

The Big Green Theater Festival is not alone in seeking environmentally-conscious ways of producing theater.

Barrack Evans, managing director at New York Theater Workshop, said that starting this summer, the costumes and scenery for his group will come from an eco-friendly building.

Evans said the theater world had gotten more environmentally conscious, compared to when he started his career.

"I spent six weeks building a tugboat that was part of a musical number," Evans said. "It played for two weeks and then they decided they didn't like that musical number and they just threw it out. They took it to a landfill in New Jersey."

Now, the New York Theater Workshop's current show, "Peter and the Starcatcher," uses recycled materials like cork, bottle caps and discarded forks to create a filigree design on stage. "In the old days, we would have had a scenic designer literally create the filigree," he said.

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