How Broadway Actors Serving as "Green Captains" Are Turning the Great White Way Green
From the lights to the costumes to the glittery set pieces, Broadway may not seem like the most sustainable industry to the naked eye. However, go backstage, and you'll see that there's actually so much work being done on the Great White Way to make the industry green. Most of that is thanks to the Broadway Green Alliance. To learn more about being green in the Broadway community (and no, we're not talking about Wicked), Green Matters spoke with two Broadway actors who just happen to be official Broadway Green Alliance Green Captains.
The Broadway Green Alliance (BGA), which was founded in 2008, is an initiative across New York City's Broadway community that provides resources for Broadway shows (as well as off-Broadway shows, touring companies, and a slew of other theatres) to be more eco-friendly. The BGA is an ad hoc committee of the Broadway League, and an affiliate program of the charity Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
At the first meeting for a new Broadway production, one or more people — "it can be a star of the show or a dresser or crew member," BGA's website says — volunteer to be an official Green Captain. Pretty much every show on Broadway has at least one Green Captain, and many of them are actors, though occasionally, a show will not have one. Each Green Captain's duties vary from show to show, but most of them share the same basic responsibilities.
On a Thursday afternoon about an hour before The Phantom of the Opera began its 2 p.m. matinee, Green Matters spoke with actress Satomi Hofmann as she pin curled her hair in preparation for the performance. Hofmann, who plays Wardrobe Mistress/Confidant and understudies Madame Giry and Carlotta, first joined Phantom 10 years ago, and has remained with the Broadway show ever since (minus a 1.5-year stint with Phantom's touring company). A few years ago, she became the long-running musical's Green Captain.
"Michele McConnell, who was a previous Carlotta, was Green Captain, and at some point, she felt that she had too much going on. And since she knew I was already pretty green-minded, she asked me if I would be interested in taking over," Hofmann tells Green Matters over the phone, adding that her California upbringing has meant she's always been pretty eco-conscious.
Hofmann says the bulk of her job as Green Captain is upholding all the green policies that were already in place at the theatre. "My basic duties are maintaining the green practices that we already have going, which include a lot of collection point stuff," she explains. "We recycle paycheck envelopes, we have a plastic bag collection spot, BGA has partnered with St. Luke's to recycle greeting cards, and we also have a recycling spot for batteries, makeup pots, and textiles."
Additionally, cast and crew members are encouraged to come to Hofmann with any questions related to being green. "I’m also a point person if people in the building want to know where they can recycle pretty much anything, they’ll come to me and ask," she says.
Hofmann says that her Phantom co-stars have been great at getting on board with environmental policies around the theatre. "I was very fortunate coming into this theatre, because people already were relatively green minded. And I have amazing support from stage management and company management. I could not do any of this without them," she tells us. "And then the people in the building have responded incredibly well."
One of the biggest changes Hofmann has witnessed backstage over the past few years is a shift away from single-use plastic water bottles to reusable ones. "S’well donated reusable bottles to the cast and crew twice. We’re performers and we’re constantly hydrating, and I would say it cut back our single use plastic bottle use to almost zero," she says. "Everyone has really embraced the reusable bottles, and of course it helps that management has put in some great filtered water stations."
In addition to all her work around the theatre, Hofmann also spearheaded BGA's MetroCard recycling program. Unfortunately, New York City's MTA does not offer a recycling program for Subway cards, nor are they recyclable curbside — and Hofmann was determined to find a way for the Broadway community to combat that.
"It started out at [Phantom's] theatre and became something adopted by BGA throughout the Broadway community," Hofmann says of the MetroCard recycling program. "We partnered with an incredible artist named Nina Boesch. She creates art out of expired MetroCards. We collect those at the theatres and then donate them to her for her art projects." BGA's collections are actually open to the public, so if you are in New York and have any expired MetroCards laying around, check out the BGA office's location and hours here.
Hofmann is pretty thrilled at all the changes that have been made behind-the-scenes on Broadway, but she wishes the patron part of the experience was a little greener. She thinks recycling stations for Playbills and beverage containers should be marked more clearly, and she wishes the theatres would offer "eye-catching" filtered water stations instead of selling single-use plastic bottles.
"Broadway’s not perfect, there’s still a lot of waste, but there’s a much better awareness of recycling," Hofmann tells us. "And I think now that we on the production side have become an example in our practices, that we now have a responsibility to bring awareness to patrons."
Green Matters also spoke with Mara Davi, who served as Green Captain on two Broadway shows: The Play That Goes Wrong, which she joined in September 2018 and stayed with until it closed in January 2019, and Dames at Sea, which ran from October 2015 to January 2016. Davi has been practicing zero-waste principles in her own life since she read Bea Johnson’s book Zero Waste Home in 2015, and her passion for the environment earned her a spot on BGA's Steering Committee for a year in between Broadway gigs.
"A Green Captain can do as much or as little as they desire to or have time to do, there’s no specific requirements," Davi tells Green Matters. "A Green Captain receives a packet with helpful suggestions, and you can do one a month, or you could do one a week. I think the main job of the Green Captain is communication. Between the BGA and all the departments of a Broadway production, the BGA has put together great resources."
As Davi explains, the BGA gives Green Captains a packet full of leaflets and flyers directed at each department of a Broadway show. For example, a Green Captain would take the leaflets on how to greenify your makeup routine to the hair and makeup department. "There are also resources for when the show is closing of where you can donate your extra products to so it doesn’t get thrown in the trash," Davi says.
The cast isn't required to participate in green initiatives, but luckily, many of both Davi and Hofmann's cast mates have been interested in doing their part. "As far as the cast goes, Green Captains will post announcements of events the BGA is having, the BGA will send out a monthly green tip, and we’ll post that on the call board. That kind of communication is kind of the basics," Davi says. "Also, communicating where recycling is, and things like that. Since most Green Captains are passionate about being green, they’ll kind of take steps above and beyond."
Davi explains that instituting new policies can be easier when you're with a Broadway production from the beginning, and when the cast is smaller. "When I was on Dames at Sea, it was a very small cast, so I actually brought a little compost bin backstage and collected the food scraps from the cast, and brought it to the nearest brown bin that I knew of to compost every week," she says. "I was not able to do that on The Play That Goes Wrong, because I was coming into the show late, everything had already been established, and there were three floors of dressing rooms..."
Something else Davi made sure to do during her reign as Green Captain at Dames at Sea was keep opening night eco-friendly. "I collected opening night flowers and brought them to the brown bin at the St. James Theatre, which has the only brown bin that I know of in the theatre district," she says. She also bought reusable utensil sets for her cast mates for their opening night gifts, which is a theatre tradition.
Sometimes, Davi would pitch in after performances to gather discarded Playbills. "From time to time, Green Captains will go through the aisles collecting playbills to either be reused, or if they weren’t quite good, [BGA social media director] Sasha Pensanti turns the Playbills into flowers."
Like Hofmann, Davi would like to see an even greater shift towards a zero-waste Broadway, but she believes Broadway is more eco-friendly than the average person might think. "Not a lot of people know about the BGA outside of the Broadway community. But certainly Broadway compared to film and television is incredibly green. It's much harder with film and television," Davi muses. "But the Broadway community as a whole can work more cohesively. And it still takes a long time, but we are a small enough community to make change happen more quickly."