Theater Emory Connecting with Community through Creative Landfill Diversion Efforts

As a resident professional company and laboratory for faculty artistic research and Theater Studies courses, Theater Emory usually features four productions per year. With each production change, old scenery materials are replaced by new pieces for current productions. Instead of dumping previous set pieces into a landfill, Theater Emory has found innovative and creative ways to divert about 95% of its waste.

Since joining the Theater Emory team, Technical Theater Coordinator Malina Rodriguez and her colleagues have been reaching out to labs and other departments on campus to share left-over materials that could be repurposed. As time progressed, so did their reach, and they expanded the connections with artists and organizations in the Atlanta community.

Together with several Emory students, Theater Emory staff set aside reusable and recyclable materials, such as firewood and scrap metal, when they install new scenery. When tearing down the set, they further sort the material that can be repurposed or reused. They then spread the word to local theaters and visual artists via social media, and people interested “readily fill their vehicles with materials that were previously treated as ‘trash,’” says Rodriguez.

Not only do these connections enrich and broaden the current Emory students’ networks and allow them to meet inspiring people involved in theater in the metro Atlanta community, but it also is a way of exhibiting campus leadership in zero landfill waste efforts and giving back to the community. As Rodriguez describes, “we have a lot less trash in the dumpster, and we’ve made many new friends!”

Rodriguez recalls the first and very positive connection she made with a high school drama teacher, who repurposed decorative windows, doorways and floor panels from Emory’s production of Romeo and Juliet. “The scenery was a perfect fit for her upcoming production of Cinderella!” Rodriguez says.

Donate, Reuse, Recycle

Thanks to the team’s efforts, clean scraps provide firewood for homeless camps through the Mad Housers organization, entire sets are reused by local schools, and seating risers are used by Serenbe Playhouse in their new outdoor theatre. Metal pieces, batteries and light bulbs are recycled through Emory’s programs. Furthermore, Theater Emory minimizes their waste by printing small single-sheet programs for the audience instead of multi-page programs, and recently, an app was launched with an enhanced digital program to avoid the use of paper programs completely.

Why?

Rodriguez explains time and space are known challenges in theater production, and discarded set pieces and raw material “take up valuable space in the limited work areas.” She intelligently found a way to clear up the space and make the community and the environment benefit from it. “It gives me joy to continually connect my Emory work with artists and organizations in the Atlanta community” she says.

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