It's in the Bag

by Lisa Mulcahy
Jennifer Kahn of SCENERY
Jennifer Kahn of SCENERY

Sewing Good Work from Old Drops 

It's in the Bag

Jennifer Kahn, an accomplished stage manager whose credits include the 2015 Broadway revival of Spring Awakening and has worked at regional companies, including Old Globe, Williamstown Theatre Festival, La Jolla Playhouse, and Paper Mill Playhouse, is a woman on a mission. In July 2017, Kahn launched SCENERY, an eco-conscious company that makes zippered bags from retired theater backdrops. Not only have SCENERY’s unique products become big sellers, a portion of proceeds from each bag goes to support the work of the Theatre Development Fund’s (TDF) Intro to Theatre Program, which provides middle and high school students with a meaningful introduction to live theater. SCENERY brings together Kahn’s own mindfulness of the importance of repurposing and reusing materials with her determination to help children discover the magic of theater, as the mother of a young son herself. 

An Inspired Impetus
Kahn was well-aware how theatrical supplies often get thrown away after a show strikes. “In my work as a stage manager, I’ve always tried to reuse a lot. I was the stage manager who collected the empty bullet casings from prop guns and made jewelry out of them!”, Kahn recalls with a laugh. “I have tried to use the Broadway Green Alliance as a reference point. So much material behind the scenes gets thrown away—and often, on Broadway shows, people actually pay to have material disposed of. But everyone can make something out of something else—the sky’s the limit.” 

While on a road trip to Maine with a friend, they saw products that had been recycled from old sails of sailboats. “That’s how the idea of re-using drops started,” explains Kahn. So she started reaching out to colleagues to ask about their unwanted stock. “I called friends and asked if they had any inventory. I ended up getting a lot of ripped, burnt pieces, cut off sides of big drops—we really started with scraps.”

As word of mouth about Kahn’s good intentions quickly spread, “Companies started reaching out to me, offering to send me their old drops,” she continues. “It was just so amazing to see how people rallied around this project. I was blown away!” Contributors included the Manhattan Theatre Club, the Old Globe, and the Roundabout Theatre Company.

Once the drops arrived, the design process began. Kahn decided that each drop would be manufactured into a colorful clutch-style bag. Inside each bag, a tag details the specific show that the bag’s material was salvaged from, in addition to an identifying number from the bag’s SCENERY collection. Once a drop is cut and sold, it’s retired for good, so by purchasing a bag, one truly has a piece of theatrical history to permanently cherish. Drops from scores of shows began coming in to be re-purposed; shows represented in SCENERY’s collections came to include The Wizard of Oz, Mamma Mia!, Hairspray, The Prince of Broadway, Rocky, Tintypes, The Last Match, Oklahoma!, Before Broadway, Pentecost, In This Corner, The Portuguese Kid, and White Christmas. “So far, we’ve recycled about 5,000 pounds of material,” Kahn says.

SCENERY has also branched out into hand-painted art on its pieces. Rebekah Eugenia Lazaridis, a Florida-based multidisciplinary painter who focuses on mixed media art, inspired by her work as an actress and scenic artist, reached out to Kahn. Lazaridis is a well-known muralist whose work has been seen in major cities across the U.S., Lazaridis painted for Broadway, TV, and film. For SCENERY she does hand-painted beautiful, whimsical theatrical vignettes on a collection of SCENERY’s products that reflect the production the source backdrop comes from originally.
Sewing Drops into Bags

Turning Drops into Tickets
SCENERY announced in March that through the sale of their bags, the company has been able to put over 250 students through TDF’s Intro to Theatre Program. Starting in April 2018, SCENERY is opening their donations to also support TDF’s Theatre Access Programs for Students, which provides access to Broadway and Off-Broadway performances for elementary and secondary school students who are blind or low vision, and deaf or hard of hearing. Kahn feels that her collaboration with other theatrical organizations can only lead to further good in this realm. “I think it’s about not creating islands for ourselves,” she says. “We operate so independently as theater artists in many ways. If we can start a dialogue, as SCENERY encourages, in a community-driven way, beautiful and important work can be done for other people. I would love to take on helping with funding for other organizations and create new partnerships as SCENERY goes forward. There’s so much good that can happen; I’m very hopeful we can do so much more in terms of helping with arts funding in the theater—I’m very happy we can contribute. I’m super-passionate about this work,” Kahn sums up. “It’s my love letter to the theater community!” And with every SCENERY bag sold that community grows as more kids get to experience live theater. 

To see the available collection of unique SCENERY bags go to www.scenerybags.com and you can learn more about the the Theatre Development Fund’s (TDF) Intro to Theatre Program at www.tdf.org